“In Morocco, football is a way of life,” says the photographer Joseph Ouchen, who took this engaging series of images on women’s football in Morocco.
Although Ouchen began documenting the culture of football in 2018, he always felt like something was missing, something not quite right. “I felt there was nothing about female footballers,” he explains. “I decided that the best way to do this was to come home, to the favelas of Sidi Moumen, Casblanca. Here it was easy for me, people knew me, they were comfortable,” (first rule of photography: make people comfortable).
“These young footballers were hesitant at first. Incredibly shy. It tried to make them feel at ease, I would ask them questions about why they played. But it was then that I realised that even I had come into this with a set of pre-judgments. I wondered maybe this was political, just about gender? But it wasn’t, they loved football and they were good!”
As Ouchen continued to shoot, he learned more. “These girls were just so passionate, but not just about the game. Football was a chance for them to show that they existed. “We play, we compete, we can be better than the men,” they would tell me. This was how they navigated society in Morocco.
“I remember as a kid, the only way to make friends was by playing football in the street. We didn’t have anything else to do, and spent hours playing. You didn’t need anything fancy, just a ball. Football was how you learned relationships with other kids, it was how you learned confidence. Football was all you did.”
“Particularly in the poorer areas of Casablanca, not much has changed. “Theatre, music, those sorts of activities are just not possible,” saus Ouchen. You pay two or three euros and you go and watch the game. The people there are your family, a society. Nobody is judged.
Ouchen’s engaging street photography style has earned him global admirers. “I would go out onto the street at around 4pm and jst merge into the background observing people. The people are central to everything, this is what I’ve learned. As a photographer, you can’t be guided by your ego. Put your subject at the centre of everything. Who are they? What do they do? When you make them feel important the pictures come much easier.
“Although I started out playing football, photography has become my life. I exist through it. I make a living this way, support my family this way. I learned English and French as I knew I would need to speak to people around the world. Taking people’s pictures gave me confidence. But also it made me want to give people the confidence that I never really had. Taking pictures was my only way to interact with people during the day, and I really don’t know if I would be the person I am today without this little black box with a hole in it.
“As for these women, well, as with most Moroccans football is the oxygen that allows them to breathe. It causes a reaction – to vibrate with joy, fear, and exalt with happiness – in other words it allows them to live.”