Photographer Liam Aylott talks to Kick It Out ahead of Fans For Diversity exhibition launch
On Wednesday 12 October, Fans For Diversity is hosting the launch of a photography exhibition at Oxford House in Bethnal Green, London.
‘Fans For Diversity: L’Internationale’ showcases the work of freelance photographer, Liam Aylott, who spent the duration of Euro 2016 following London-based supporters of all 24 countries taking part in the tournament.
Ahead of the launch, Kick It Out spoke to Liam about his background as a photographer, his motivations behind the project and the challenges he faced in completing it.
As both a documentary photographer and an avid follower of Manchester United for the past 20 years, it’s no surprise that Liam has long been interested in taking photos of football supporters.
However, it wasn’t until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that he embarked on his first international project involving football photography.
Inspired by his experience capturing images of fans watching matches on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and the streets of São Paulo, Liam resolved to develop a project around this summer’s European Championships in France.
He explained: “I decided to stay a bit more local and figured that London probably had more nationalities living in it than any other city in the world, so I set out to photograph them watching the Euros. I wanted the project to be a celebration of diversity in the city.”
Having established his vision for the project, Liam contacted Anwar Uddin, lead on the Fans For Diversity campaign, to make his dream a reality.
The Fans For Diversity campaign, an initiative jointly-launched by Kick It Out and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) in March 2014, provides funding to encourage and facilitate fan-led activity that celebrates equality and diversity in football.
Liam’s idea fulfilled the Fans For Diversity criteria perfectly and Anwar was happy to support his efforts with the campaign fund.
“Liam’s work is incredible and the photography project was a really creative, innovative way of celebrating diversity in football,” he said. “London is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and what better way to demonstrate that than by taking photos of fans coming together to watch football?”
Despite what users of Instagram may have you believe, photography remains an incredibly difficult skill to develop. Liam gave an insight into the challenges he encountered in capturing the desired images.
“I learned from shooting football fans in Brazil that to get the best shots you really need to get involved,” he remarked. “In Brazil, there were a lot of sports photographers shooting fans from a distance with a long lens, but I found it best to grab a beer and get in amongst the loudest fans around – this applied in London too.
“It can be a bit intimidating for people at first but when the football is on people they don’t care about their photograph being taken, so it’s just a matter of waiting for the right reactions.”
Liam added: “I found a good technique of standing directly underneath the TV in a bar – which is the easiest place to stand during a football match – and waiting for something to happen in the game. It’s quite funny watching a match purely on people’s reactions; I would sometimes stream the game on my phone just so I could see what was happening.”
Alongside the difficulties of taking high-quality photographs in crowded bars, there were plenty more logistical obstacles he had to overcome in putting the project together.
“One of the only times I really had any problems with access was in a Spanish bar, when the barman asked me not to take any photographs – I put his grumpiness down to the fact they were losing to Italy so I headed back to Bar Italia where celebrations were ensuing in the street!”
Liam continued: “During the tournament I shot for 23 matchdays, on some occasions covering two or three games in a day – a lot of the time I had to leave games early to make the next one as travelling between some places in London could take a good hour on the tube.”
“For the final I was in Stockwell with the Portuguese, but after Ronaldo got injured I decided the better chances for images may lie with the French, so I got the tube to Great Portland Street where some French fans had invited me down. They had booked out a huge nightclub with a big screen – it’s fair to say I got some good shots of them looking distraught after the surprising result!”
Liam finished by reflecting on what he learned from the project: “It was really interesting seeing how the different sets of fans watched the football, from the different chants to the different drinks, from over 100 Iceland fans in a South London pub doing their now famous “Viking war chant”, to Polish fans singing along to a trumpet in the Polish club in Hammersmith.
“But by far the most sophisticated were the French, who on a couple of occasions had booked out the Clapham Grand Theatre and enjoyed charcuterie boards, wine and beers while enjoying the game.”
The exhibition will run from Thursday 13 October until 20 October from 9am-10pm at Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, London, E2 6HG.
You can view more of Liam’s work on his website at www.liamaylott.co.uk