The Catch program promotes physical activity and good health for children in schools all over the world. To mark the anniversary of a French charity group called the Association for Employment, Information and Solidarity with the Unemployed and At-Risk Workers, a Catch wrestling gala took place in the communist-run Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine. The wrestlers are part of the Catch program and the put on quite a show for the local residents, many of them children. Paris-based photographer Kamil Zihnioglu happened to be there to report on this charity event with his Leica Q, providing a glimpse behind the scenes as well as a front row view from the side of the ring. We caught up with Kamil to find out more about this curious event and get his take on shooting with the Leica Q.
How did you first get into photography?
I was introduced to photography in my early childhood, my mother being a picture editor and my father a photographer. The decisive moment came during a family trip to Peru when I was 14. I was very much inspired by the amazing light shining on the local flora and the famous Inca citadel Machu Picchu. So I started to capture that light in black and white with my mother’s old analog camera and I haven’t stopped shooting since.
Who or what inspired you to enter the field of photojournalism?
With both my parents working in the field of photography, I had the opportunity to meet many photojournalists as child, but did not quite understand what photojournalism is really about. Then I met Alexandra Boulat, who is famous for her images from the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Pakistan. She introduced me to her father Pierre Boulat’s work. He was the first French LIFE photographer. They inspired me the most and still do. Their work really is a must see!
You completed an internship at the Bild Zeitung in Berlin. What did you learn from your time there?
After completing an internship as a photographer with the former German news agency DAPD, I was curious to learn about the process a photograph goes through to get into a newspaper. The obvious next step was to do an internship at Germany’s biggest daily newspaper, Bild, where I learnt about editing, breaking news and how to use a picture to illustrate the bias of an article. I also got to know the different steps of the chain, from working on a picture at a desk to getting it to the printing plant.
What is the story behind this series? And how did you come to covering it?
Actually it came about on an afternoon where I was bored to death by my daily news assignments. I bumped into a fellow photographer who told me about a charity gala. When checking out the event, I discovered that it wasn’t any old charity gala but a wrestling gala. This event awoke my curiosity and I was eager to try out my new camera.
Can you tell us a little more about the Catch wrestling charity gala?
The wrestling charity gala was organized by the Association for Employment, Information and Solidarity with the Unemployed and At-Risk Workers (A.P.E.I.S) for their 30th anniversary. All the wrestlers came from France’s oldest Catch school ABCA Beauvais, which was founded in 1951. The aim of the wrestling gala in the socialist-run Paris suburb of Ivry sur Seine, wasn’t to make a profit or show celebrities. With revolutionary slogans on the walls, it was more than an ordinary wrestling gala. Those attending included people from all walks of life and many were talking about the injustice of France’s decades of high unemployment. On the one hand, the message was meant to be political and on the other hand it was an opportunity for people, who usually cannot afford to attend such an event.
What were you hoping to capture with these images? And how did you prepare for the shoot?
I didn’t have anything specific in mind. I was very curious about how the Catch wrestling matches play out in real life and I was really excited about shooting freely at an event without any given restrictions, any agency guidelines or time pressure. I was free to move, to do as I pleased and shoot whatever caught my eye.
Who were the wrestlers taking part? And did you get a chance to learn a bit more about them?
The twelve wrestlers taking part in the charity match were all aged between 20 and 30. Amongst them were two women (Camille and Delia). I learnt during the charity gala, that there are only very few female “Catchers” in France. All the wrestlers have a specific character, which they adopt before climbing into the ring, just like an actor does before stepping onto the theater stage. My favorite wrestler, nicknamed “PV Red”, sported a Russian-style fur hat and a hammer-and-sickle T-shirt (he was more French than anyone else in the room).
How would you describe the crowd and the atmosphere?
It was extraordinary! The only shows I had seen previously were on TV, but it was nothing compared to the excitement I witnessed on this evening. The interactions between the wrestlers and the crowd were a real surprise. The youngsters were cheering for their favorite characters in the ring and so were their parents. By the end the kids were running, highly excited, everywhere. Everyone in the municipal sport hall of Ivry sur Seine had a big smile on their face, happy to be part of it. Being able to witness this, was just priceless.
Your series includes a good mix of candid, behind-the-scenes shots, action shots and images of the setting. This amount of information and varied perspectives really helps the viewer get a feel for the experience of the show. Are you happy with the way the series turned out? What would you have liked to improve?
I had a great evening, photographed the way I felt and with no constraints. I discovered something I did not know previously, met a lot of nice people and was free to move as I wished. As far as I am concerned the story would be more complete with a few portraits of people and wrestlers. This would have given the perfect finish to the story.
You shot indoors both backstage and ring-side. How did you cope with the different light conditions? And what technical considerations did you have to make?
The light conditions were not easy to deal with. The light was different from one side of the ring to the other, as well as in the locker rooms and in the corridors backstage. At first, I was shooting with the aperture priority and correcting the exposure with the dial. By the end I was shooting everything on manual. I just left the temperature on automatic and adjusted it on the laptop later.
How did you go about capturing the action shots?
Due to the highly variant light conditions at the ring-side, I set my camera to a high shutter speed (1/500), fully open aperture (f/1,7), 1600 ISO and the autofocus system.
When did you first start shooting with Leica and why?
I started shooting with the Leica Q a few weeks ago. I was tired of carrying all my DSLR camera equipment wherever I went. All that equipment was heavy, noisy and at the end nothing more than a distraction. I enjoyed working with a compact Fuji camera for a time but I was looking for a camera, which allowed me to meet my daily assignments and to have fun at the same time. The most important thing for me was to have a good sensor, which could deliver high image quality, as well as the form and sound factor. When I discovered my friend’s Leica M240, I really appreciated its technical aspects but I needed an autofocus for my daily assignments. Then I heard about the Leica Q, which turned out to be the perfect camera for me.
Which camera did you use for this shoot? And what do you consider the advantages of your set up?
For this series, I shot everything with my Leica Q, even though I had my DSLR camera on my shoulder. The advantages of my set up were that I was carrying just one camera and a small one at that. Only the really curious people would ask me what kind of camera is it, the other ones didn’t seem to notice the camera at all. They saw me, of course, but they didn’t hear me shooting. That’s a huge advantage in those moments when you want to remain inconspicuous.
What other projects are you working on at the moment? And what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I’m currently working on a long-term project about the regionalist movements advocating autonomy and independence on the French island of Corsica, focusing on the local culture, their own language and their traditions. I’m really looking forward to sharing this long-term project when it’s finished and hopefully getting it published.
Do you have any advice for your fellow photographers?
I am turning 25 soon, so the only advice I could offer for young fellow photographers is to fully embrace the passion for photography. It has to be a passion and you should above all have fun when you’re shooting. Of course, it’s also always a good idea to get some inspiration from senior photojournalists.