Photographer embarks on a bold adventure for the “One Love” international football campaign.

Interview with photographer Levon Biss

How far would you go for the sport you love? Well award winning sports photographer Levon Biss probably has you beat. Levon Biss visited 28 countries in 13 months to capture international football (soccer) being played at all levels, from children kicking a ball around in the mountains of Peru, to professionals representing their countries in grand stadiums.

Biss generally shot in each country for 3 or 4 days, traveled for two more, then shot again, on repeat for more than a year.  “The first couple of months were pretty rough and tiring.  It was quite easy to get overwhelmed by the task in front of me, but after a while I got into a kind of rhythm which made every week easier.” Says Biss. “Every month I’d come back to the UK for a couple of days to hand over edits and see family.”

The One Love project was initially the brainchild of Lee Farrant, the director of the agency Biss was working for at the time, RPM photographic. Farrant and Biss had been working together on advertising for the sports brand Umbro, and were seeking a creative way for the brand to get more involved in international football. The idea was not only the perfect summation of football’s omnipresence around the globe, but also the beginning of a bold adventure for Biss. Umbro’s presence in 75 countries, gave Biss a vast network to facilitate his year long travels of country-hopping. He packed his bags, his camera, and off he went.

“Generally, I would try to time my trip to a country to coincide with an important game where I knew there would be lots of atmosphere and material to shoot. After the game I would add on another few days to my stay to simply walk or drive around the streets to find street soccer.”

Where he found street soccer, Biss at times discovered just how deep the passion for the game was in the people he encountered wherever he went. “I’d speak to people and ask where they play and at what times…  Most people were happy to be photographed and involved in a project of this scale.  One young guy in Argentina burst in tears after I took his portrait as he was so proud to represent his country”,  Biss recalls. “One highlight was covering the local derby game in Buenos Aires, Boca Juniors v. River Plate.  The atmosphere was so intense it was incredible, complexly tribal and primal.”

As a sports photographer, Biss is inherently a man of two passions. There are the sports he shoots, then there is the act of shooting itself, the photography. Throughout his 13 month journey, one place stood out as his favorite place to shoot. “Russia. The quality of light that far north on the planet is so clear it is a photographer’s dream.  The culture too was fascinating, I found it to be a wonderful experience.”

Now that One Love is behind him, what remains are the amazing photos, but for Biss the experience still lingers on in other ways as well. “I learnt the importance of the game.  To millions of people around the world it is a huge part of their life”, he reflects.

“It’s almost like a religion.  If their living conditions in life are poor then football can provide some important relief, some respite from reality. The game is just so simple, it’s not about professionals getting paid millions, it’s about the pure joy of kicking a ball in the street, or on a beach, or in a carpark. It unites people across the planet, I think that is a beautiful thing.”

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