Dutch football giant Kevin Strootman tore his ACL in March. Now he is back – AS Roma played Sassuolo in the Serie A and Strootman was back in the starting line up for the first time since his injury – and Mounir Raji (32) knows all about it. The upcoming Dutch photographer did a shoot for Nike, photographing Strootman during a recovery training session. One Saturday Afternoon talked to Raji about the powerful pictures he made of Strootman.
Hi Mounir, how did you end up in Rome, doing this shoot for Nike?
“Nike wanted me to document a training day with Strootman at AS Roma. The pictures complete the story with the insights and quotes from Strootman. It was published on the Nike website. I’ve worked for Nike before. I think they like my work because my style of photography suits the feeling they want to achieve. And maybe because I am easy going.”
How did the shoot go?
“I met Kevin two times before on a job, when I was still working as an assistant photographer. The shoot in Rome went well and it was fun to do. Kevin is a really nice down to earth guy. We went to AS Roma and they took really good care of us. We had to change the schedule a bit because the squad stayed a bit longer in the gym. Strootman was training alone with his physiotherapist. That was ideal for me because I had the space to move around him.”
Which picture do you like most? And why?
“I like this one (above) the most because of his intensity and the angels of his arms.”
Most pictures show his power and his working ethics, and his ultimate believe in a total recovery. But some of your pictures also focus on the scar on his knee, a left over from the surgery. In our view this is a beautiful contrast. Vulnerability versus strength. Was this a conscious choice… to show both sides of the story?
“It wasn’t a conscious choice to show both sides of the story but it was definitely a conscious choice to capture the knee. The reason we were their was because of that injury and I think that even the Dutch national team eventually has changed their tactics at the World Cup in Brazil, because of that hurt knee. Because Strootman couldn’t play. So the scar was definitely important to capture.”
You’ve done sports related work before… what is your passion for sports?
“I just love sports. I play football myself. Way back (in 1999) I played one season in the highest youth team of FC Utrecht (a professional football club, osa.) along with later Dutch internationals Edson Braafheid and Michel Vorm, who later both played at a World Cup. In 2010 I stopped playing football for two years because I wanted to focus on my career as a photographer. But it didn’t feel right. My energy level was to low and mentally I missed something. So I started again and I am very happy I did. I can’t imagine a live without sports.”
How do sports related assignments compare to other work you do?
“I’m always trying to reach a certain feel. I want to capture the feeling the person has at that moment, or the feeling I want to see. But the most important thing is that all my work should look attractive to me. If thats the case, I know it suits the rest of my work.”
How would you describe your style of photography?
“It’s very hard to describe. I really don’t know. I always say to them who ask what kind of photography I do, that it’s a mix between portrait, documentary and sports. But I really can’t give you a defenition of my style. It’s just the way I think it looks attractive.”
Any photographers or creatives who inspire you and your work?
“Yes, there are so many people that are inspire me. At this moment Kahlil Joseph for example. He is a director. But I love to see young creatives achieve certain goals. That gives me power and hope and makes me realize that everything is possible.”
What is your ambition?
“My ambition is to make a photography book that inspire others. And I hope I can work on a worldwide campaign for one of the bigger sports brands.”
Check out more of Raji his work at his website mounirraji.com.