Weeks have passed and yet Germans are still celebrating the victory of their heroic football team. Shortly before the World Cup started, we took notice of an interesting photography project on Kickstarter. Berlin-based sports photographer Ryu Voelkel called for help to create a football photography book like no other. The campaign was successfully funded. Ryu made his way to Brazil and came back with amazing shots including some very special Kodak Aerochrome photographs. Meet Ryu and learn more about him and his special moments at the WC 2014.
Hi Ryu! Please introduce yourself to the Lomography community.
My name is Ryu Voelkel and I am a freelance photographer based in Berlin, Germany.
Before the World Cup in Brazil you started a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a football photography book. Tell us more about it.
To be honest with you, I decided to make a book because I needed the money. Shooting the World Cup costs a lot of money. A LOT. If you belong to an agency, it will pay your expenses such as flight and hotels, but unfortunately I don’t belong to one. That’s a choice. With an event as big as the World Cup, most media outlets will be inundated with photos from agencies. Therefore contrary to popular beliefs, you are in an uphill battle when trying to sell photos from the World Cup. Too many sellers, not enough buyers. For example, one of the magazines that I regularly work for decided to use “he who shall not be named” agency for all of their photos during the World Cup. Why? Because they sell their photos at bargain basement price which a freelancer like me cannot compete with. Good business for them, not for me. I wanted to shoot the World Cup, but not if I was going to be saddled with a huge amount of debt, an angry wife, and starving cats at home. Then I thought to myself “Why don’t I make a book about the World Cup? If I sell enough, I can pay for my expenses”. No one else was making one and I wanted to make my first book before I turned 40. It all made perfect sense. I set the Kickstarter campaign goal to print 100 books, but in the end I had enough funding to print 300 books. Shocked yet extremely happy, I was Brazil bound.
The book will also contain pictures shot on Kodak Aerochrome film. Was it tricky to use the infrared film during the World Cup? Where did you get it from and which camera did you use?
First of all, it’s very expensive. I won’t tell you how much, but all I have to say is that every frame counts. Second, by using Aerochrome with a yellow filter, it changes the colour green to pink. Therefore I felt I was compelled to always use it with green in the frame. That was my first mistake. I was so hung up on shooting with something green in the frame that I severely limited myself in what I decided to shoot. In the end, I only shot 6 rolls out of the 15 I brought. Third, I only brought my 50mm lens with the Mamiya 6 which is equivalent to 32mm. I decided not to bring the longer 135mm lens, because I was convinced that the 50mm was enough. And I was wrong, as always. Had I brought the135mm with me, I would have had more variations in the shots I took. Fourth is the lack of autofocus. I love autofocus and I hate manual focus. So it wasn’t a match made in heaven as I was constantly fighting with the focusing. How people in the film and manual focus lenses managed to get the shots they got is beyond me. I was left with players hoping to land where I prefocused or shooting at infinity. Lastly, transporting the film. You have to keep it cool and completely dark. It was recommended the film not go through the X-Ray machine at the airport. I did keep it cool and dark as much as possible, but the airport security, they scanned the crap out of them. More than 10 times throughout the World Cup. But in the end they came out fine. Was I nervous? Of course, but that’s the risk you take with a film like this.
I bought the films from Dean Bennici, who also gave me all the information I needed to shoot with the film. This whole project would have been very difficult without his involvement.
I’ve already tested how the film works at the Confederations Cup in 2013. I tried different grade yellow filters and different exposures of the same scene. My conclusions was that I could just shoot it as I do with normal film. It doesn’t behave like you want it to all the time, but the payoff was big enough for me to try it. There are some problems when it comes to this film.
Do you know that we are selling a colour negative film that produces similar results? It’s called LomoChrome Purple.
Yes, I did. Had the LomoChrome Purple produced the colour I wanted for this specific project, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Because as I said, the Aerochrome is horribly expensive. Saying that, I’d love a chance to shoot sports with LomoChrome Purple in the near future because with a 135, I can use all my Nikon F3 and all my lenses. And of course, cheaper.
Besides the Aerochrome shots did you also take other analogue pictures from the WC or from your time in Brazil in general?
No. I learned earlier in my career that the more cameras I have, the crappier pictures I take. Less option in most cases is better because I’ll find ways to get results with what I have. In Brazil, I was already having a difficult time trying to split time between my D4, Aerochrome, and iPhone and there wasn’t a space for another one.
Did something funny or strange happen during a game? I can imagine that some pro photographers were probably looking skeptically when they saw you and your analogue camera.
I shot 4 rounds of 16 matches and all of them went into extra time. At the end, my colleagues didn’t want me to go to the matches they were shooting because they knew of the extra time. Needless to say, it wasn’t funny at the time it was happening, but now I can laugh about it. A bit.
To be honest with you, most of the photographers there didn’t even know what I had in my hands. No one shoots film in sports. You’ll spot a Leica on the pitch from time to time, but you know, they just want to look cool. At least in sports, it’s digital all the time. But I hope to change that. Along with the Petzval Lens, my next challenge is to make an anamorphic lens work in sports.
Are you familiar with Lomography and our cameras?
Yes. But I’ve never used any.
Do you have tips for our community how to become a sports photographer? Who do you need to contact to get access to cover a football game?
If you want to become a sports photographer, start shooting local sporting events such at youth level. They will be more than happy to have a “free” photographer shoot their athletes and kids. Remember, the access at these events will be billion times better than the ones you can get in a professional match. So get in there with your camera and get into their faces. Closer the better. Don’t be shy. For me, I do need to contact the home team to get access (accreditation) to the matches.
What has been the most special moment in your career so far?
I’d say every match is special, but who am I kidding? :) It would probably have to be the first time my picture appeared on print. It was for a Japanese sports magazine called Sports Graphic Number and it was a shot from a match between Villarreal and Inter. It was so small you could barely see it, but to have your name next to the magazine, it was amazing.
What’s next for you? Are there any other upcoming projects?
The book. It’s all about the World Cup book from now until it’s done. If you are interested, please go to ryuxrio.com. Once I’m done with that, I will recommence my Caribbean baseball project. We’ve done Dominican Republic and Curacao. Next will be Cuba. And then I’ll be shooting more baseball next summer and this one will be on high school baseball in Japan.
Thanks for the interview Ryu!
The LomoChrome Purple film guarantees astounding photographic results. This unique color negative film will astound you by transforming natural tones of your photo into new eye-popping hues. Place your order now!