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Paris based photographer Andrew McLeish went to England to document one of the countryís most famous football supporters. An encounter which resulted in a photo reportage about men, passion and of course football. íFan de foot. So british!í (1) won 2004 íPrix du Publicí in Paris Matchís competition for photography students.

par Sara Bertilsson

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Sara Bertilsson: How did you come up with the idea for íFan de foot. So british!í?

Andrew McLeish: I had just bought a digital camera and as I had heard about this Portsmouth fan who even changed his name to John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood, I thought that could be an interesting project. What interested me was both the visual part with his outfit and his house filled with football items and the social aspect of football. Following a team is a very big part of the English culture.

S. B.: What does this reportage represent to you?

A. McL.: There are different aspects in it. It is of course the eccentric side with the extreme football fan, but also a social side; Portsmouth is a working class town and football is a working class sport and the most passionate fans are often from the poorest areas in England.

S. B.: What was your idea for the reportage?

A. McL.: There is a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde thing about John: he has a very serious job in a bookstore which his family has run for a long time and I donít even think that he drinks during the week and then during weekend, he becomes this fan that goes to the match and drinks a lot of alcohol and really lets loose. I wanted to show this contrast. The first picture in the sequence is therefore at his work. I wanted as many books as possible in the picture as traditionally, in painting you use books to show that the person is intelligent. We were looking in his shop and found this place with the shelves. In the picture he is in front of a light which lights up his head like a halo, which kind of symbolises the religious side of football; religious people go to church every Sunday and the football fans go to the game every weekend. After that you see him dressed up with all his gear on match day at his house with all the football club items.

S. B.: How much do you prepare before a project like this?

A. McL.: You can foresee things to a certain extent. I knew Portsmouth was going to play against the local rival Southampton and I knew kick off had been changed from 3 pm to midday. I also spoke to John who said they were going to the pub at seven in the morning. From that I had an idea of how I wanted to present it visually.
But of course I couldnít know the police would decide to film everyone at our arrival at the stadium and that John would start dancing for the cameras.

S. B.: What was it like to follow John?

A. McL.: I didnít choose this theme to denounce anything or to criticise John and his way of living. We actually have a really good time. He was very friendly and happy for me to be there. But obviously, John and his friends have been going to the pub and to the games together for 20 years. Some of them were clearly not keen on me showing up, I suppose because I was new but also because I brought my camera. I tried to avoid those whom I thought might cause problems. Eventually they got used to me being around and
accepted it.

S. B.: One of the photos is of the pub which opened illegally at seven in the morning. How do you feel about taking pictures of people doing something illegal?

A. McL.: The fact that the pub owner risks his licence for the fans is an important part of the story. He did make some money that morning but it was less of a financial decision than it was a favour to the fans. As with the photos I took of troublemakers during the CPE demonstrations in Paris earlier this year, these are adults who are responsible for their own actions. Personally I donít mind showing peopleís faces.

S. B.: You have created reportages of homeless men in Japan, a British football fan and troublemakers during the CPE demonstrations; what would you say is the common thread that runs through your work?

A. McL.: I suppose one could say thereís a social aspect in most of my photos. I started taking pictures when I was at university. While I was working in a hostel for drug addicts and homeless people two of my colleagues were arrested because there were some drugs in the building. After they were thrown in prison I felt the need to follow the story. That was the first thing I ever did. The stories about homelessness in Tokyo, demonstrations against unemployement and football all include a similar social element.

S. B.: Have you ever been tempted to do more íartisticí photography?

A. McL.: Itís difficult to photograph something if youíre not passionate about it. I take pictures because I have something to say, a story to tell. Iím also quite obsessed compositionally by the rectangular 35mm shape and landscape size. Iíve experimented with other cameras but I donít enjoy it as much and visually I donít find as interesting.

S. B.: What is most important in your pictures?

A. McL.: That there is a narration with photos following one another and that it tells a story rather than just a little bit of everything. I donít like pictures so much on their own, they donít tell that much of a story.

S. B.: Do you allow yourself to change anything in a picture?

A. McL.: No, I would never reframe or cut out a picture, all my photos are taken exactly the way they are. The truth is important and I also believe itís important to know that the picture is what happened through the eyes of one photographer rather as a result of his direction. The artistic side of it is that you can have 50 people in an area and you will have 50 different pictures.

S. B.: What are your influences?

A. McL.: I never took a picture before I was 21 years old, which is quite late. I was very impressed with the work I was doing at the hostel and that story. The injustice that took place there made me want to be a photographer. When I studied art at university I was doing the same type of stories but only not with photography. Then I discovered photography and realized that this is the best media to express my ideas and the issues Iím interested in.
Iím of course influenced by photographers who specialise in traditional 35mm, like James Natchwey and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Also Jim Goldberg and Eugene Richards, not only for their socially orientated projects but also for their strong sense of composition and good understanding of image.

S. B.: What is your next project?

A. McL.: It is another socially oriented project. This one will probably take a long time before it is finished, maybe even years. For the rest, itís a secret.


(1) The original title for this serie is 'The Passion', before Paris Match changed it to 'Fan de foot. So British!'.

John Westwood works in an antiquarian and second-hand bookshop, a company run by members of his family for years. His business card boasts prestigious customers like Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles.
© Andrew McLeish

John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood at home in his lounge, where everything is branded with the badge of Portsmouth FC.
© Andrew McLeish

Literally everthing in John's house is linked to Portsmouth FC; the curtains, the cushions, the wallpaper, even the carpet.
© Andrew McLeish

John and his friends in the pub before the match.
© Andrew McLeish

Outside the football ground the police film all of the supporters to have a visual trace in case of any problems. John amuses himself by dancing and pulling faces in front of the camera.
© Andrew McLeish

A supporter getting arrested outside the ground.
© Andrew McLeish

John is always the last person to leave the stadium.
© Andrew McLeish

John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood has become famous in English football grounds. It is rare not to see an image of John on television during a Portsmouth game.
© Andrew McLeish

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