by Johanne Nethery
“he’d always find the time to visit these odd, uneven grounds, searching through his lens, finding compositions amongst the withered stands, documenting the occasional Brutalist oddity, local wildlife roaming the pitch, and billows of smoke: the remnants of a recently deceased groundskeeper’s career.”
25 years in the making: It was Iceland that birthed ‘Great Stadiums of the North’. It was a somewhat inadvertent birth, granted, but what began as a part-time personal project was soon to launch an impressive trajectory. Brian had moved to Reykjavik to raise a young family whilst working as a Photographer and teaching at the Iceland University of the Arts. Spotting a tundral landscape one afternoon while driving, leaving his car—snap—turning around to nothing but white-out and nearly being lost in the snow forever: never let anyone tell you photography isn’t dangerous. He knew this all too well, having spent the 90’s documenting clubs full of monsters and madness, pioneering musicians and DJ’s, Brian in the corner capturing it all, not averse to partaking in the festivities.
After spending a few years as a visiting lecturer at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Brian made his was back to Glasgow to settle down again in the city he knew and loved, in amongst pressing commercial work—i-D, Melody Maker, and Loaded are among a few of his previous clients—he’d always find the time to visit these odd, uneven grounds, searching through his lens, finding compositions amongst the withered stands, documenting the occasional Brutalist oddity, local wildlife roaming the pitch, and billows of smoke: the remnants of a recently deceased groundskeeper’s career.
In 2002 Adidas took notice of the project; they commissioned Brian’s Icelandic lovechild’s progression, and it took the early form of ‘The Stadiums Tour’. Many of those early images were shot around the time of the 2002 World Cup (hosted by Japan) which had the world engrossed in technology and flippant wealth, displays of grandeur and excess, 16 new, purpose built stadiums announced a domineering display of financial prowess, of football’s interminable slide towards excess. In stark contrast, we find in Brian’s imagery a deep reverence for the local teams; full-time jobs squeezed in around sessions; orange segments at half time; the team your da played in, and your big brother cheered on. The game as it should be: building community rather than pricing you out of your stadium.
Brian’s images have taken on a more powerful resonance post-COVID-19 and the European Super League debacle: they demand that we cast our gaze through the frame—of the goalposts and the camera—meditatively back to a simpler time, reminding us of what football can do and does mean for smaller communities, and the importance that these stadiums hold to the wee teams who play there; the loyal fans cheering them on, unabated by any sense of inadequacy, a proud tradition, an unending dedication. These are the ‘Great Stadiums of the North’, with Brian as their bard singing their praises through the lens.
Brian Sweeney Exhibition Gallery