True to BSTN’s proprietary ‘Feed Fam, Fuck Fame!‘ philosophy, we’re introducing you to some members of the immediate as well as the extended BSTN family. In their own words, they talk about themselves, their career, and selected topics close to their heart. This is Feed Fam – Episode VIII featuring photographer, filmmaker, and basketball-documentarist Kevin Couliau, the founder of Asphalt Chronicles.
On his love for the game:
I honestly don’t know why I fell in love with basketball. I followed my brother to a basketball training when I was like six and I fell in love with the sport for some reason. I can’t explain why though. I never stopped playing the game and I still play it today. And I think I love it because it’s a great way to connect with people around the world, to connect with people you don’t know. Even when you are in your home town and you want to play basketball in your local court, it’s a great way to make new friends. As a photographer, I love to work in that space and show the social dimension of it. It’s a sport of inclusion.
On the beauty of the game of basketball:
Even if it’s something you can play by yourself, you’ll always find a way to be part of a team. Especially when you travel outside of your home country, your hometown, you meet people you wouldn’t maybe meet within your normal life. New York is the best example: You can play with a homeless person and and a priest and a Wall Street broker and a trader. And I think that’s what makes basketball so special: There’s no real cast-layers or social layers. Everybody can play the game, so that’s what makes it interesting. And on top of the social dimension, for me, it’s the visual aspect of it. I think it’s one of the most beautiful sports in the world. And a basketball court, graphically and aesthetically, is way more interesting than a soccer pitch.
I interviewed an 86-year-old man in Hong Kong who was playing basketball at 7:00 AM every day. And he started playing basketball maybe 20 years ago. But before that, he was doing track and field. So he must have started hooping when he was about 65 and he did it for one reason: It was a way for him to interact with his peers, the people of his age. A lot of people can feel isolated in their appartments in Hong Kong. But he found basketball so interesting – the community aspect of it – that he started playing the game without having picked up a basketball for the first 65 years of his life.
In Europe, I don’t see old people playing basketball. It’s a real question to me. Why do so many Europeans stop playing sports at a fairly young age? And I’m like, what’s wrong with us? Why do we stop playing the game?
On transitioning into photography:
I started photography in 2004. I started shooting basketball courts and people in 2004 as a hobby, but I already thought about wanting to do this for a living. It just took time. It took time because I had to grow as a photographer and filmmaker, I guess. I got to work with a crew called Slam Nation, a group of dunkers I was traveling around Europe with to shoot their shows. Over the years, I had multiple opportunities to work in New York City, too. [Kev has created a short film called Heart and Soul of New York City over Red Cafe’s eponymous anthem as well as the full-length documentary Doin’ it in the Park, both of which you shoud check out if you haven’t already!]
The Heart and Sould of New York City video had success and I received a lot of compliments about my framing style and my style as a photographer and cinematographer. I guess it encouraged me to pursue that direction, keep working in that field, and bring a visually different perspective to basketball. All of my travels and the time I spent in New York City to film with Bobbito Garcia have built my identity over the course of 10 years and ultimately convinced me that I had to pursue that direction.
On the beauty of discovery:
When I started skateboarding, it opened my mind on architecture, and arts, and music and a lot of things that I wouldn’t really pay attention to when I was in basketball. So now, when I get to a court, the first thing I try to look for is the backdrop of the court, the landscape behind it, the lines and the colors. And I have more of an architectural photography approach when I see a basketball court than an action sports photographer. Even though I know how to shoot basketball as a game, I really enjoy the landscapes and how the courts are integrated in the urban environment in the cities, or sometimes even in the wild.
In cities like Hong Kong or New York City, or even Athens in Greece, you just walk and find courts, and that’s also the joy of it still. When you’re doing skateboarding, you try to find the best spot to do a new trick. I think in basketball, especially playground basketball, it’s the same. You’re always searching for the perfect court to play against new people or just to play by yourself on the perfect concrete, the perfect hoop. And I think through my photography, that’s what I try to do also.
On his most memorable travel stories:
Every country, every continent has something beautiful to offer, especially when it comes to basketball. I think the most striking story I’ve shot was in Somalia because I got to travel to Somalia with Giants of Africa, a nonprofit owned by Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors president. And we went to Somalia to do a three hour clinic with Somali women who were victims of abuse, violence and rapes. So, women who are suffering from a lot of things and an overall rough life. And we went in there to do a basketball camp in a country where women are not allowed to play sports.
We had a big military escort as if we were war reporters because we’re travelling in a war zone. And then we get there and we do a three hour clinic, and you see all these women being so excited to play basketball and discover the game. And I think in these situations you really realize how lucky we are to live in our society and being free to do the sport we want and having access to it, even though we always complain. And I think going to these places makes you realize the power of a sport in somebody’s life.
Somalia is just one example, the Philippines are another one. The basketball community there is truly unique. We also went to prison. When we were shooting Doin’ It In The Park with Bobbito, we went to Rikers Island to shoot inmates and play basketball with them.
On the growth of basketball culture in Africa:
Basketball in Africa is growing every minute. As we speak, basketball is growing and is generating new talent on the continent. While the game is growing in some parts; in other parts, basketball is already the number one sport. For example, Angola is like the Philippines of Africa in terms of passion for basketball. But countries like Senegal, or Ivory Coast, or Congo, or Cameroon, or Nigeria are all raising and nourishing a basketball culture. There are so many talents coming out of these countries, especially now in the NBA.
Grassroots initiatives like Giants of Africa have made camps all around the continent. All these non-profit initiatives are the ones that are really growing the game and giving access to the game in lots of areas where you don’t have basketball courts. So they build courts. The game is growing and with the NBA being involved more and more it’s a real continuous effort to cultivate basketball culture there.
On his latest project:
My latest project is called Blacktop Momento. It’s a coffee table book, my first, and it explores basketball textures and erosion throughout the world. It explores a question of memory and soil, memory of the traces that we as basketball players leave on the courts. So, through 76 photos of textures, lines, colors and patterns that are formed on basketball courts, I’m trying to analyze this impact that human beings have on the basketball court. It can be the natural erosion of a shoe that wipes out the paint, but it’s also the cracks that open in the concrete. It’s also the weird painting done by guys who are not really painters. So, I’m really trying to give an abstract version of what a playground is and what an outdoor basketball court is through that project.
It’s an independently published book, fully manufactured in France. We did everything in a nice workshop. It’s also an exploration of color because I’ve been gathering all these photos for the past 15 years, without really knowing what to do with them. Working with a designer, we decided to organize the narrative of the book with the primary colors of each photo. So, the first part is yellow, the second part is magenta and the last part is blue. And so, the photos are organized depending on the dominant color on each photo. It’s my first photo book, so it’s an exciting project. I just turned 40, so it’s about time. (laughs)
You can find Kevin’s new book, Blacktop Memento, as well as some hand-picked prints of his most striking photographs at BSTN!