Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Q&A #1: French photographer shoots U.S. sports on his own

 Part 1/2:
At Toledo area sporting events, particularly college games, we local photogs can spot an unfamiliar face in the press box pretty quickly. We assume the 'other' guy is from the opposing team. But remember what happens when you assume...
  I was shooting a BGSU football game last month and there was a young guy I didn't recognize, so I asked him where he was from. In a very distinguishable French accent, Thomas Savoja said he was from France. I then asked him why he was at BGSU. Turns out he's an engineer traveling in the United States for a few weeks to document American sports.    
  Interesting, right? So I got his business card and shot him an email with a few questions that my inquiring mind wanted to know. 
  Because his responses were a bit lengthy, I will break the interview up into two parts. He also agreed to send a few of his photos, and I will share them when I get them.
   I hope you find his verbatim answers as enlightening as I did.
Paris sports photographer and engineer Thomas Savoja. (Photo by Lori King)
Q: It says on your business card that you're a sports photographer from Paris, France. What is your photography background? 
A: Well, you always have to be careful with what the business cards says ;-) As far as I am concerned, my initial background is actually engineering and even if photography has always been part of my life, I never consider it as a real business. This means this is not my primary job but more an additional activity. You know, this is very challenging in France to start a serious business from photography itself so I have tried to develop a more global approach where photo is just a side.
My father brought me my first camera when I was eight and since that time, I never really stopped shooting. Urban landscapes were my primary focus. Then I fell in love with Asia, which offers so many picturesque places! This has given me many opportunities to spend time wandering out there with a backpack and a camera. My best souvenirs are probably the Bagan plain in Myanmar, the Thar Desert in Rajasthan and the Silk Road in Uzbekistan.
I came to action shooting relatively late and even if the material has a predominant role there, this is really an area where I enjoy permanently improving my skills. Why this sudden interest for shooting sport? This is mainly because I am myself a sport fanatic. I was a tennis player for 30 years and I am still playing soccer in a French Federation League each Saturday. I started shooting my team and step by step I come to shoot more important events.
My focus when I shoot sports is obviously to be able to catch the ultimate moment of action. This is a nice quest but to be honest, I am always frustrated to miss nice shoot opportunities because of a bad choice of positioning or a lack of concentration. Luck is also a key factor in this area.
In Europe, I shoot every kind of sports even if I tend to specialize myself in American sports (Yes US Football is also played in Europe). Otherwise, it goes from soccer to rugby, handball, volley ball, ice and field hockey but also tennis, boxing, fencing, track and field, and so many others.
Each year in France I am organizing a contest for the Best Football picture of the year. The winner is announced at the halftime of the French championship final and I have the chance to get some nice jurors coming from Sport Photojournalism in the US. Maybe you can be a member of the Jury for this year's contest!
Q: How do you compare European sports to American sports? What are a few major differences and similarities?    
A: That’s a good question. I think that the main difference is the position sport occupies in the society. If I look at the way French society approaches sport, it is actually very far from a center of interest. I would even say that a certain elite has traditionally contempt for Sport in my country. Here in the US, this is really something central in people’s life. For instance, I am absolutely fascinated by the way sport is treated in High School. This is so impressive compared to what we are doing in France. I would have loved to be part of this!
I am also very enthusiastic about college sports despite recent scandals that may have tarnished a little bit the model. I had the opportunity to discover many campuses through the country and I have been very excited about the spirit there and values behind sport.
On the other end, sport seems also one of the main entertainment drivers for people here. In the US, when you are an adult, it seems almost exclusively considered as an entertainment or a business. In Europe this is more an activity than many people want to practice by themselves on top of looking at it on the TV. My impression is that in the US, when you are an adult it is very difficult to play sport as an amateur but maybe I am wrong.
The most popular sport in France is obviously soccer, even if the current image of the national team is extremely bad because of the behavior of some players which have been very selfish and unprofessional these recent years. This is there a difference with the American sports where college is often a mandatory step before turning pro. In Europe, uneducated young kids coming from poor family background are making it to the pros without education and it may become a problem for them to manage the transition.
The behavior of the fans is also totally different in Europe. Here they are much more “hardcore” in the sense that they are coming to the stadium not for the fun of it but really to cheer and support their team. The good think is that atmosphere may be crazy, the bad is that there is too often problems inside stadiums which lead to unsecured atmosphere.
If I take, for the example of Paris Saint Germain my favorite soccer team I am rooting for since I am a kid, 2 guys died in our stadium the last 10 years because of violence. This is not acceptable. The new owners have taken measure to change behavior even if the direct consequence is that the noise and ambiance in the stadium is much more quiet that in the past. A lot of core fans complain about that but security has no price.

Follow Thomas on Twitter: @tomasino22
View Thomas' American sports photo gallery:

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