Hey! My name is Nikita (kryptobanana) and I primarily photograph women’s soccer in the US. To commemorate the one year anniversary of the 2019 World Cup final, I wanted to share some passages and doodles from the journal I kept while covering the tournament, as well as photos I took in France. This was my first World Cup after two years of pursuing this passion professionally. Enjoy!
Note to self: Next time you fly, remember to unscrew the cap of your water bottle just a little bit so you can avoid a pressurized water stream rising through the built-in straw, hitting the kids in front of you, and inviting a glare from their mother.
I have to say from the moment I landed this morning, I was incredibly anxious about navigating through France. However, I was put at ease when I met these two women on my train into Paris. They had flown from Canada to attend the World Cup. I told them I was here to photograph it and that I mainly cover the NWSL. They were Thorns fans. Something about that conversation calmed me down. The women exited the train before me and I continued on — I am staying in a tiny apartment in the15th arrondissement of Paris, between the Vaugirard and Convention metro stations. When I say tiny… I mean it. Like the bathroom door hits the sink, leaving a small gap for me to enter. It is a cozy fit, but I absolutely love it. This will be my home base for the week as I travel to nearby cities to cover games.
The apartment is enclosed, leaving it relatively cool, compared to the rather hot temperatures outside. There is a grocery store nearby… also a place that sells tacos, paninis, AND kebabs??? Next to it, a boulangerie (French bakery). I couldn’t check it out because today is Sunday — most places close early. I also only learned how to order a chocolate croissant (pain au chocolat) on the plane.
Honestly, after the flight, I really just needed coffee to stay awake. So like any tourist who cannot speak a word of French, I soon found myself at the nearest Starbucks, waiting for my friend Ana De Souza, before we headed off to to the accreditation center.
Note to self: make sure to always say “Bonjour” before you order, you impolite fool.
Reims may be known for its champagne, but because I don’t drink alcohol, all I will remember is this beautiful cathedral and the ridiculously long trek to the stadium in 90 degree weather with all my camera gear strapped to my back. Oh and of course, my very first World Cup game as a photographer.
Note to self: Uber does not necessarily exist in some of these areas…and the next time you invest in something, make it a camera bag with wheels.
We [Lewis Gettier, another photographer, and I] made the decision to visit Versailles after photographing the game in Reims, making a quick stop in Paris to ditch most of the heavy camera gear. We made it just in time for the end of Tuesday outdoor market where we found a stand that had freshly squeezed orange juice and crepes. Afterwards, we went straight for the Gardens of Versailles
The idea was to work our way back to the Palace, in hopes of avoiding the massive lines. It still took about an hour in nearly 100 degree weather but we were one of the last people permitted to enter, which worked to our advantage.
Note to self: While the strategy was correct… maybe rent a bike next time at Versailles? And do not use use your cheap 8mm fisheye ever again.
While the decision to visit three famous art museums [Orsay, Pompidou, Louvre] all in one day was not the wisest for my legs, at least I avoided the Paris heatwave. I think out of everything, I will never forget two things: the impressionist exhibit on the 5th floor of Orsay and the classical sculptures (Greco-Roman era).
The impressionist exhibit had art students scattered along the floor, remaking the paintings. I wanted to ditch my camera and join them… granted I was much more inclined to use charcoal, graphite, or black pens. I never really appreciated color until I started photographing the game. At least from my mediocre understanding, the impressionists captured movement in time and used color theory to create depth in their paintings.
Orsay also had classical sculptures that captured a pose or a moment in time. I want my photos from the World Cup to combine elements of color theory with the dramatic feeling of these sculptures.
Pompidou was much more modern and contemporary art that I enjoyed purely as a place to have a scavenger hunt to find art that reminded me of the upcoming USWNT v Les Bleues quarterfinal.
It did hold one of the best views of Paris (from its strange building design).
And of course my brief visit to the Louvre had to include the Mona Lisa. It was in a separate room, attached to a long hallway filled with artwork from Europe. The ceilings of the Louvre also reminded me of Versailles. The classical sculptures in the Louvre were even more incredible because of the golden hour light.
Note to self: Relaxing in the Louvre fortress ruins with free WiFi until sunset was perhaps the smartest decision you ever made.
Before heading to the beach, I visited a grocery store to pick up food for a picnic. While selecting a baguette, an old woman made eye contact with me and start speaking. Of course, I had no idea what she was saying. I simply uttered, “Um…Anglais?” She smiled understandingly. She then pointed to a different set of baguettes from what I selected. Once I replaced it, she seemed happy and we laughed. Admittedly, I still have no idea why she wanted me to change to this other baguette and I do not remember the names of either. That being said, I wish she stuck around for when I had to select a cheese. Sitting on the beach for a few hours allowed me to reset before photographing the quarterfinals. The calm before the storm.
Note to self: Appreciate the little things as much as the big.
I cannot sleep tonight. This is slightly problematic since I have to catch an early train to Rennes for another quarterfinal game. But I have so much energy. I can still hear the stadium. It was loud. 45k loud. It might be the only game that felt like an even split amongst the French and US fans.
I really wish I got to the stadium on time because I could not select my usual seat and ended up in the opposite corner of all the goals. So far, when it comes to celebrations, I have been pretty unlucky. Like if I were to draw it out, it would look like this (spoiler alert, this diagram is complete now):
There is this added pressure to capture the absolute best photos imaginable but when it comes to the game, a lot of it is luck. And I have this tendency of beating myself up over something I cannot control. I cannot control when a goal is scored or which way a player will celebrate. The only thing I can control are my own expectations and priorities.
Photographing the women’s game has been the number one way I have dealt with my own mental struggles for the last few years. I have found a lot of peace sitting pitchside on the ground because I get to tune out all my worries for at least two hours or even longer as I go into a “creative spiral.” If photography became the source of my anxiety, I would lose my sanctuary. So I have to remind myself every single game to let it go and just have fun.
I have no idea how the photos will turn out but at this point, it does not matter. They say a photo is worth 1000 words. Well, the actual experience is priceless. And no amount of photos will ever be able to capture what I was feeling in those two hours.
Note to self: Remember to get to the stadium early if you want a good seat!
I probably never should have travelled to Rennes. I was practically falling asleep during the game from complete exhaustion (although there were barely any photographers in comparison to the night before so I probably could have taken a halftime nap on the empty seats next to me).
Note to self: Do not compromise your health, you still have semifinals and a final to photograph! Take it easy.
Yesterday was a huge travel day so I did not get much writing done. I honestly just slept on the train as much as possible. Unlike my first week, which I spent relatively alone, in a different city every day, I am now staying in an apartment with a bunch of Rose City Riveters. I am not sure if I will ever leave this place to sightsee… it is five or six stories up with no elevator and there is something about an outdoor, almost spiral staircase that is NOT FUN (especially with camera gear).
Another highlight was meeting up with Jackie, who surprised me with the mini banana plush toy that Matt gifted me (and I accidently forgot in my apartment right before leaving for Vancouver because I forgot to write it down on my packing list). Originally, I had planned to take photos of it all around the different attractions in my first week. Now, it feels more like a good luck charm.
Not to mention, Lyon finally had a much needed thunderstorm. I just sat peacefully with the windows wide open, letting the cool air in while I edited photos from the last few days. In all honesty, one of my major photogoals is photographing a CP23 goal and celebration for the first time ever. I hope I get the chance.
Note to self: Every day is leg day.
I often like to think of the beautiful game as a movie or a play with several acts.
Note to self: Remember to breathe.
By some strange fate, I spotted the two women I met on the train from the airport on my very first day in the stadium before the game.
And the moment the sky turned orange I knew who would win this game.
Note to self: Believe in signs.
The World Cup kind of reminds me of an academic conference. Everyone showcases their work but also broadens their network and befriends new people. The beautiful thing about Lyon is I now have the time to sit down and enjoy a conversation with a group of friends I initially met virtually because of our mutual love of the game.
Some I had met prior to the World Cup, many I had not. Some of us went on a scavenger hunt to find the Traboules of Vieux Lyon (the secret tunnel network of Old Lyon). It was a lot of fun. More because, despite coming to this country alone, I wasn’t. And I felt great comfort in that feeling. That feeling that we were all part of this soccer community and we had taken over Lyon for the week.
Note to self: You might want to get used to running into several players…
I have a philosophy about traveling to a new place.
1. Always find a place near water.
2. Always find a place with a view.
Note to self: That second trip to Terre Adelice for ice cream was totally worth it.
I ended up watching the third place game in a crowded pub with my friends. It was nice to just sit and watch a game for once. Before that I had spent the entire day making the one piece I had planned. The World Cup has a lot more rules for photographers than the NWSL. You pick one seat and that’s your view. The only time you are not in that seat is before the game. You are escorted to the bench area right before the players walk out. So it does not necessarily allow for a lot of creativity.
The theme of the World Cup was “Dare To Shine.” I brought a star filter with me just for the purpose of creating a special effect as the players walked out. You really do not know who will make it to the final but I had faith in the team that inspired me to pick up a camera four years ago. My message was simple: “Shine Brightly, 19ers. Shine Brightly.”
Note to self: Enjoy tomorrow.
It is nearly 4 AM. I got to the stadium around 10 AM because I wanted to make sure I had the best seat possible. The game kicked off at 5 PM.
I left the stadium at midnight after editing some photos.
It still took us more than an hour to get back to city center because of several bridge blockades. Not to mention, I needed to track my roommates down for the key to our place.
It is nearly 4 AM and all I want to do is open this big window of our apartment and yell, “WE WON!” I don’t think I have ever been more emotionally exhausted in my life.
I know as a photographer you want to at least attempt neutrality but so much of my own personal four year journey involved photographing the USWNT players for club and country. Watching them claim their fourth World Cup was the perfect, full-circle ending of my journey.
Get a rundown of the top highlights, stories, and events in women’s sports, including can’t-miss games and exclusive features.
Enter the JWS Bracket Challenge for your chance to win $150,000.