Nic Ojae is an image-maker who revels in the overlooked. The daily moments and occurrences that are common enough to be mundane burst into life under his lens. His latest series, Kick Abouts, is a collection of images of soccer fields and goalposts that he documented during a four-month trip through South America. Viewed in succession, the everyday spaces become something else entirely. The soccer pitch is the ultimate equaliser, from immaculate stadium pitches to hastily constructed goals in fields of barren dirt – they offer a physical retreat for as long as the game lasts. In the wake of this journey we caught up with Nic to reflect on the appeal of the world game.
Do you want to introduce yourself?
My name is Nic Ojae. I’ve been taking photos for a number of years now, and my most recent body of work comes from South America where I took photos of all the goal posts and soccer pitches that I encountered.
When did you pick up a camera?
I started shooting when I was about 17 years old, when I got my first camera. I was totally self-taught, just following my friends around Melbourne.
You were in Brazil last year for the World Cup, right? How was it?
It was absolutely crazy. Brazil is one of my favourite South American spots because there are soccer pitches everywhere. For instance in Sao Paulo there’s apartment buildings with attached rooftop pitches, and parks where there are never-ending games. In Rio the beaches are full of it, it’s just happening everywhere.
What was the atmosphere like?
It was unreal. The streets were always full of people wearing jerseys, and the games are next level. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Did you have this series in mind before you headed over, or did it happen organically?
It was definitely something that just came about. In Colombia I didn’t get to play much football because we weren’t there for long. When we got to Peru we hired a car and got a really good feel for the landscape because we were driving around for days and days. I remember seeing these roadside pitches, I’m not sure how much they were played on, but they were everywhere. Some were in great condition, some were in poor condition but they were all equally amazing.
What was it about those spaces that made you want to document them?
For me it was the diversity. Some of them are hand made, some of them are barely standing, some are pristine, some have nets and some don’t. Each one has its own charm and I wanted to document that.
It seems like soccer is a bit of an equaliser. It doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you can mark out some goals and start kicking a ball around.
Totally, I was travelling with three guys. We were four white dudes rolling around South America, and as soon as a ball gets thrown in front of you you can make friends instantly. You can spend that whole day just playing football.
Do you play personally?
I do, I’ve played since I was 10 years old. When I was 12 I even grew my hair out to be like Beckham. At the moment I play at a pretty basic level, but I try and keep it up. I’ve been playing soccer longer than I’ve been taking photos.
Your photos have a real sense of spontaneity. Do you avoid trying to set up your images?
In terms of this series I just shot what was in front of me. There were a few situations like in Rio where when I was shooting there would be a gang of dudes behind the goals, or there’d be a random person who’d walk by and get in the shot. I think that definitely brings the photos to life to an extent. It was hard to really set anything up but I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea in the future.
How do people react to documenting those spaces? It’s maybe not something that they’d see as worth focusing on.
The camera I use is pretty big, so I only tend to whip it out after I’ve either played soccer at the spot or conversed with whoever is there. I think it’s more respectful that way; otherwise it’s kind of intrusive.
Do you try to be respectful of the area?
I always feel guilty rolling through a space quickly with my camera, especially if people are playing football there. I try and immerse myself in what’s going on before I get in and out. Sometimes you pull a camera out and people get excited, and sometimes people can feel like you’re taking something from them. It’s a fine line, especially in places like South America. I think it’s really important to build relationships before shooting.
You’ve travelled a lot, is that something you’ve learnt along the way?
There are different types of photography, and in terms of really in-your-face street photography it’s almost about capturing the awkwardness of that moment. I don’t really shoot that way though, so I’ve definitely learnt to tiptoe around some spaces.
Would it be fair to say that travel is pretty important to what you do?
Totally. In Melbourne sometimes I feel uninspired, so travelling is a really good way to get back into it. Everything is coming at you and you’re trying to capture the different aspects of those cultures.
You can see more of Nic’s work here.