Who is in the photos? Where were the photos taken?
I've been accompanying TSG Hoffenheim (in the women’s first division) for a season, their trainings and games. My favorite moments were those in the cabin, always very close to the women. Of course, taking pictures wasn't enough for me. I wanted to hear the personal story from everyone.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
I've been working on the subject of breaking down prejudices about women's football for a long time. My photos are meant to show personal stories of women playing football, how well they play football and that women's football is simply awesome. It doesn't make sense to compare men's soccer and women's soccer. But I very much hope that the performance of the women on the pitch is seen.
Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?
One of my favourite football players is Nicole Billa from TSG Hoffenheim. She is a striker and I love her body awareness. Born in 1996 in Kufstein, Austria, she is a steady constant in her country: she is a starter for the Austrian women’s national soccer team and was three times the junior European and world champion in kickboxing. With both sports she started at the age of five, but ended kickboxing at 16, exactly at the time she hit her peak.
What are the opportunities for female footballers in Germany?
Germany was one of the pioneers driving women’s football to the next level. The highlight was the Women’s World Cup 2011. The German Football Association invested in structures, women's football was visible. Unfortunately, the trend was downward after the World Cup. Looking where we are standing today, many countries could overtake us. We need to invest in structures, reorganize ‘Die Liga’, and invest in fan experience.
Why is football so important for Germany and German people? What role does football play in Germany and German society?
Everyone can watch football and there's a close affection for men's football. We have celebrated successes, as four time World champions. We had great players who played successful football abroad. Men's football is the most celebrated sport in Germany. Almost everyone is identifying themselves with the national team, one of the Bundesliga clubs or players. Coaches such as Jürgen Klopp are celebrating success abroad. Everyone rejoices for him and celebrates him as hero. There is a fan culture - but only for men’s football.
What does football mean to you?
Even though I never played football, I’ve always had a passion for the sport. It has always had a special place in my heart. I’ve come in contact with it both through the camera lens, as well as through my travels. Currently the world is really quite packed with new events every day, I think we are living in the perfect time to showcase the power that football has. It can really change everyone’s life – whether it’s a young girl or older woman. So with all the craziness going on, football can help us make the change that is really needed at this point in time.
What is the future for German women's football?
We are slowly losing the connection. We have to make the turn now. Otherwise Spain, England or Scandinavia will overtake us. They need to invest more in women’s football. The span between the first and last team in the Bundesliga table is just too big. While Wolfsburg and Bayern play on a very high level, the rest run after them. Some countries started with the request wherever a men’s team exist they need to invest in a women’s team too. It would be a good starting point for Germany too. Proper television broadcasts of the women’s game would contribute more fans. And proper sponsorship for individual players and teams will help to increase visibility too.
Can you tell us about your football life?
Photography was always a passion of mine. I started when I was 12 years old with an old reflex camera. I was always focusing on people. The German national team had won the World Cup in 1990, right after the Berlin Wall had come down.
At the time, my father was working in advertising for football, and as I looked closer into his work, I developed a passion for it. I had spent the years following the fall of the Wall travelling around the world. I was discovering new people and countries, and I realised that everywhere I went, football was a way to connect with people.
Once in Myanmar, we wanted to go out and asked for some advice on where to go. A lady suggested we go to a movie, and on our walk there, we ended up in an animal barn where over 200 monks were watching a football match between Manchester City and Manchester United. I was the only woman, and it is a memory that still gives me goosebumps because even when you travel to the smallest cracks of the world, football is following you.
It kept happening – whenever I would travel, I would bring things from Germany, usually football related, and as soon as I began interacting with people from other places, football became our common language.
I had originally heard of streetfootballworld through friends. I reached out to get a better idea of what they were planning to do back in 2008. They were opening their first Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha in South Africa and they asked me if I wanted to help document the opening. Before that, I was doing photography mostly as a personal hobby on my journeys and I was often focusing on football.
In Khayelitsha there was one moment that has really been burned in to my memory. We took an excursion to the Cape of Good Hope with Grassroot Soccer. Although there are not many pictures of me in front of the camera, one of the girls participating told me that she wanted to take a picture with me. The same evening, we organised an event for all these kids so that they could connect and tell their stories. This girl that had asked me to take a picture with her told her story. She said, “I am here because Grassroot Soccer saved my life. I was raped, I have Aids, and I am from an abusive family, so I actually wanted to end my life. But when I got to know this organisation, I realised it was my new home. I know that I won’t have a long life, but I do want to use the time that I do have left in the best possible way. I want to play football, and I want to share my passion and experiences with others.” When I heard her say that, I knew that I wanted to help share these stories with larger audiences.
I met with DISCOVER FOOTBALL, and in 2010 they gave me the opportunity to focus on female-specific issues. This enabled me to meet several women with remarkable stories that I was able to document along the way.
Over the years, while working for streetfootballworld and DISCOVER FOOTBALL, I adjusted my approach. I began focusing on the stories that I really wanted to share, for example women who had used football to overcome extreme difficulties that stemmed from their gender or background.
I saw that football was helping people with all types of problems. For example, I met a boy from Poland through streetfootballworld who was struggling with family issues and personal problems and couldn’t gain access to a proper education. Even with issues like that, football was able to help get him back on track. Speaking to these people, I knew that I had to help get their stories out. I wanted to showcase the people that the programmes were reaching. Even if we can only highlight the experiences of 10 people from a group of 400, those 10 stories, whether they’re from South America or Europe or Africa – they make a difference. Over time, if you share enough of their stories, they begin to have an impact on their audiences.
They lead to financial and social engagement from people who would have otherwise not known of the struggles many people face. If you report on these kinds of experiences, maybe people who do earn enough money would rather spend their extra earnings towards social development rather than personal leisure - but only if these stories are being told.
Of course, people know that these organizations exist. But they don’t always know exactly what they are doing – they can’t imagine the actual impact these organisations have on the lives of individuals. But if you provide them with a face and a story – even if it is a painful story – you can create a bridge between two different worlds.