In his collection of photographs, titled One Love – Soccer For Life, London-born photographer Levon Biss captures the wonderful diversity of football over the course of nearly four hundred pages. Biss’s book catalogues not just the gender, geographical and racial diversity of football, but also the variety of ways in which the game is experienced and loved around the world. From images of famous professionals such as former Liverpool players Michael Owen and Luis Garcia to over-65 women’s football at Thoyoandou University in South Africa, Biss presents a unique portrait of the beautiful game.
By Greg McKay
There are photographs of fans caught in moments of unadulterated anguish and players, ranging from top professionals to pot-bellied pub teams, showing pure enjoyment. Biss captures games played on gravel, dirt, sand, snow, ice and, of course, perfectly manicured grass. Using the images, Biss explores the extent to which football is art, politics, entertainment, leisure and everything in between.
One image of particular depth is from the capital city of football in the Southern hemisphere, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The photograph is of what looks like a perfect fall afternoon and a number of weekend pick-up games in one of the city’s parks. Biss intimately shows not just the focus, energy and enjoyment of the players but what looks like an almost endless amount of fields stretching into the background.
It is almost as if Biss has held up a mirror and the visual effect of the reflection has caused the image to repeat itself as far as the eye can see. In many ways, that feels like what Biss has managed to achieve throughout his book – a reflection of football, held up for the reader to see, in its endless varieties stretching to every corner of the world.nInterspersed with the photographs are quotes from some of the luminaries of the football world, including unexpected commentators like of Oscar Wilde and Nietzche. The narration builds on the images to show an equally varied view of football.
Some of the quotes are playful as Fever Pitch author, and Arsenal fanatic, Nick Hornby notes, “Life gets complicated when you love one woman and worship eleven men.” Others explore the impact of football in their lives. French author, Albert Camus, is quoted as saying “Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.” What becomes most clear from the narration is how differently football is experienced, as sport, morality play, social commentary, artistic achievement or even a romantic endeavor.
In one of the book’s spreads, there is an image of Uruguay’s men’s national team jogging on a beach in Montevideo opposite an image of a group of young boys in Duthuni, South Africa chasing a ball across a dirt pitch. The juxtaposition of the two images gives the reader a sense that both sets of footballers are almost chasing the same ball.
In the end, that may be the ultimate takeaway from Levon Biss’s beautiful collection. Whether it’s urban football fans in Japan, villagers in Peru or children in Lesotho, we are all playing, watching and loving the same game, chasing after that simple, round ball.