CHRISTIAN WERNER Football's true soul can be found on muddy fields in the shadow of the Bundesliga...

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Christian Werner is a German photojournalist and documentary photography based in Leipzig. In 2013, inspired by his love for football combined with his increasing detachment from the professional game, he began to photograph Germany’s wide-reaching amateur setup in a project he called Every Sunday.

With the country boasting 26,000 registered clubs and over 2,000 leagues, it means over three million players of all ages actively participate in the sport they love every week. Werner believes that it is on these muddy fields, in the shadow of the Bundesliga, that one finds football’s true soul…

“Sometimes I would just read a village with a funny name and think ‘oh that sounds interesting, maybe I should go there’.”

I worked as a construction worker in the beginning. After I graduated from school, I started working in a hospital as a nurse. Then I came to photography, starting in advertisement photography in 2007, and then in 2011 I studied documentary photography and I became more focused on that. Now it’s full-time. I mean not every day, I’m struggling from time-to-time like a lot of freelancers are. Like artists do sometimes.

I’m a very curious person. When I was working in the advertisement studio I was listening to documentaries on the radio all day just to keep my mind somehow moving. I got really into journalism. I figured I should do something in this direction and photography was my medium. The first serious documentary I did was about a gypsy settlement in Serbia.

I always start by reading articles or information, anything I can find more or less. Then as I start to talk to people, first with friends then with people who are more involved with the topic. Maybe with the help of organisations, maybe you just call them, maybe by accident you meet the right people.

With the football it was somehow different. I would just be looking at the fixtures all the time and when I knew I was free on Saturday or Sunday, and someone was playing somewhere close, I went there. So there was not a lot of research. I’d ask people if they knew interesting fields or interesting clubs, but it was more or less accidents. Sometimes I would just read a village with a funny name and think ‘oh that sounds interesting, maybe I should go there’.”

“My photography itself is very clean. Simple I guess. Simple is somehow not so artificial. I guess it’s very pure, in the beginning it was more complex when I had just started, with black and white pictures and I was very focused on contrasts and so on. Now, especially with the football series, the photography is very pure and very simple. I mean, the perspectives are not very complicated or whatever.

I started the Every Sunday project in 2013. I recently signed a contract with a publishing house, I’m going to make a book. It’s official now so [the collection] will continue I guess. As you may already notice the pictures are from, let’s say, half of the federal states of Germany and they asked me to add the other ones. So I will continue photographing again for one season and then we’re going to make a book in autumn 2019. For me it wasn’t complete, so sometimes if I had time on the weekend I was still visiting matches.

Some people didn’t like getting their photograph taken, but the majority liked it or they didn’t care about it. I always told them I was a photojournalist and not working for any particular newspaper or magazine, it was just a private project. In small, regional clubs if somebody pays attention to them they are happy. But I guess the majority of the players, for them it was nothing special and they were just doing their everyday business. Now if somebody now asked me what I’m doing there I can just tell them I’m doing a book, it sounds more concrete.”

“The German forest and Sunday football on the outskirts of civilisation. That’s all you have to know about our country…

“I played football when I was young but not in a team. My father and one of his friends tried to bring me into a team. His friend was a trainer in the team, and then I played there, and I was too bad! I’m a really bad player, but I play football in my free time with my friends. 

I like the amateur game because, even if it sounds somehow like the stereotype, for me it’s the essence of football. It’s different worlds. It’s night and day. These guys are just working hard each day of every week, and there’s always a risk when they play that they’ll get injured, get in trouble with their families, get into trouble with their bosses and so on, but they still play football. The whole thing is just very authentic and very clear.

For me, I was always a football fan. For several years I lived close to Dortmund and I became a fan of Borussia Dortmund. And of course they play quite a good football, it’s quite a nice team, they have quite nice supporters in their stadium there, it’s beautiful and so on. But to be honest, every year I get more distanced from professional football. Take recently, for example, [Ousmane] Dembélé leaving Dortmund, or [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang. I’m speechless! It’s too much business, it’s too much personal interest.

Now I just have a favourite club in the fifth league, Chemie Leipzig, and I’m just focused on that because I became tired of this professional thing. So, semi-professional that’s ok for me. The fans are good, they are part-time professional players, and for me the players are closer to their audience. For me with lower league soccer, I’m quite a normal guy and these guys are normal guys, so you can quite easily find a level to enjoy each other’s art.” 

“I love the different human layers of the picture. The caravan, the old and the young guy, the coach and the trainer. It just tells the whole story in one picture.”

“I tried to take pictures of other sports but its not for me, it’s just football. I mean some sports I can imagine are interesting to capture but let’s say I’m like a stereotype of a German, so just football! I mean it’s not the game itself, it’s the whole thing; the fans, the players and how all work together, especially the lower league teams.

I feel more comfortable to work in Germany because I speak the language better and I know the surroundings. So, for me it’s important, I just need my personal surroundings to feel safe. I mean safe, not like a physical safety, but I need to know my environment.

I have several favourites. One is the corner flag in the traffic cone. I like it because of the situation and the makeshift arrangement. This every day humour I really love to discover. The whole situation seemed scripted and I always ask myself: who wrote this script? Who had this brilliant idea?”

“Then there’s Iodine ointment and duct tape… the small things that keeps the world together and keeps it moving on. The one with the caravan and the water bucket, I love the different human layers of the picture. The caravan, the old and the young guy, the coach and the trainer. All together. It just tells the whole story in one picture.

The bus stop beside the field, this situation is full of pain and strength and power. The dirt, the awful weather, the court, the exhaustion in the players faces, the discussions going on during the break. This picture always makes me feel and smell the situation. It’s like a flashback. Like the essence of football. And the essence of the beliefs of why people play and love Sunday football: leave your personal comfort zone in the middle of your beloved comfort zone. They were all over 30 and they played versus young guys. 10 vs 11! And they won 5-3. Now you can understand my fascination.

Lastly, there is the German forest and Sunday football on the outskirts of civilisation. That’s all you have to know about our country…”

For more of Christian Werner’s work visit www.c-werner.net


Thanks to:

Christian Werner
Steven Railston