In 2009 I set out on an adventure to capture the passion of football on the African continent at a grassroots level. I travelled more than 20,000 km across 10 countries, equipped with my Hasselblad, 200 rolls of film, my logbook, mini digital camera & digital printer, and a stock of deflated footballs.
Far from what happens on TV, far from the big stadiums, the glitz and the sponsors… I wanted to speak of the masses, the forgotten ones. To speak of the World Cups that are played every day by teams, friends, communities all over the continent where they are making balls, marking pitches, scoring goals and above all, pleasing themselves.
The power of the ball and the beautiful game, whether it be in professional clubs or small rural villages, is enormous. Here, football is not just a game, it is the glue that binds village to village, team to team, tribe to tribe and people to people.
I just followed my gut and felt my way through villages in search of all those little details that speak of Africa’s great football passion. For me all the big stories are in the small details.
People were incredibly helpful and once I had gained their trust they gave me more than I could ever have imagined. When I got home my head and heart were full of life lessons and beautiful memories. This project was living inside me.
All the people who live and will remain in the shadow of the World Cup deserve to have a light shone on them, not just for their passion for the game but more so for the fundamental energy and enthusiasm that shines through the way they live. I wanted to embrace Africa and everything that makes it unique, to speak of the authenticity and sheer ingenuity of a continent that manages to do so much with so little, to capture people with simple needs and huge hearts. To express football in its purest form.
Jessica was born in Belgium, 1977. She’s been traveling ever since. Her parents exposed her to the world, and this sparked her fascination with images. As a young woman, she attended Art College in Blackpool, England, and later worked briefly (and unhappily) in commercial photography. In 2002-2004 she traveled through Central Asia and Africa photographing the seemingly unimportant, the apparently hidden, and finding beauty in both. This trip laid the foundations for many of the ideas and beliefs she has today. It resulted in a series of images called FACES & PLACES. In 2007 she spent four months in Madagascar working on a project called IMPERFECTION. In 2009 Jessica traveled across eight countries in Africa photographing grassroots football. The project, called AMEN, was exhibited worldwide and published in numerous international publications, such as The New York Times and National Geographic. Jessica’s work is proof that beauty can be found anywhere, especially in those unique imperfections that mark our individuality. Her work takes us far away from glossy advertising, luxury shops and soulless chain stores to a place where the superfluous and superficial are stripped away and where fundamental truths shine through.