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Football, photography and Venice in the mind of Ethan White

A chat with the first participant of the VFC AiR project

Football, photography and Venice in the mind of Ethan White A chat with the first participant of the VFC AiR project
Venezia FC has inaugurated an artistic residency program, proving once again to be a step ahead of the top teams. The attention that the Venetians reserve for culture, the city and the territory is of the highest level and the new project bears witness to this. The "VFC AiR" is an international residency program for artists whose mission is to tell the relationship between football and the city, between football culture and popular culture in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The first step involves Ethan White, American photographer and former professional footballer of the MLS (New York City, DC United and Philadelphia Union the American teams in which he played). For the next nine months, Ethan will discover Venice as a resident artist and will capture moments where sport and culture overlap, creating a single photographic journey.
White's path is significant: at 29 he is a professional photographer, but until 3 years ago he managed to combine two pro activists at the same time. In addition to football, in fact, he has participated in Jordan and adidas brand projects, in events such as the 2019 Madrid Champions League final and in US Soccer matches. We joined him to let him tell us how he knows living this first Italian experience.

You have been a professional footballer in MLS and a photographer who has done great projects. We often talk about dual career and you are the perfect example: how did you manage to do both at the highest level?

First, I think I was fortunate enough to find my second passion early in my life. I started shooting for fun at ~16 years old. When I wasn’t playing football, I devoted my time to learning how to become a better photographer with the same energy and mentality that made me a professional footballer. I constantly researched other photographers' styles from all industries (fashion, lifestyle, sports and photojournalism) like I studied video of Puyol, Cannavaro and Cafu. Halfway through my playing career, in Philadelphia, I was getting paid to shoot for reputable brands but more opportunities arose when I was playing in NYC. When I made the decision to retire 3 years ago, I wanted to use my unique understanding and perspective on football to shoot matches. In 2019, I shot the Champions League Final and that was when I felt like I had made it to a different level in photography.

Venice is one of the wonders of Italy and has a very particular aesthetic, just like Venezia Calcio. The football context in which he plays is authentic, without the most important spotlights that distort its essence. How do you think you can match these two aspects?

Although there is always something impressive about the glamor of shooting the Champions League Final, in my eyes, the true charm and beauty exists when all of it is stripped away. Being free from the distractions that come with elite level football will allow me to appreciate, respect, and study the beauty that exists within smaller yet historic environments, to tell local and meaningful stories of culture and community, on and off the pitch.

You will have to build a path of images that will tell the football culture - and not only - of the city. What is the challenge that most fascinates you and what is the approach to describe both in the best way?

It is important to first respect and then earn trust of the environment, while absorbing the beauty that exists in the city and football here. Simultaneously, capture the essence on and off the pitch with a fresh perspective. Experiencing the city and culture as an outsider will allow me to highlight and celebrate the rarities that make up Venezia’s charm. I am excited to form genuine relationships within the club, football culture and community to gain a better understanding. 

Your shots speak for themselves: the local sports culture and the popular culture of a place always go hand in hand. In this sense, what do you expect from your experience in Venice and more generally in Italy? Is there a specific aspect that you have already identified and that you would like to tell at any cost?

When I was fortunate enough to be approached for the project, I wanted to arrive with an open mind. I am still exploring Venezia and developing inspiration and relationships. The beauty of the program is that there isn’t not a rush to create content. I have the ability to form genuine relationships within the city and culture to allow me to tell a better authentic story of Venezia through my eyes.

Many athletes - both footballers and basketball players - have a great passion for photography. For example, Marquez Haynes was the point guard of Reyer Venezia (the Venice team that plays in Serie A basketball) for 3 years and immortalized Venice and Italy with many shots. In your opinion, does living sport at a high level help to perceive the context in a different way than those who are just a spectator?

Absolutely. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the subject you are shooting allows you to tell a better story. As a former footballer, I can understand not only the importance and beauty of the emotions, technique and small moments of football; but also the level of physical and emotional dedication that goes into performing at a high level in front of passionate fans. Because I realize all of this is present within football and not the 90 mins of play, I aspire to portray that in my photography of players, coaches, stadium architecture and fans. The quiet moments are what make the big moments so special.