I was amazed at the creative use of space in Lagos, Nigeria: In a city crammed with more than 15 million residents, football was played on practically every block, with fields shoehorned into even the tiniest open areas. Empty football pitches—with their infinite possibilities—have always had a particular fascination for me. Over the next ten years, I would shoot football pitches in Nigeria, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and South Africa. And though the focus always remained on the pitches—thus the title African Arenas, encompassing everything from sand lots to stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup—my initial concept quickly evolved.
On my first trip to Lagos, Nigeria, I was amazed at the creative use of space: In a city crammed with more than 15 million residents, football was played on even the tiniest open areas. Empty football pitches have always had a particular fascination for me. I decided then and there to start shooting empty African pitches. Over the next ten years, I would shoot football pitches in Nigeria, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and South Africa. And though the focus always remained on the pitches—thus the title African Arenas, encompassing everything from sand lots to stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup—my initial concept quickly evolved. I quickly realized how important it would be to document the way the game was played on these pitches. I wanted to show the life on and around these makeshift “arenas”. The motivation for my change in perspective was simple: almost everywhere I went, the players never showed the slightest interest in what I was doing. A few children on a stretch of road in Zambia were playing with a ball stitched together from plastic bags. I got out of the car, and began to assemble my gear. I set up my Contax on the roof of the car and began to shoot. None of the kids cast even a glance at me, much less asked me what I was doing. It was clear that here football was all that mattered. And that, after all, is the way it is supposed to be.
Born in Kiel, Germany, Thomas Hoeffgen fell in love with photography while working on a ship full of juvenile delinquents. The job was part of his mandatory national civic service (performed in lieu of military service), and as the boat sailed around the Canary Islands Hoeffgen e livened up the situation by shooting portraits of the kids, capturing spontaneous personal moments as well as the passing scenery. This was the beginning of Hoeffgen’s pictorial relationship with movement, foreshadowing his enduring ability to record fleeting moments in a reduced, minimalistic, and cinematic style. After finishing his civic service, he moved to Spain at the age of twenty to assist the Mallorca-based art photographer Elizabeth Schäufler. Even before completing photography school, Thomas began shooting for prestigious sports clients such as Burton, Oxbow, and O’Neill, travelling all over the world to photograph advertising campaigns and capture their athletes on camera. This early work brought him into contact with fashion and advertising clients such as Timberland, Renault, Diesel, Maybelline, Escada, Laurel, Adidas, Microsoft, BMW, Swatch, Audi, Red Bull, and Camel Active, all of whom were attracted by Thomas’s laidback, carefree style and by his energy and graphic simplicity. His work has been published in magazines such as Art, Blend, British Journal of Photography, El Pais, FAZ, GQ ,Stern, SZ-Magazin, Spex, Instyle, Glamour, Elle, Marie Claire, PDN, Anglomania, Wallpaper, Zoom, NZZ, Playboy, and Outside Magazine. He has exhibited in Hamburg (Dormoolen), Duesseldorf (NRW-Forum), Munich (Goldberg Studio), Salem (Schloss Salem), Grasten (Atelier Corn Benniksgaard), Lisbon (Canon Gallery), And most recenty in Berlin’s Ausweartiges Amt and Nuernberg’s Kuenstlerhaus, both in 2010, “Traummeanner” Deichtorhallen 2011, Pavlov´s Dog Gallery Berlin 2011, Annroy Gallery London 2011 Book : Thomas Hoeffgen’s African Arenas was published in 2010 by Hatje Cantz (edited by Nadine Barth). He currently lives with his wife and daughter in Brooklyn, New York.