When Émile-Samory Fofana started his Champions League Koulikoro series four years ago, it marked a turning point in his creative trajectory. “It was the project that first attracted me to photography,” he tells CR. “Before that, I mainly worked in video, but I wanted to create a specific work and photography was the best way to put these images in perspective, next to each other. Very early on, I knew that I also wanted to make a book out of it.
The work highlights the presence of typically European football clubs that have become brands in different parts of the world through football shirts worn in the streets of Mali, Senegal and Guinea. Yet this is not to praise these clubs for their widespread appeal; instead, his photography illustrates how fans around the world create myths and reputations that give these clubs as much as the reverse.
Some of the project’s photographs appear anthropological and documentary, others are stylized and surreal. “At the beginning, I took pictures with a big camera and posed people in front of their homes, for example. I quickly started to feel like something was missing, that to make this a real body of work, I had to take pictures of people in real, unstaged situations,” he explains. he.
He started photographing people with his phone instead, partly because of local circumstances. “Photographing with my iPhone allows me to put people at ease. Even if it doesn’t really feel in the capital, Mali is located in a conflict zone, which sometimes makes it difficult to shoot with a camera Basically, his informal choice of camera set a different tone for the work he did, allowing him to shoot from his scooter in traffic and in markets or at concerts, he tells us.
His work is exhibited at the Oof Gallery, based on the Tottenham Hotspur grounds in north London, as part of the gallery’s summer season of solo exhibitions, as well as at the Design Museum London as part of the Designing the Beautiful Game exhibition.
At Oof, Fofana has created an additional exhibit that collects counterfeit football shirts. It subverts the perception of counterfeit coins as lesser counterfeit products, turning them instead into a celebration of global football fandom. “It was interesting for me to show bootlegs in an exhibition space linked to a big club. For me, it’s not about value or authenticity, but about the object itself. The shirts footballs that are counterfeit have something special and entertaining,” says Fofana.
“There are some amazing pieces emerging from the bootleg industry, with unique logos, details, even collar shapes that differ from the originals and add something else,” he points out. “I’ve seen many Tottenham shirts with nine stars at the top of the logo, or Arsenal misspelled ‘Arsanel’. When you see ‘Rooney’ on an FC Barcelona shirt, there’s a fictional side to it, as if they fantasized about a transfer that will never happen. It’s as if the market could create its own mythology.
Fofana’s work also speaks to the global machinations of football fans and the wider web of markets they create and rely on. He points out that when Dutch side Ajax reached the Champions League semi-finals recently, he saw shirts popping up all over the streets, “not necessarily because people wanted to wear them”, says- it, but because of the flow of nationally determined imports and exports.
And then there are the unofficial collaborations between luxury brands and top-flight European teams, “like Manchester City x Louis Vuitton, Juventus x Gucci, PSG x Chanel that I’ve seen in the Bamako markets,” says -he. “That’s the Koulikoro Champions League, photos where you wonder how these jerseys got there.”
The bootleg shirts and portraits exhibited at Oof create a “dialogue” between different mediums, and between his early work and those of today. “My working methods have evolved over the last four years that I have worked on the project and it was important for me to create an installation,” he explains, adding that the location of the Oof gallery takes on a particular significance. “The fact that the gallery is in a stadium and has this relationship with Tottenham fans and English football was perfect for me. That’s something this project really highlights: how West African football fans make part of European football. It’s like a form of homage.
Émile-Samory Fofana’s work is exhibited at the Oof gallery until July 3 and at the Design Museum until August 29; @emilesamory