José da Luz’s photography project Faces of West Ham, which he runs on Instagram, captures East End’s fighting football spirit in just a few snaps.
In a time when football as we know it has rapidly changed in just a few months, these precious photos now take on a nostalgic role – will football ever return to the roaring packed stadiums we know and love? We caught up with Luz to discuss his unique project, his love for West Ham FC and the future of football.
Luz (40) makes an unlikely eastender. Originally from Portugal, he moved to Kent to study visual communication. Seven years ago, Luz relocated to Bow, living close to Roman Road and of course, West Ham’s new stadium.
‘I’ve lived in the East End for so long that in many ways I feel like a proper eastender. Oh and I love football, and West Ham is the local team’, Luz enthusiastically explains.
The idea for ‘Faces of West Ham’ was hatched four years ago; Luz was greatly inspired by the photographer Stuart Clarke, whose ‘Homes of Football’ features an impressive 30-year collection of film photos. Crucially, Clarke positions the fans at the heart of the story, an instantly recognisable characteristic in Luz’s work.
‘I wanted to do something similar and thought West Ham would be perfect, as they had recently moved stadium. There were a lot of questions surrounding that location change.’
Luz’s favourite photo sees a full stadium of fans cheering with their arms in the air, singing West Ham’s famous ‘bubbles in the air’.
‘For me, the best part is the celebration the moment West Ham score. The whole crowd just screams, jumps and cheers, it brings everyone together. And it’s hard to capture too, especially because West Ham don’t score many goals’, he laughs.
The man wearing a West Ham sweatshirt and a cap looks particularly striking against the black backdrop. ‘I know him well’, Luz explains, ‘he has such amazing stories. He told me he watched his first West Ham game with his dad when he was five years old. Now he watches all their matches with his brother’.
Despite their reputation for causing trouble, Luz has had positive encounters with West Ham fans. ‘Everyone is really welcoming, when I ask to take a portrait of them, most stop and ask for more. Their reputation is probably a result of the football hooligans in the 70s and 80s.
On 22 March, 2013, West Ham moved from their Boleyn ground, which they called home for over a century, to the Olympic stadium. Luz explains one of the reasons for the move was spurred on by the many costly renovations the old ground required. But the new stadium posed further challenges.
‘The old fashioned football stadiums have a better atmosphere because they are very close to the pitch which encourages more chanting, and the whole place is smaller so it’s louder too’. The surroundings of the new grounds are different, with Stratford’s modern Westfield looming in the distance, pizza and cocktail stands inside the venue, it’s quite a change from the previous grounds.
In Luz’s experience though, a lot of fans like the new stadium; it’s just taking them a while to warm up to it.
‘We need to give it time as I think it has the potential to be a really good venue, it can hold 66,000 people.’ Luz recalls one game in the new stadium which had a particularly electric atmosphere: when West Ham beat Chelsea 0-1, the roar in the stadium was deafening! Then everyone heads to the Carpenter Arms after, it’s great’.
Now that lockdown is slowly easing, football has returned to the screens in a limited capacity: no crowd with audience sounds edited in. But Luz shows no signs of stopping his project. ‘I’m continuing it because the project is about people first and foremost. I’ve asked people to share their experience of supporting West Ham during lockdown’.
If anything, the changes to how football is played show how necessary the fans are and the following photos prove just that.
If you enjoyed these snaps, check out local photographer Matt Payne’s drone photography essay.
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