Behind the Lights – Alexander Aguiar
Athletic divinities and niche sports, Anthony Joshua and Mexican bullfights. We take you into the world of a young photographic talent
Being able to make athletic divinities and niche sports coexist, being able to alternate commercial production and passion, without ever ignoring the concept of art for itself.
The young and intense story of Alexander Aguiar teaches that the apex of sports photography can be touched, lived and portrayed with conscience: in fact, it does not necessarily have to deteriorate personal ethics and artistic research.
The photographic selection sent to us by Alexander confirms these thoughts, showing us an atypical and varied work: shots in which Anthony Joshua, the contemporary warlord of the ring, and an anonymous jockey from South Florida alternate themselves. Shots in which the gaze of Stephen Curry, the Hermes of the NBA hardwoods, is linked to an unknown player of jai alai (an ancient Basque practice).
Jockey from South Florida
Extremes that coincide with each other, framed by a sense of intimacy; extremes marked by the perpetual investigation of the human being. A research that keeps the sporting side in the background: a stylistic figure of which Aguiar has consciously tried to build over the years.
“I think there’s a level of intimacy that connects a lot of my work. It’s something that’s usually easier to find in smaller sport settings, places like events where I have full access and can freely move in backstage areas like the locker room. At the same time, intimacy is something that I try to find with top-level athletes too; I always aim to establish some type of a personal relationship alongside the photographic one, and I make sure to leave sports fan tendencies aside. That part comes easier to me, and I find that it helps to treat celebrity athletes as normal people: as men, women, friends, and parents who are simply good at what they do. I think going into it with a level outlook helps me create a different kind of connection with them”
Intimacy, but also a taste for detail. Wait and understand the right moment to capture. In Alexander’s words, a photograph similar to sports takes shape: a profession made up of sacrifice and intuition. A disposition that comes from his past with a racket in hand.
“I grew up playing competitive tennis, and looked up to athletes like Roger Federer, Marat Safin, and Fabrice Santoro. In the summers I’d train 6-7 hours every day, but I never had a breakthrough. I invested a lot of time and work into it, but I got burnt out. And because of that, I’ve learned to behave al little differently with photography: I try to protect myself in it a bit more, and I treat it with greater care. I know that my root in sports helped instill a work ethic, a level of discipline, and a focus that helps me in photography today. It’s a relevant background, one that shaped my personality and, consequently, my modus operandi”
The years spent in the Under Armor universe were instrumental in shaping Alexander’s professionalism. A magical period, which allowed the still twenty-year-old to rapidly mature a brilliant photographic career.
A bond that began almost by chance on the Maryland campus and which, in a short time, leads him to immortalize giants of global sport, to penetrate the narrow and brilliant lives of Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry and, above all, Anthony Joshua.
Alexander spends a long period of closeness with the British phenomenon of boxe. A two-year time window in which the young photographer’s attention had to focus on his own moral integrity, on not being overwhelmed by the tsunami of popularity, as well as on capturing the perfect fight moment.
“Being around AJ is great. He’s incredibly genuine, and doesn’t seem affected by money or success. I’ve been fortunate enough to be with him for ring walks and on private jets, and I’ve seen fans from all over the world cheering him on. I think it would be easy for me to lose focus if I were an athlete at that level, and I do think being around fame can affect people as unattached to the success as I am. I always try to remember that I’m not what any of the fanfare is about, and I think as a photographer you have to be humble about your role. There’s a risk in thinking that you’ve earned any of the success that you’re photographing, and it’s important to realize you aren’t the leading actor”
Undersize yourself to somehow raise the pathos of your photographic work. Undersize yourself to respectfully merge with the moment that could change an entire sporting era. This seems to be the underlying meaning of Alexander’s words.
“I think the most rewarding part of being in contact with celebrity athletes is that there’s always the opportunity for an iconic moment. Before photographing events like AJ’s match with Klitschko, I remind myself that it’s my responsibility to be as good of a photographer as AJ is a boxer. I’ve reminded myself of that while photographing Michael Phelps in the pool and while photographing Tom Brady on a tour of Asia, and it helps keep me grounded and appreciative of the role I play”
It could become normal to abandon your photographic research to devote yourself to commercial work. An almost obvious choice, which Alexander has always rejected, pursuing his own visual and cultural curiosity.
“With commercial work you typically have less creative freedom, so there should always be a balance between professional work and personal work. For example, I always try to shoot the Miami Hurricanes football team when I can. I grew up watching that team play, and photographing their practices and games allows me to get back in touch with some of those emotions I had as a kid. I keep some unpaid work like that in the mix and it helps me to occasionally photograph things simply for pleasure. An example of this is when I shot some personal work of sumo in Japan while there on a work trip, and the concept behind those images eventually snowballed into an opportunity to shoot Tom Brady at a sumo practice a year or two later. I think this is the best of both worlds: the chance to bring personal and paid work together, and creating an opportunity between them”
Florida Panthers hockey player
For Alexander this connection does not seem to dwell on the technical gesture or on the simple portrait: concepts theorized by his historical reference points. Eyes, those selected by the talented American, who have imprinted stories and sensations in their films, giving life to snapshots capable of going beyond the present, the tangible, from the sport itself.
“I chose Robert Capa for his unique depiction of the Tour de France. He’s a war photographer and I think that helped him approach the Tour in a different way. He didn’t photograph the cyclists or what everyone else picks up on. Instead, he got more abstract and exploresd other options, and that’s something I like to do when shooting personal work. The same goes for Harry Gruyaert’s shot, which shows a bizarre, surreal moment of the 1982 Tour. I ended up spending two weeks in France with my mom to shoot the Tour after being inspired by the photography I saw from it. When it comes to Walter Iooss Jr., his legacy needs no introduction. He’s photographed all the sports legends of the last fifty years, and I think all photographers would love to make work that lives on like his will. He has iconic work with Michael Jordan and countless others, but here I chose a portrait from him with Dave Parker smoking in the dugout. With Muhammad Ali work I see the same theme of iconic moments”
Tour de France – 1939 by Robert Capa
Tour de France – 1939 by Robert Capa
Tour de France – 1982 by Harry Gruyaert
Dave Parker by Walter Iooss Jr
Muhammad Ali – 1976 by Dan Dry
And embellishing the unknown is Alexander Aguiar’s next goal: an exotic unknown, which goes beyond the major American sports, which manifests itself in a sports universe yet to be discovered, yet to be explored.
“After this pandemic stalemate is over, I’d like to start traveling again and shooting more niche sports. I enjoy investigating different cultures that way, like how I shot a Mexican bullfighting match a few years back. I like feeling confused in foreign and fascinating places”
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