Turf and White Line is an Instagram account that documents Manchester City games at the Etihad Stadum. The difference is photographer Ben Oldham doesn't stray from his seat and uses nothing more than a compact camera. We met him to discuss his unique project, which is now into its fourth season.
Turf and White Line is a very unique project, yet it manages to feel very familiar. What made you start TAWL and are you surprised that attention it has got?
It just sort of happened I can’t remember a point where I sat down and thought ‘Right I’m gonna photograph football now’. I take a camera out with me always and ended up taking a couple of shots mid-game of the sun coming in through the stand and casting a shadow on the pitch over one of the players. It was more about capturing the light and the space than the football match. It was one of those moments you have where you go ‘Hang on, that actually looks pretty fuckin cool’. It’s just sort of rolled on from there I suppose, I photographed a Man City Women’s game against Arsenal around the same time and came away thinking actually there might be something in this. It’s surprising in the sense that it isn’t really about the football, it’s more about the composition of the shot and the capturing of a scene from a fan’s perspective. Maybe people see something in it that they can relate to. It’s nice that people are able to look beyond the colour of the shirt and appreciate the project for what it is.
How do you think your style has progressed since you started the project 3 seasons ago?
I think this year especially I know the direction of the project and I have a much clearer idea want to get from a shot and what works. There is always a temptation to try and capture the Hollywood moments and the goals being scored but that’s what the press photographers are there for. I like finding the shots that would usually pass you by during a game, like a player stood in acres of space on their own or the moment just after the ball has left an area of the field and the players are reacting to it.
How long have you been a Man City season ticket holder? Where do you sit? And what is your favourite game that you have photographed?
I’ve had a season ticket at City for 10 years now at various places on the East Stand. We used to sit down the front where you feel like you’re part of the game, but we’re up on the second tier now. If we hadn’t moved I probably would have never started Turf & White Line. The Champions League games are always great ones to photograph because the pace is so fast, but my favourite games are towards the end of the season when the suns coming in through the ground, the contrast in the shadows it gives you a lot more to work with.
What camera do you use? Do you have any special equipment to shoot?
I just use a few different compact cameras, nothing special.
Did you ever go to Maine Road? Do City fans miss the atmosphere at the old ground?
Yeah a few times, I was only young though, we used to get tickets every now and then off one of the dads at my Saturday morning team. We went to the last ever game there I think. I remember us walking around the ground after the match and my Dad saying that’s the last time they would play there. I didn’t really appreciate the significance of it at the time. It’s definitely missed by the fans, they’ll never replicate the Kippax at the Etihad. That’s another thing I wish I’d been old enough to have properly taken in.
What do you think of Man City under Guardiola and how far can they go this season?
It’s great, I love him! I don’t think it’s the style of play that’s let them down, up to this point the football they’ve played has been amazing to watch, I think it’s more a case of certain players not being equipped to deal with what they’re asked to do. If they get on a good run in the new year and keep their confidence high I can’t see any reason why they can’t pick up a trophy.
Your website says that you are a lead designer and photographer. What other projects do you usually do? Do you consider yourself more a designer or a photographer?
I work for a design agency where we do a lot of sports brand and digital development projects and I’ve also worked on quite a bit of gig photography that I’d like to see take on a similar approach to Turf & White Line in the next couple of years too. I don’t know that I would associate myself as a designer or a photographer, I don’t have any formal teaching in either. I trained as a creative artist before I started working so thats probably the best way to describe what I do.