With the Homeless World Cup on the way, Ffotogallery hosted an exhibition about it, showing photos taken by photographer Paul John Roberts. Having been in Paris on a documentary course, Roberts came back to the UK with the mindset of looking to make the familiar strange. After hearing of the Homeless World Cup, which coaligned with his interest in football, he got involved and worked with the Welsh team for a few months. I went to the opening night of the exhibition, and was pleasantly surprised.
Upon walking in, I was pleased by how informal and friendly the event was. There were two rooms, both with photos on the walls. In the first room, several general sports photos were displayed. What struck me most, is that if I hadn’t been given any information about the event, I wouldn’t have known that every single player was homeless or had been within the last year. Even though the exhibition does show a few photos of the players in deep and somewhat melancholic thought, to me it just seemed like the usual flair of drama often seen in normal sports photography. Other shots were mainly of the players in action, or team bonding moments.
There were two photos that I liked most, both somewhat contradictory to each other. The first one portrays the players calling a young girl through a video call on her phone. In line with the narrative of the exhibition and the Homeless World Cup, this image highlights how these players are just like everyone else, part of one society, one cup. The other is a photo of another player, an asylum seeker, standing by the football field looking through the wire fence, at the goal. Only the player is in focus, the image using bokeh to accentuate that, and with the context of the gallery and the Homeless World Cup, seems very pleasantly ironic as it is stereotypical of the usual type of photography on this topic, whilst completely defying the style of the rest of the exhibition.
Bokeh seems key in this gallery, as every photo uses this technique to highlight a very specific, human focus, adding something individual to every one of the photos. Once again, this is in line with the narrative of the Homeless World Cup, as every player is shown as an individual, like all of us.
This is also relevant in the second room of the exhibition, which is comprised of portraits of the players. The photos are lined up, with a darkened bokeh scene as background, and close-up portraits of the players. As the photographer explained to me, these photos were taken instinctively, during a break of playing, to catch the players at their most emotional and worked-up state. In addition, the most striking aspect was the players’ eyes. After pointing this out, Roberts explained that he used reflectors to highlight this, giving him a fabulously fierce result, which makes it seem as though the portraits look right back at you.
In the same room, a projection screen covers the far wall. On it there is a 20-minute video collection of the players, accompanied by upbeat music. Adding a beautifully personal touch to the exhibition, the slideshow shows the players during training, having a laugh with each other, and enjoying the experience.
Overall the gallery is beautifully in line with the ethos of the Homeless World Cup 2019. Some of the photos are intentionally “a bit ambiguous at times”, as the owner of the gallery explained, but all of them challenge the negative stereotypes around homelessness and poverty in one way or another. These players are footballers, citizens of our society and yet also happen to be homeless. As the writing on the poster at the entrance said: “One World-One Match”.