totalBarça Exclusive: Diver & Aguilar on their new Barca work

totalBarça Exclusive: Diver & Aguilar on their new Barca work

Diver & Aguilar’s Vintage Football cards series featuring FC Barcelona players.

Mike Diver & Pedro Aguilar, the Brit-Spanish team behind most of Barca’s advertising and marketing photography in the last five years, took time out of their busy schedule to answer another set of questions from totalBarca. This time around, we asked them about the new campaign, the striking vintage football card series, the cameras they work with and their relationship with the players and the club. Their responses tells us a lot about the humility of Barca players and what Barca stands for as a club. 

Tell us about the brief from FC Barcelona for the current marketing and advertising campaign.

I think this year the brief was quiet different from what had been conceived of in the past. For the last few years the work and concepts were much closer to those of typical advertising, the very powerful graphic images of campaigns for Nike etc. There has also been a trend in advertising which has started to explore a more documentary style of approach. This is something you can see in our “In Adoration” project and this year we took this style further using alot more colour photography. The imagery is less two dimensional and really feels like you have something interactive in front of you, you’re becoming part of the game, it is very filmic.

The slogan of the campaign is “Long Live Barca, Long live entertainment”. Keeping this in mind, what moments were you looking for?

So adopting this style of approach for the campaign we were shooting live match footage from three different camera positions at the stadium. The campaign was to emphasize the style of football that Barcelona play. This is not anti-football, it’s almost like an opera or a beautiful piece of orchestrated classical music. We had to capture moments that really illustrated that unique mastery of this great team. Drama and particularly emotion was what we were looking for.

Diver & Aguilar's image in Long Live Barca, Long live entertainment campaign

It’s slightly different than what a sports photographer has to achieve, as he has to tell a story from beginning to end. All the action and highlights from the match. Its a very stressful job because you can not miss a fraction of a second or someone else will have the picture instead of you. So for us there was a certain amount of pressure associated with working this way, [as we are] unable to personally direct the players. But the results were just what we had been looking for.

One of of the games we covered was against Osasuna which Barca won 8-0. Some people say the emotion of the players was different because it was more like a training match, but this is not true. The difference with FC Barcelona players is that the passion is in their blood and as the campaigns of recent years have stated “We give it our all”. This is always the case; no game is less important to the players. Yes it might be more dramatic or satisfying to win away at the Santiago Bernabeu, but you can not be apathetic and allow any lack of concentration to set in.

How did the idea for the vintage football cards come about?

A member of our creative team, David Powell (who is also an avid FC Barcelona fan) had found these vintage cigarette cards in an antiques shop. There was a mixture of football and cricket players images dating back to the turn of the century 1900s. Originally we were looking at a self promotional concept of using these as some form of self promotion or business card.

But as you know each year alongside the commercial work we have carried out for the club, we have also produced a bespoke fine arts project for FCB. Examples being The “In-Adoration” book and documentary series following the team through the La Liga season, el clasico and UEFA Champions League final. Last year we produced “Icons” a striking series of close-up portraits of the team. So for the 2011-2012 La-Liga Season, we decided on this idea to recreate these vintage style football cards with the first team squad of FC Barcelona.

Paradoxically, when we look back in time say over the next 50 years, these documentary images, although current today, will over time become vintage, a historical record of legends such as Lionel Messi, who for the third year running was voted World Player of the year and Pique, Xavi, Ineista and Puyol, European and World Cup and Club champions. So the application of the vintage style technique to this current era of players photographs will be twice as fascinating to the future generations of football fans.

 

Any plans to put them on sale any time soon?

As this is a “Art” project, it won’t be a mass produced piece of merchandise. We will discuss with FCB the possibility of a limited edition signed box set. Maybe we are going to make one to put into the museum. We recently shot some of the Manchester United players and the images can be seen in the museum at Old Trafford depicting the historical timeline of the evolution of the players club strip.

You have been working with the club for five years shooting the official team posters and other promotional material. Apart from new faces – players, a president and his board - what are the changes that you have noticed or felt? Has the working relationship evolved over the years?

It’s a unique environment at FC Barcelona, because it’s a family and everybody is part of it. I don’t think that it would be possible to forge a relationship like the one we have here at other clubs because you will find issues with individual player identity. When we started this work it was a completely new concept for in-house marketing, because before in football you have only seen such a sophisticated approach being applied to campaign for the sporting giants such as Nike and Adidas. So for sure the players had to adapt to the idea that this was a unique “Barcelona” philosophy. It is like the famous saying “One for All and All for One”.

Diver & Aguilar's portraits of Barca players in Respect” campaign for The Barcelona Foundation

How can I say there are no egos at the club, they are the greatest players of their generation, but there is a pride in playing for the club rather than ego of self identity.

Of course each year the players have become more relaxed. They have seen the results of the photographs and the way in which the club has used them to forge unity amongst club, players and supporters. And now we are familiar faces with the players. Of course it helps to be working with them on other projects as mentioned with Pique and also for Nike.

They are confident of the results that they see from the photos they see each year. And it gives us great pleasure to see the images displayeded in the hallway of the training camp and in the trophy room of the Camp Nou.

Is language a barrier for you while working with the players most of whom have little knowledge of English? Or does Mr Aguilar take care of the talking?

I think there is a universal understanding in language when it comes to taking pictures. Yes some of the players do have a good command over English, others we can speak Spanish or Catalan with as there is always someone around to communicate with the players the ideas and concepts. Normally, we also have drawings and illustrations of what we are looking to achieve and as the saying goes “A picture tells a thousand words” and that breaks down any barriers of language or creed.

 

Tell us about the experience of shooting live as opposed to working in a controlled studio set-up? Do you enjoy the first as much as the latter which clearly is your strength?

It’s a completely different experience. As I mentioned before, luckily it is not our job to cover the match in the same way as a sports photographer has to for a newspaper. When we first started working live at the match, it was certainly a stressful experience but when we realized the same production values could be applied to working in this environment, things became alot easier. We started to work out a shot list, if you like a storyboard. What were the important moments we really wanted to capture ? Where was our focus going to be? So we have really started to build this into more of an art form.

I have worked in isolation at pitch side, then we started working together from different points of perspective, maybe at each end of the pitch or from the side etc. Building this up so that we started working with multiple cameras and points of view. Now if we can get access there will be three of us pitch side and each with a specific role and set of images to capture. We will communicate by mobile phone during the match and re-evaluate what images we still need to capture, what is going well and what is going not so well.

How much time are you usually given with the team for the shoot and the delivery of the material? Is there a particular period of the calendar when you are asked to come?

Scheduling shoots has become increasingly complex over the last few years, really due to the demands placed on the players both with summer tours, internationals etc. Dates can change quiet a lot when they are trying to pin down a time for everybody to be available. There are increasing demands for imagery each year as more and more sponsors need unique and individual content, so the last few years we have ended up extending our stay in Barcelona to proudce the additional material needed. We have shot with the team the majority of years during August or September and of course this means there is little time to turn around the results. Some imagery is required almost immediately, other material can be timed over a longer period for release.

You did a shoot for FHM with Pique. What is it like working with him?

Gerard Pique is as professional to work with on and off the pitch. Of course he’s 1.94m with model looks and celebrity status far reaching than his number 3 shirt. So he looks great in a suit and in the middle of a film set.

The concept was based around a Hall of Mirrors, which was inspired from the movies The Lady from Shanghai & Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. Pique loved the concept and was very confident with the way he looked on set. As the shoot progressed we started to crack the mirrors and make the reflections more abstract. It was a pretty precarious situation and the glass could have fallen down at any moment, but this did not faze him at all, he was in control.

Have the players given feedback to your work? If yes, anything that comes to mind?

We have had very positive feedback from the players, I guess we would not still be shooting for FCB otherwise. Of course there is a great relationship with Pique and shooting Pedro, Puyol and Thiago with Nike in 2011, they too were very happy with the results. It is also great to see the players using the pictures on their Facebook and Twitter pages and we have received personal commendation for the work on our social network pages from some players including David Villa.

This question is not commenting on your work but looking at a trend seen in promotional sport photography in general. Why do almost always the players have this intense expression in photographs for promotional purposes. It suggests that football is serious business, which it definitely is but it also draws smiles and tears of joy. Why can’t we have players a bit more at ease?

“A Warrior must only take care that his spirit is not broken,because I wear this shirt, with valour, honour and with pride.”

This is the ideology behind the look that you mention. It is an all or nothing situation, the intensity of the battle. So the images are trying to convey this emotive passion and tension that always surrounds a game. It is interesting that you mention this point , because this did come up in the conversation this year while preparing the production for FCB. They did ask we also try to capture some images that were more lighthearted than the graphic tension you describe. So that is why you can see in some of the players like Messi or Ineista [see pic below] this feeling of calm. At the same time the club still wanted to be very careful that the images did not convey any arrogance, that the competitive nature had fallen away, so the expressions still needed to convey the undying dedication to the cause.

Iniesta is the only one to smile in Diver & Aguilar's Vintage football cards series

We have a suggestion. Next time, please focus your lens even on Pep Guardiola. He is sorely missed in your photos and he is one of the key members of this team.

We completely agree with you. In fact there have been many concepts for shooting Pep Guardiola. It’s just that he likes the team to do the talking on and off the field. Without this team, there would be nothing he could do. He is the master conductor of the piece, behind the curtain. He is also a man of the people. When we arrived in Barcelona to shoot with Pique, he was just leaving the airport at the same time as us and was getting into a yellow and black taxi cab. Of course he is a hero in Barcelona and many people were asking to have their pictures taken with him and shake his hand. It is rare that a connection like this can be formed with the people.

Which camera/cameras do you usually work with to shoot the Barca campaign?

We work with Hasselblad cameras in the studio and also with Canon cameras because they are very quick and pitch side it is always with Canon DSLR cameras.

Last but not the least, is there any way to purchase your work?

Anything we do for FCB turns into merchandising. For example, the posters are available in the Barcelona superstore or online shop. A lot of advertising work is for sponsors, so you are going to see this appear in print or online specifically for that sponsor. From time to time we will release a limited edition series of prints or a bespoke item for purchase or for charity auction.

All images credited to Diver & Aguilar. You can see more of the duo’s work at www.diveraguilar.com. Follow their work on www.diveraguilar.com/blog.