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Interview

Picture this

It was music that first got Mel D Cole into photography, taking pictures of his favourite hip-hop artists on a disposable camera in New York in the 1990s. More recently he’s been shooting stars of a different kind – namely some of the biggest footballers on the planet courtesy of Pepsi Max’s Play to Inspire campaign. Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba, Lucy Bronze and Ronaldinho were among the names that recently joined Cole in the studio; Seb Powell caught up with him to see how it went

When did you get into photography? 

I first picked up a camera in about 2001. A disposable one – I just went to a concert. It was a concert by my favourite artist at the time, Common, who used to be called Common Sense. It was at this small venue in New York and I went to just take photos. I wanted a memory. So I took these photos on my disposable camera and got them developed at a 24-hour processing place. And then I put them in a shoe box. I was like, “Oh, these are cool,” and then they went in the box like all my other photos from, you know, years. I started looking at different magazines that were culturally related to things that I wanted to do in my life. You know, just being around music. 

So you could say that it was a love of music that kickstarted your love of photography?

I’ve always loved music, my entire life. So the light bulb went off when I thought, “The photos that I took with this disposable camera are just as good as these photos in magazines like Rolling Stone and Complex. So then I went bought a digital camera; that
was, like, four megapixels back then. And that was all she wrote…

Were you inspired by particular photographers at that stage, or was it more of a hobby? 

Yeah, it was more about been inspired by music in general – and just images in general. There wasn’t a specific photo, there wasn’t a specific photographer. It was more like, “This is what I want to do.” I didn’t know any photographers. I didn’t know anything about it, I just knew that I wanted to document.

Tell us about some of your work with musicians since then. Have there been any shoots or stories that stand out for you? 

Let’s say a recent one, I’d say Kid Cudi. he was getting ready for the big fashion awards show [CFDA Fashion Awards] last fall. I believe he wore a wedding gown and that was a pretty cool shoot to do. That photo just went crazy because he’s a man wearing a dress. People are going to talk about it, but he’s trying to change the narrative of what people think about. Other people, when they do something like that, you know, it shouldn’t necessarily matter. So when my photos are used for something good like that, I’m always very proud.

How does it compare shooting Lionel Messi to someone like Jay-Z? Do you find yourself approaching things differently?

I don’t approach anybody differently; I look at them as people. We [Cole and Messi] had our ten minutes together. I just put my arm around him and got him laughing for our picture! I thought to myself, “Let me act like I’m your friend, your best friend for two seconds.” But I pretty much treat everyone the same and it’s all about respect. Trust is the biggest thing when it comes to whatever I do. I understand that they are superstars, obviously, and that’s the reason why I document them – because they are special people. But at the same time, you are the same human, so you get the same respect that I would give someone who is not famous.

Who was the first footballer you shot?

The first footballer I documented, not at a match, was Héctor Bellerín. He came and picked me up in London in this car and he was just by himself, and he said, “This is the type of vibe that I want to give off – and, you know, receive as well.” It was cool. He was super, super cool. 

Lionel Messi on the set of the Pepsi Max shoot (above), Cole in a reflective mood with Ronaldinho (top right), Mel D Cole’s shot of Paul Pogba for the Play to Inspire campaign (right)

And what was Messi like on that Pepsi shoot? 

It was astonishing. You’ve seen him on TV, but now you’re behind the curtain. You get to see how the magic is being made. Messi is a god walking among us, so to be able to experience it… I guess the answer to that question is that it was just surreal. It’s a really, really amazing thing.

Did you have the chance to get him to open up? 

Well not really! I had just ten minutes. So he has this man, Jordan, and he’s the one who makes stuff happen. He has, what I call, the juice. I went to [the Champions League group stage game against Leipzig in Paris], which I think was the day before, and Messi scored two goals. He had a chance for the hat-trick, but he gave the penalty to Mbappé and he missed it. So I said to myself, “Alright, I’m gonna be myself and I’m going to tell him, ‘I wish you’d got the hattrick,’ to break the ice.” And so he looked at me like he didn’t understand. And then Jordy translated and Messi laughed. But I got Messi to smile. When you see him he’s just really reserved and chill. But I knew that he appreciated me not being scared to deal with it. My thinking is, “I’m trying to get the best out of you, so let’s have some fun in these ten minutes.” So that’s what we did.

How did working with Messi compare to working with Ronaldinho? He seems like quite the character… 

Absolutely. You already know that about him so you don’t really have to prepare too much to deal with him, because he’s gonna come with his energy, he’s gonna come with his big smile. He’s gonna let you know that he is in the room. You just take a couple steps back and let him do his thing and you really don’t have to try too hard. It was special. Me and him clicked immediately. It was special, special stuff, man. 

And are you a big football fan yourself?

I am. I do follow football. I support Arsenal, but I love the sport. Chelsea are one of my big clients. I do an interview series where we interview fans in America called the Five Boroughs: five black super fans in America. We’re expanding it and we’re just at the end of post-production – it’s going to be called The Bridge. Three fans in Miami, three fans in LA. But yeah, I love football. I didn’t my whole life; it’s a new love, I would say the last nine or ten years. FIFA was the reason I got into it. And then that led into wanting to watch the matches, then there was a World Cup and I was like, “This is actually not so boring. A 0-0 game can actually be thrilling and entertaining.” And then the light bulb went off. I was like, “I want to photograph these men and women in the sport.” Lucy Bronze was at the Pepsi shoot as well. She’s an amazing footballer and I really love the women’s game in the States as well. My favourite team is the women’s side, our national team. Those are the superstars.

Have you noticed a big surge in football’s popularity in the States? 

America is huge. If you are a business or a brand, you want to establish yourself in the United States. You know, us Americans, we are very big consumers of everything. So you want to be there, have your presence felt. You might be a huge club in the world, but no one knows you in America. Chelsea as a brand is banging big, but not so much in America. When you bring up ‘Chelsea’, people think of Chelsea the neighbourhood, where my office is located in New York. But yes, it’s a growing sport. The MLS is doing very well. The Charlotte FC team just had almost 75,000 fans attending their inaugural home game, which is astonishing. They broke the record.

I love shooting live sports. That’s part of the narrative of what I do with Charcoal Pitch FC. I have a great connection with Arsenal’s photographers. So whenever I’m in town, if if I don’t have a complication, I’ll always hit them up like, “Hey, I want to shoot the match.”

Tell us about your business, Charcoal Pitch FC, the first and only black-owned, soccer-specific photography agency.

We want to make sure that [awareness of football] is growing in the black community as well. We look at the NBA, we look at the NFL – the leading players, mostly in all sports in America, are black. So you want to get some of those athletes; you want to steal some of those future basketball players, future NFL players. You want to take some of those people away from those sports and shine a light on soccer. We say, “Look, look at Messi. Messi is only 5’7”. You don’t have to be 6’3” to be successful. If you’re talented, if you’re very athletic, why not try this sport, and look at what you can become.” 

I wish there had been someone telling me that story. I’m 5’7” and I played American football growing up, but it got to a point where I was like, “Man, this 300lb guy is coming to tackle me,” and that was enough for me. If I had had the thought to look at soccer as not just a white-guy sport, then maybe my life could have been different. I want to hopefully inspire the youth to try something different – and in order for them to do so, they have to see people like me. They have to see other people in America making it through the sport for it to grow. But just to backtrack a little bit, that’s what we’re trying to do with Chelsea. We’re trying to shine a light on what’s happening. 

We’re seeing more and more Americans in the latter stages of the Champions League. Are there any players on your wishlist that you’d like to work with, American or otherwise?

Tyler Adams is definitely on my radar. I’ve spoken to him. We’ve had Zoom calls where we’re trying to figure it out, trying to make that happen. And like I said, I love the women’s game; Megan Rapinoe, I’d love to photograph her. But do you know who I would love to photograph again? Paul Pogba.
I photographed him for this Pepsi campaign, but I would love to do it again with more of a lifestyle focus. Because his style, his persona – he was just so chill and receptive. He was just super normal, just like, “Let’s do this, you ready?” I think it would translate well too, if I had time to plan and we had a couple of hours to really do some amazing stuff.

Do you also enjoy covering live sport, in addition to photo shoots?

I love shooting live sports. That’s part of the narrative of what I do with Charcoal Pitch FC. I have a great connection with Arsenal’s photographers. So whenever I’m in town, if if I don’t have a complication, I’ll always hit them up like, “Hey, I want to shoot the match.” There’s nothing like sitting pitchside looking at some of your favourite players and thinking, “Wow, this is crazy.” And it comes back to that last question you asked me, about footballers I would like to have a photoshoot with – and it would be Thierry Henry. I met him backstage close to the locker room at Arsenal, as the guys were coming off the bus, and just thought, “What the heck, am I right now pinching myself?” I would love to do a photoshoot with him. But I love being able to document players on the pitch, like I’ve photographed at Manchester City’s stadium, and I’ve done Arsenal a few times like I say. And then a bunch in New York. The Red Bull Arena, NYC FC, things like that. But yeah, it would be great if you could get me on a Champions League match! 

We’ll do our best. And finally, tell us about your book on the Black Lives Matter protests.

As the world knows, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. And before that happened, I always told myself if something major happened, that I was going to document what was happening. And not only did it happen in my backyard, it’s happening in everyone’s backyard – all across the world, pretty much. So I went out, in the middle of the day, almost at the beginning of Covid, and I was scared. I just said, “You know what, I have to do this. This is about me and it’s about my people. This is the uprising. This is not a moment, this is a movement. And if not me, then who? Do not let other people tell your story.” I just gave the book to a friend and her mother was looking through it, telling me how emotional it made her feel. When I hear comments like that, the book is doing its job. Because if you don’t feel anything looking at those pictures, something’s not wired right.

When did you get into photography? 

I first picked up a camera in about 2001. A disposable one – I just went to a concert. It was a concert by my favourite artist at the time, Common, who used to be called Common Sense. It was at this small venue in New York and I went to just take photos. I wanted a memory. So I took these photos on my disposable camera and got them developed at a 24-hour processing place. And then I put them in a shoe box. I was like, “Oh, these are cool,” and then they went in the box like all my other photos from, you know, years. I started looking at different magazines that were culturally related to things that I wanted to do in my life. You know, just being around music. 

So you could say that it was a love of music that kickstarted your love of photography?

I’ve always loved music, my entire life. So the light bulb went off when I thought, “The photos that I took with this disposable camera are just as good as these photos in magazines like Rolling Stone and Complex. So then I went bought a digital camera; that
was, like, four megapixels back then. And that was all she wrote…

Were you inspired by particular photographers at that stage, or was it more of a hobby? 

Yeah, it was more about been inspired by music in general – and just images in general. There wasn’t a specific photo, there wasn’t a specific photographer. It was more like, “This is what I want to do.” I didn’t know any photographers. I didn’t know anything about it, I just knew that I wanted to document.

Tell us about some of your work with musicians since then. Have there been any shoots or stories that stand out for you? 

Let’s say a recent one, I’d say Kid Cudi. he was getting ready for the big fashion awards show [CFDA Fashion Awards] last fall. I believe he wore a wedding gown and that was a pretty cool shoot to do. That photo just went crazy because he’s a man wearing a dress. People are going to talk about it, but he’s trying to change the narrative of what people think about. Other people, when they do something like that, you know, it shouldn’t necessarily matter. So when my photos are used for something good like that, I’m always very proud.

How does it compare shooting Lionel Messi to someone like Jay-Z? Do you find yourself approaching things differently?

I don’t approach anybody differently; I look at them as people. We [Cole and Messi] had our ten minutes together. I just put my arm around him and got him laughing for our picture! I thought to myself, “Let me act like I’m your friend, your best friend for two seconds.” But I pretty much treat everyone the same and it’s all about respect. Trust is the biggest thing when it comes to whatever I do. I understand that they are superstars, obviously, and that’s the reason why I document them – because they are special people. But at the same time, you are the same human, so you get the same respect that I would give someone who is not famous.

Who was the first footballer you shot?

The first footballer I documented, not at a match, was Héctor Bellerín. He came and picked me up in London in this car and he was just by himself, and he said, “This is the type of vibe that I want to give off – and, you know, receive as well.” It was cool. He was super, super cool. 

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Lionel Messi on the set of the Pepsi Max shoot (above), Cole in a reflective mood with Ronaldinho (top right), Mel D Cole’s shot of Paul Pogba for the Play to Inspire campaign (right)

And what was Messi like on that Pepsi shoot? 

It was astonishing. You’ve seen him on TV, but now you’re behind the curtain. You get to see how the magic is being made. Messi is a god walking among us, so to be able to experience it… I guess the answer to that question is that it was just surreal. It’s a really, really amazing thing.

Did you have the chance to get him to open up? 

Well not really! I had just ten minutes. So he has this man, Jordan, and he’s the one who makes stuff happen. He has, what I call, the juice. I went to [the Champions League group stage game against Leipzig in Paris], which I think was the day before, and Messi scored two goals. He had a chance for the hat-trick, but he gave the penalty to Mbappé and he missed it. So I said to myself, “Alright, I’m gonna be myself and I’m going to tell him, ‘I wish you’d got the hattrick,’ to break the ice.” And so he looked at me like he didn’t understand. And then Jordy translated and Messi laughed. But I got Messi to smile. When you see him he’s just really reserved and chill. But I knew that he appreciated me not being scared to deal with it. My thinking is, “I’m trying to get the best out of you, so let’s have some fun in these ten minutes.” So that’s what we did.

How did working with Messi compare to working with Ronaldinho? He seems like quite the character… 

Absolutely. You already know that about him so you don’t really have to prepare too much to deal with him, because he’s gonna come with his energy, he’s gonna come with his big smile. He’s gonna let you know that he is in the room. You just take a couple steps back and let him do his thing and you really don’t have to try too hard. It was special. Me and him clicked immediately. It was special, special stuff, man. 

And are you a big football fan yourself?

I am. I do follow football. I support Arsenal, but I love the sport. Chelsea are one of my big clients. I do an interview series where we interview fans in America called the Five Boroughs: five black super fans in America. We’re expanding it and we’re just at the end of post-production – it’s going to be called The Bridge. Three fans in Miami, three fans in LA. But yeah, I love football. I didn’t my whole life; it’s a new love, I would say the last nine or ten years. FIFA was the reason I got into it. And then that led into wanting to watch the matches, then there was a World Cup and I was like, “This is actually not so boring. A 0-0 game can actually be thrilling and entertaining.” And then the light bulb went off. I was like, “I want to photograph these men and women in the sport.” Lucy Bronze was at the Pepsi shoot as well. She’s an amazing footballer and I really love the women’s game in the States as well. My favourite team is the women’s side, our national team. Those are the superstars.

Have you noticed a big surge in football’s popularity in the States? 

America is huge. If you are a business or a brand, you want to establish yourself in the United States. You know, us Americans, we are very big consumers of everything. So you want to be there, have your presence felt. You might be a huge club in the world, but no one knows you in America. Chelsea as a brand is banging big, but not so much in America. When you bring up ‘Chelsea’, people think of Chelsea the neighbourhood, where my office is located in New York. But yes, it’s a growing sport. The MLS is doing very well. The Charlotte FC team just had almost 75,000 fans attending their inaugural home game, which is astonishing. They broke the record.

I love shooting live sports. That’s part of the narrative of what I do with Charcoal Pitch FC. I have a great connection with Arsenal’s photographers. So whenever I’m in town, if if I don’t have a complication, I’ll always hit them up like, “Hey, I want to shoot the match.”

Tell us about your business, Charcoal Pitch FC, the first and only black-owned, soccer-specific photography agency.

We want to make sure that [awareness of football] is growing in the black community as well. We look at the NBA, we look at the NFL – the leading players, mostly in all sports in America, are black. So you want to get some of those athletes; you want to steal some of those future basketball players, future NFL players. You want to take some of those people away from those sports and shine a light on soccer. We say, “Look, look at Messi. Messi is only 5’7”. You don’t have to be 6’3” to be successful. If you’re talented, if you’re very athletic, why not try this sport, and look at what you can become.” 

I wish there had been someone telling me that story. I’m 5’7” and I played American football growing up, but it got to a point where I was like, “Man, this 300lb guy is coming to tackle me,” and that was enough for me. If I had had the thought to look at soccer as not just a white-guy sport, then maybe my life could have been different. I want to hopefully inspire the youth to try something different – and in order for them to do so, they have to see people like me. They have to see other people in America making it through the sport for it to grow. But just to backtrack a little bit, that’s what we’re trying to do with Chelsea. We’re trying to shine a light on what’s happening. 

We’re seeing more and more Americans in the latter stages of the Champions League. Are there any players on your wishlist that you’d like to work with, American or otherwise?

Tyler Adams is definitely on my radar. I’ve spoken to him. We’ve had Zoom calls where we’re trying to figure it out, trying to make that happen. And like I said, I love the women’s game; Megan Rapinoe, I’d love to photograph her. But do you know who I would love to photograph again? Paul Pogba.
I photographed him for this Pepsi campaign, but I would love to do it again with more of a lifestyle focus. Because his style, his persona – he was just so chill and receptive. He was just super normal, just like, “Let’s do this, you ready?” I think it would translate well too, if I had time to plan and we had a couple of hours to really do some amazing stuff.

Do you also enjoy covering live sport, in addition to photo shoots?

I love shooting live sports. That’s part of the narrative of what I do with Charcoal Pitch FC. I have a great connection with Arsenal’s photographers. So whenever I’m in town, if if I don’t have a complication, I’ll always hit them up like, “Hey, I want to shoot the match.” There’s nothing like sitting pitchside looking at some of your favourite players and thinking, “Wow, this is crazy.” And it comes back to that last question you asked me, about footballers I would like to have a photoshoot with – and it would be Thierry Henry. I met him backstage close to the locker room at Arsenal, as the guys were coming off the bus, and just thought, “What the heck, am I right now pinching myself?” I would love to do a photoshoot with him. But I love being able to document players on the pitch, like I’ve photographed at Manchester City’s stadium, and I’ve done Arsenal a few times like I say. And then a bunch in New York. The Red Bull Arena, NYC FC, things like that. But yeah, it would be great if you could get me on a Champions League match! 

We’ll do our best. And finally, tell us about your book on the Black Lives Matter protests.

As the world knows, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. And before that happened, I always told myself if something major happened, that I was going to document what was happening. And not only did it happen in my backyard, it’s happening in everyone’s backyard – all across the world, pretty much. So I went out, in the middle of the day, almost at the beginning of Covid, and I was scared. I just said, “You know what, I have to do this. This is about me and it’s about my people. This is the uprising. This is not a moment, this is a movement. And if not me, then who? Do not let other people tell your story.” I just gave the book to a friend and her mother was looking through it, telling me how emotional it made her feel. When I hear comments like that, the book is doing its job. Because if you don’t feel anything looking at those pictures, something’s not wired right.

When did you get into photography? 

I first picked up a camera in about 2001. A disposable one – I just went to a concert. It was a concert by my favourite artist at the time, Common, who used to be called Common Sense. It was at this small venue in New York and I went to just take photos. I wanted a memory. So I took these photos on my disposable camera and got them developed at a 24-hour processing place. And then I put them in a shoe box. I was like, “Oh, these are cool,” and then they went in the box like all my other photos from, you know, years. I started looking at different magazines that were culturally related to things that I wanted to do in my life. You know, just being around music. 

So you could say that it was a love of music that kickstarted your love of photography?

I’ve always loved music, my entire life. So the light bulb went off when I thought, “The photos that I took with this disposable camera are just as good as these photos in magazines like Rolling Stone and Complex. So then I went bought a digital camera; that
was, like, four megapixels back then. And that was all she wrote…

Were you inspired by particular photographers at that stage, or was it more of a hobby? 

Yeah, it was more about been inspired by music in general – and just images in general. There wasn’t a specific photo, there wasn’t a specific photographer. It was more like, “This is what I want to do.” I didn’t know any photographers. I didn’t know anything about it, I just knew that I wanted to document.

Tell us about some of your work with musicians since then. Have there been any shoots or stories that stand out for you? 

Let’s say a recent one, I’d say Kid Cudi. he was getting ready for the big fashion awards show [CFDA Fashion Awards] last fall. I believe he wore a wedding gown and that was a pretty cool shoot to do. That photo just went crazy because he’s a man wearing a dress. People are going to talk about it, but he’s trying to change the narrative of what people think about. Other people, when they do something like that, you know, it shouldn’t necessarily matter. So when my photos are used for something good like that, I’m always very proud.

How does it compare shooting Lionel Messi to someone like Jay-Z? Do you find yourself approaching things differently?

I don’t approach anybody differently; I look at them as people. We [Cole and Messi] had our ten minutes together. I just put my arm around him and got him laughing for our picture! I thought to myself, “Let me act like I’m your friend, your best friend for two seconds.” But I pretty much treat everyone the same and it’s all about respect. Trust is the biggest thing when it comes to whatever I do. I understand that they are superstars, obviously, and that’s the reason why I document them – because they are special people. But at the same time, you are the same human, so you get the same respect that I would give someone who is not famous.

Who was the first footballer you shot?

The first footballer I documented, not at a match, was Héctor Bellerín. He came and picked me up in London in this car and he was just by himself, and he said, “This is the type of vibe that I want to give off – and, you know, receive as well.” It was cool. He was super, super cool. 

Lionel Messi on the set of the Pepsi Max shoot (above), Cole in a reflective mood with Ronaldinho (top right), Mel D Cole’s shot of Paul Pogba for the Play to Inspire campaign (right)

And what was Messi like on that Pepsi shoot? 

It was astonishing. You’ve seen him on TV, but now you’re behind the curtain. You get to see how the magic is being made. Messi is a god walking among us, so to be able to experience it… I guess the answer to that question is that it was just surreal. It’s a really, really amazing thing.

Did you have the chance to get him to open up? 

Well not really! I had just ten minutes. So he has this man, Jordan, and he’s the one who makes stuff happen. He has, what I call, the juice. I went to [the Champions League group stage game against Leipzig in Paris], which I think was the day before, and Messi scored two goals. He had a chance for the hat-trick, but he gave the penalty to Mbappé and he missed it. So I said to myself, “Alright, I’m gonna be myself and I’m going to tell him, ‘I wish you’d got the hattrick,’ to break the ice.” And so he looked at me like he didn’t understand. And then Jordy translated and Messi laughed. But I got Messi to smile. When you see him he’s just really reserved and chill. But I knew that he appreciated me not being scared to deal with it. My thinking is, “I’m trying to get the best out of you, so let’s have some fun in these ten minutes.” So that’s what we did.

How did working with Messi compare to working with Ronaldinho? He seems like quite the character… 

Absolutely. You already know that about him so you don’t really have to prepare too much to deal with him, because he’s gonna come with his energy, he’s gonna come with his big smile. He’s gonna let you know that he is in the room. You just take a couple steps back and let him do his thing and you really don’t have to try too hard. It was special. Me and him clicked immediately. It was special, special stuff, man. 

And are you a big football fan yourself?

I am. I do follow football. I support Arsenal, but I love the sport. Chelsea are one of my big clients. I do an interview series where we interview fans in America called the Five Boroughs: five black super fans in America. We’re expanding it and we’re just at the end of post-production – it’s going to be called The Bridge. Three fans in Miami, three fans in LA. But yeah, I love football. I didn’t my whole life; it’s a new love, I would say the last nine or ten years. FIFA was the reason I got into it. And then that led into wanting to watch the matches, then there was a World Cup and I was like, “This is actually not so boring. A 0-0 game can actually be thrilling and entertaining.” And then the light bulb went off. I was like, “I want to photograph these men and women in the sport.” Lucy Bronze was at the Pepsi shoot as well. She’s an amazing footballer and I really love the women’s game in the States as well. My favourite team is the women’s side, our national team. Those are the superstars.

Have you noticed a big surge in football’s popularity in the States? 

America is huge. If you are a business or a brand, you want to establish yourself in the United States. You know, us Americans, we are very big consumers of everything. So you want to be there, have your presence felt. You might be a huge club in the world, but no one knows you in America. Chelsea as a brand is banging big, but not so much in America. When you bring up ‘Chelsea’, people think of Chelsea the neighbourhood, where my office is located in New York. But yes, it’s a growing sport. The MLS is doing very well. The Charlotte FC team just had almost 75,000 fans attending their inaugural home game, which is astonishing. They broke the record.

I love shooting live sports. That’s part of the narrative of what I do with Charcoal Pitch FC. I have a great connection with Arsenal’s photographers. So whenever I’m in town, if if I don’t have a complication, I’ll always hit them up like, “Hey, I want to shoot the match.”

Tell us about your business, Charcoal Pitch FC, the first and only black-owned, soccer-specific photography agency.

We want to make sure that [awareness of football] is growing in the black community as well. We look at the NBA, we look at the NFL – the leading players, mostly in all sports in America, are black. So you want to get some of those athletes; you want to steal some of those future basketball players, future NFL players. You want to take some of those people away from those sports and shine a light on soccer. We say, “Look, look at Messi. Messi is only 5’7”. You don’t have to be 6’3” to be successful. If you’re talented, if you’re very athletic, why not try this sport, and look at what you can become.” 

I wish there had been someone telling me that story. I’m 5’7” and I played American football growing up, but it got to a point where I was like, “Man, this 300lb guy is coming to tackle me,” and that was enough for me. If I had had the thought to look at soccer as not just a white-guy sport, then maybe my life could have been different. I want to hopefully inspire the youth to try something different – and in order for them to do so, they have to see people like me. They have to see other people in America making it through the sport for it to grow. But just to backtrack a little bit, that’s what we’re trying to do with Chelsea. We’re trying to shine a light on what’s happening. 

We’re seeing more and more Americans in the latter stages of the Champions League. Are there any players on your wishlist that you’d like to work with, American or otherwise?

Tyler Adams is definitely on my radar. I’ve spoken to him. We’ve had Zoom calls where we’re trying to figure it out, trying to make that happen. And like I said, I love the women’s game; Megan Rapinoe, I’d love to photograph her. But do you know who I would love to photograph again? Paul Pogba.
I photographed him for this Pepsi campaign, but I would love to do it again with more of a lifestyle focus. Because his style, his persona – he was just so chill and receptive. He was just super normal, just like, “Let’s do this, you ready?” I think it would translate well too, if I had time to plan and we had a couple of hours to really do some amazing stuff.

Do you also enjoy covering live sport, in addition to photo shoots?

I love shooting live sports. That’s part of the narrative of what I do with Charcoal Pitch FC. I have a great connection with Arsenal’s photographers. So whenever I’m in town, if if I don’t have a complication, I’ll always hit them up like, “Hey, I want to shoot the match.” There’s nothing like sitting pitchside looking at some of your favourite players and thinking, “Wow, this is crazy.” And it comes back to that last question you asked me, about footballers I would like to have a photoshoot with – and it would be Thierry Henry. I met him backstage close to the locker room at Arsenal, as the guys were coming off the bus, and just thought, “What the heck, am I right now pinching myself?” I would love to do a photoshoot with him. But I love being able to document players on the pitch, like I’ve photographed at Manchester City’s stadium, and I’ve done Arsenal a few times like I say. And then a bunch in New York. The Red Bull Arena, NYC FC, things like that. But yeah, it would be great if you could get me on a Champions League match! 

We’ll do our best. And finally, tell us about your book on the Black Lives Matter protests.

As the world knows, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. And before that happened, I always told myself if something major happened, that I was going to document what was happening. And not only did it happen in my backyard, it’s happening in everyone’s backyard – all across the world, pretty much. So I went out, in the middle of the day, almost at the beginning of Covid, and I was scared. I just said, “You know what, I have to do this. This is about me and it’s about my people. This is the uprising. This is not a moment, this is a movement. And if not me, then who? Do not let other people tell your story.” I just gave the book to a friend and her mother was looking through it, telling me how emotional it made her feel. When I hear comments like that, the book is doing its job. Because if you don’t feel anything looking at those pictures, something’s not wired right.

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