British photographer who combines football wonder and human identity in his portraits

The choice of football jerseys in my portraits is not random. It depends on the human beings who pose in front of my lens. It depends on the color of their hair, their eyes, their skin. It depends on their personalities. I want the jerseys to reflect people’s identities and to match them chromatically. I love portraits, I love colour, and I love football. And I like to combine these things, it’s quite logical. I also love classical paintings, which is why I make references to works by Jan Vermeer, Eugène Delacroix, Caspar Friedrich, and so many others… I draw from their dramatic and romantic force, and their colours, which are so vibrant and elegant. I hope my photographs evoke these paintings.”

The romanticism that penetrates football. Colours that combine sponsors and personalities, logos and identities. Louis Bever’s portrait gallery is unique; it’s a flow of football sophistication and human delicacy, of individual emotionality sublimated and enhanced by iconic kits. From Inter to Saint Etienne, from PSG to the beloved Arsenal, for this London-based photographer the fabric talismans produced for the ‘Beautiful Game’ isn’t simple and practical outfits, they’re a fundamental part of an artistic and narrative process: a process shaped by an old Pentax, the saves of a legendary ‘Gunner’, Jens Lehmann, and an itinerant maturation.

“I met photography through my grandfather, who gave me a Pentax K1000 as a child. Although the first rolls of film were a disaster, I instantly fell in love with this art form. I asked myself, why do I have to explain something verbally or write it down when I can capture it? From that moment on, photography became a positive obsession that has stayed with me throughout my life, even during my undergraduate years in law school. I could’ve become a lawyer, but I wouldn’t have been happy. So after a master’s degree at Manchester School of Art and a series of odd jobs during the pandemic I decided to bet on my passion and become a full-time freelance photographer. Football has always been with me as well. My father worked in the British Army, and my family moved all over Europe. We also lived in France and Italy for a long time…. And if you are English and have to live in another country, you inevitably become more proud of your roots and football. Like my mother, I chose to be an Arsenal fan, and grew up admiring the flights of my favourite player, German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. When I think of Arsenal from that era I get nostalgic…”

Nostalgia. It’s impossible to avoid associating this term with anyone who was born in the 1990s and enjoyed the Premier League at the turn of the new millennium, with its game balanced between ancient masculinity and cosmopolitan progress, with its aesthetics divided between classic design, oversized models, and graphic intuitions. And nostalgia led Louis to be a collector, but more importantly, to build symbiotic relationships between football simulacra and contemporary youth, constantly searching for the perfect match between each jersey and the protagonist.

“When I have to choose a jersey and match it to a person, I evaluate many factors. Primarily morphological and chromatic ones: for example, if you have blue eyes, it is likely to make you wear an Iceland outfit…. But the choice is also due to many other intangible components, such as character or an individual’s connection to a specific club. The sponsors printed on the jerseys are another thing that has always fascinated me and inspires my choices. Not surprisingly, if I have to think about the jerseys that have most tickled my imagination, the Wolverhampton and Fulham kits of the early 2000s immediately come to mind. Doritos was the sponsor of the ‘Wolves’, Pizza Hut that of the ‘Cottagers’: fun and unusual sponsors, which sparked my irony. At the same time some kits are elevated by their sponsors. A striking example? Arsenal wore the SEGA jersey in the 1999-2000 season. That said, It’s great to use these items and create an intimate relationship between each jersey and the person who wears it. I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with the Take More Photo community and went all over London to portray a lot of fans. The goal was to celebrate the World Cup in Qatar…. It was great, in the end it’s about meeting people, understanding and dressing them in the most accurate and representative way.”

The relationship between football and fashion. This trend has been growing exponentially recently, propelled by a whirlwind of collaborations, capsule collections and mutual influences. Streetwear and high fashion, brands and maisons, all the key players in this universe seem to be attracted by football’s circular and transversal power. Louis’ visions fit into this overpopulated dualism, bypassing hype and coolness. They do and will continue to do so without bending to market logic, driven by the primary need to spread beauty.

“If we look at the brands that are entering football despite having nothing in common with this sport, we notice that many among them are British. There’s little we can do or say: we invented football, it’s in our DNA, and so many creative people in my country take their cues from the green field and those who populate it. It’s not a matter of trends or markets, brands like Aries or Palace will indeed have professionals within them who love football, and collaborations are the natural consequence of this all-embracing love. The same applies to my works. Football has not become cool: it has always been cool, because it has always managed to please people. I will continue with this portrait series and combine new jerseys with new protagonists. I’ll end the project only when I stop having fun. It’s something personal outside of my commercial work, and it feels good. At the moment, it doesn’t have a definite meaning or evolution, I don’t know where it will take me, but I’m sure one day I will figure it out.”

Photo Credits: Lou Bever
Text by: Gianmarco Pacione