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Dimitri Stefanov

Not about Football

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In a time when Real Madrid is spending millions on mega-stars, this is the story of the Orcasitas FC, an amateur football team on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain. Its players are plumbers, postmen, butchers and so on. They once had the dream of reaching the top but for one reason or another they never made it, and have to make do with training twice a week after a hard day’s work, and play every sunday at the local clay football pitch, for a small audience, mainly their relatives. And even if they don’t earn millions or play in first division stadiums, they go for it, they put their hearts in it, they have all the passion. That’s why this is not about football, it’s about life, fight, mud, it’s about a struggle, the love for a sport, it’s about them, the real gladiators of football.



Dimitri  Stefanov is a 22 year old Bulgarian photographer based in Madrid/Spain. Born in Bulgaria, at the age of 13 his parents decided to leave Bulgaria to make a living in Spain. He is currently working in an essay about Bulgarian dailylive on the countryside. He won the “Future Award” 2008 in Madrids EFTI Masterclass, also a scholarship from Albarracin photojournalism workshop in 2009.


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Dimitri Stefanov


Editor’s note:

Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

32 thoughts on “dimitri stefanov – not about football”

  1. Uh-oh, I think I agree with Jim. The high contrast seems a bit forced and leaves me a bit frustrated. It works for a few of the images but for most, I’d like to see some shadow detail and not be blinded by the whites. I also think color would work better for this essay.

  2. Congratulations for making it here Dimitri. I saw this essay when first exhibited in EFTI and the prints look waaaaay better than the images here….(where I have to agree the clipped blacks and whites are not that great).
    Good job in any case, you’re very young and have a very long away ahead!

  3. The high-contrast b/w doesn’t bother me as much as not seeing anything away from the field/stadium/locker-room. If this were my project, I would consider including some images of these guys away from the game. Dimitri, you say they train after working hard all day at their necessary regular jobs – show it. I think that would be interesting. You call these men gladiators – so show them in the heat of battle, actually playing instead of just training. If this is about love and determination, then show us those emotions; #14 does this well. Something else to consider: What is their relationship to the high-paid pro footballers? Do they look up to them, or is there disdain for a life they once strived for?

    I see the beginnings of a good project here, something I’d like to see more of. Keep up the good work and congratulations on being published here.

  4. I wish that I could see those prints.

    What I like to do with these Burn essays is to take a look at them and then not come back for several hours and see what images are still in my head. So today I took a look, then drove to Anchorage, was gone for many hours and just returned.

    I sat down and, before I again opened the essay, three images came distinctly into my mind. Number 5, which I found evocative of Cartier Bresson, Number 6, where the high contrast definitely puts a unique emphasis on the muscles and makes me feel it in my own muscles and number 24, the building over the football field, which reminds me of a trip that I made to the Russian Far East in ’94.

    Then, when I went back through, all the images were familiar, just as when you watch a movie that you haven’t seen for years and you can’t quite remember it, but each time a new scene pops up, you suddenly remember having seen it before.

    I do like all the individual images and in the three cases that I remembered, I think the high contrast really works. In fact, I think it works throughout as you want it to, just not enough to plant the images firmly in my memory for ten or ll hours. Keep in mind that I am in my late ’50s and if I were still in my ’20’s I may well have remembered every single image.

    As all this is so subjective and as people with better judgment than me have chosen this for Burn, I am reluctant to criticize at all, but as an essay, it did not really bring me into the game of football, which I still want to call soccer, because to me the word,”football,” is deeply ingrained with a whole different meaning.

    My understanding of world-wide football may be somewhat increased as a result of your essay, but not as much as I would have hoped.

    Even so, I see your talent and hope to see many good projects come from you.

  5. Congratulations Dimitri.I guess we don’t have to worry about you becoming a sports photographer. (that’s a compliment BTW) Some really interesting perspective in terms of your eye for detail. I like the shower shot (no not the guys with bare buts) the guy with the water cascading down his face. Classic photojournalism. Good job.

  6. Dig the photos. Made lemonade out of lemons in my opinion.

    I would’ve swore Jim would’ve liked it, not trying to change the world, etc, etc. I can’t find a too-hot white anywhere, clipped blacks sure, but I never met shadow detail I liked. Who cares anyway?

  7. I have a problem with the title. This is clearly about football. It’s ok that you explain that it’s about something larger than just football in your text, but the title does not link very well with your essay.

    I’m thinking an overview shot of the stadium of Real Madrid could be interesting to include in the start of this essay, just to show the overwhelming feeling of it and then focus on this tiny club throughout the rest…

  8. I’d like to see what you write. The pictures themselves work for me, could do with a tad less contrast, but it’s not a problem for me. There’s more to be told, visually, go for it!

  9. A lot of nice details, but not enough about players. Somehow there needs to be a link to their “other” life. This can be a very nice feature story. Just fill in the blanks! Nothing to it, right? (Joking)

    I’m a sucker for gritty b$w so no comment on that.

  10. I really like the essay as it tells a little, silent story about a football team. A good start.
    The commentors above me give good feedback by asking some questions on the story and asking for more context. The essay is worth it to be continued, widen the scope. At home, in the stadium watching a “big” game, at their work, I’d be curious how those stories go on. Take your time, that’s what a good story needs.


  11. I agree with much second.page has written, and I would like to add that this essay lack of breathing air.
    Too much details, darkness, enigmatic shots that run without much of a flow and would need a bit more of context added to it.

    Still, you seem to have a good eye, which come across from these photos very clearly, and with no doubt you’ll be a great photographer if you work on a few things.

    Also, in my opinion, I would ditch the vignette and other far-too-fashionable elements, as those things, a) will eventually go out of fashion, and b) could be a bit too cheeky technique if abused.

    Thanks for sharing though

  12. en hora buena dimitri!
    las fotos son muy buenas y macanta la edicion. vi un poco tu web y sigue por delante con tus proyectos.
    creo que eres el fotografo mas joven que a publicado en BURN.
    un saludo
    p.s. no importa mucho las opiñones de gente , lo que importa es que a david alan harvey te a dado una gran opurtunidad a nivel mundial.

  13. Hi – I’m new here (first post on Burn), and very impressed with the caliber of the work and the constructive nature and overall thoughtfulness of the comments. Refreshing!

    One of the things that strikes me about Dmitri’s essay – and quite a few others that I’ve looked at – is how easily we fall into repeating visual tropes that have been laid down by earlier generations. The style (high-contrast, inky blacks etc) in this essay evokes some of Josef Koudelka’s early work, for example, and very much the work of Daido Moriyama in the 60s in Japan. At the time, there was something powerful, new and deeply impactful about the technique itself – it helped to show us something we hadn’t really seen before, married to compelling content.

    What I fear (too strong a word, really) is that by employing techniques that carry such emphatic baggage, we’re actually encouraging our audiences to adopt the mindsets that those techniques imply. It’s difficult to look at these photographs of weekend soccer players, for example, without immediately making assumptions about the epic nature of their life-and-death struggle, etc. We’re being thrust into those assumptions. What results is perhaps a diminished, one dimensional view into what is undoubtedly a rich, multifaceted world.

    I don’t want to be too harsh on you Dmitri – your images have a tremendous graphic impact and vitality, and it’s a very strong body of work. But I wonder if maybe you bring a little less “photographic history” into the work next time, and allow the story to define the technique a bit more? Let’s face it – if you’re shooting RAW, you can decide what “film” to load in the camera after the fact! In some respects I’d love to see the exact same images processed radically differently (if you shot on film – well, good for you, and my point is moot).

  14. dimitri… i like this work, some very good photographs, u certainly have a “touch”… there are some issues with the high contrast, but basically i like it, and i guess monitor-vs-monitor-vs-print is tricky enough.
    out of interest, i also saw your website, and it is further convincing… i see u r very young, so it looks Very promising…
    in this football essay, there are some images that are missing… i will not tell u what, but try to go deeper since those are not Real Madrid players, and their social/personal side included in the work may have an additional value… u say it in words, but try to bring it in photos, cause it is photo-essay i guess.

    now, let me add something about your text, about journalsim/docu…
    “not about football” – i know it sounds journalistically sexy to give such names to such stories… but do some deeper thought …
    i have no doubts that most people in Real Madrid, from multi million euro players to team managers etc, are Enthusiasts of football… plus they are gifted and lucky…. these facts make their top football game “not only football” but a huge “entertainment business”….
    it is in case of those people u photographed that it is “all about football”… cause they come after hard work as u say for their love to football (sport and social aspects etc).

  15. Hola Dimitri, the story about the players is really interesting, that they struggle every day for life, and the evening they play football.
    But, I agree that the vigneting and the High constrast is too much, and for me it doesn;t work.
    If you can go on with the essay, I mean if, it is a long term essay, just shoot some more portraits, like the one in the shower and also, shoot the enviroment of their daily lifes, before the training session.

    @Neven, si que importa la opinion de los demas…no solo la de DAH.

    Thanks, Patricio

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  17. 4 is my idea of a perfect shot. The whole essay was a delight to look at over and over, I think the vignetting and high contrast ADD to the essay, although it doesn’t need additional enhancements. Wonderful compositions, tells a beautiful story, almost even poetic kind of photography. Well done.

  18. Dimitri, I really admire the way you see the world both visually and conceptually. Looks like you are on your way to becoming an really strong photographer. The work in progress on your site about rural life is great as well, though I’d suggest making sure your toning is helping tell the stories in your images rather than competing with them. Form should follow function, in my opinion, rather than adding an artistic filter to give work a cohesive feel. Your storytelling may flow naturally without the use of a post-processing technique.

  19. I liked this much better on the first viewing and a little less on all the subsequent. What I like is the composition for images #2, #4, and #9; the tight focus on particular body parts as a narrative device and #24 — I’m a sucker for apartment buildings backed by dramatic skies.

    The story of men playing too hard at a sport they love well past the time they should have hung it up is not new. I think the photographer did a good job of avoiding most of the cliches (behind the net shot excepted). Still, like we see too often in similar stories, the entire exercise appears grim. There’s nothing in the essay to show that these men get any joy from the game, which presumably they do. If not, fine. Otherwise, I’d like to get more a sense of why they do it.

    Like other commenters, I am bothered by the extreme contrast, but for different reasons, perhaps. The contrast, I think, makes the essay appear far more dramatic than is justified by the content. One could suspect that the photographer doesn’t have enough confidence in the story to let the photos communicate it on the merits of their content and composition. That’s a shame because it’s not a bad story and there’s some excellent content and compositions. I think there’s plenty of drama inherent in the story but suspect it would be better conveyed with a few more shades of grey.

    So those are my quibbles. Good work overall.

  20. Dimitri

    Congratulations on being published here.

    Congratulations also on your excellent work.This work shows maturity and a wonderful eye for composition. I love what you are trying to convey here. I can see your passion, as well as your subjects passion. You have created a powerful story, and touched on an aspect of life that many of us can relate to, personal passion/obsession.

    Your sense of composition is wonderful. I especially love 17, 20, and 22.

    I have to agree with many of the comments here about the very high contrast . I’m afraid it is a trap that many young photographers fall into.

  21. I like it. Some of the photos really stand out. I love the first and last choices. I also felt like the hard contrast was a bit too much, but on the photos that worked (for me) it fit.

    I thought some of the details of body parts got redundant. The guy getting a massage and the shower scene at the end didn’t work at all, like I’d already seen too much “body” as it was. It’s the life, as you say and begin to show, that I like most.

  22. Dimitri,
    nice images! Very well done! You are on a good way. I haven been shooting football for many years and I am glad to see a different view on the game. The b&w works fine for me, even the high contrasts. Image No 12 is among my favourites because I have seen players run onto the field many times, but never like that…
    My suggestion would be to add the private side of the players, their working and living conditions and perhaps the supporters (relatives) because you say it is not about football but about life. I would like to see more of this life.
    Please contact Philipp Köster of the German football magazine “11 Freunde”. This is a high class, top of the line football magazine with a great design and I am sure they would be interested to take a look at your work.

    Anybody interested in a different approach to football photography please check out Hans van der Meer!!! Highly, highly recommended!

    Football is not my passion at all so I shoot football for money. I love ice hockey…


  23. Jon-Marc – I am very glad you are writing – welcome. I ‘hear’ your point and to some extent agree, especially when device supplants content, but my question to you is about the pitfalls of the alternative to leading an audience in a direction. In an ‘authored’ essay, don’t we expect that the photographer have something more than a straight journalistic point of view, and that this view, while it should not dictate, might inform the work and the viewer if it suggests? I also wonder if what you call emphatic baggage is owned by a generation or simply extended by the benefit of time and understanding of lineage, or if it is even visually and intellectually/emotionally consumed by non-photographers in the way you suggest (how many casual viewers will get the daido reference?)

    A reminder that there is a dialogue part to burn, as there is a one comment per person rule under essays..please come on over to the current thread ‘time out’ to talk more.

  24. hey, just a quick comment.

    Love the work and I like the confidence that you have in your Black and White images, they are very stark; a style which I personally wouldn’t choose for this type of subject (it has its merits elsewhere in my opinion) but nonetheless a very good essay.

    I loved coming across the one portrait of the man’s face covered with sweat. It was very nice to see something personal and simple like that after such heavy black and white photographs.

    cheers and congrats on getting published here on Burn. Keep shooting!

  25. “I have to agree with many of the comments here about the very high contrast . I’m afraid it is a trap that many young photographers fall into.”

    Hey Gordon,
    Just curious as to why you feel the use of fairly extreme contrast is a trap many young
    photographers fall in to ?

    While I tend to agree that the technique doesn’t suit all images in the piece I like the
    harsh, aggressive mood that is created and I don’t really see much difference in similarly
    styled pieces by Trent Parke or Alex Majoli that are generally well regarded

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