German-born photographer Stephan Würth has been a self-described tennis “superfan" ever since he took interest in the sport at the age of seven. Since then, he has turned that obsession into a career, dedicating himself to a sport that seems to care about him just as much as he cares about it. Photographing the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, among other famous subjects, Würth has demonstrated his capabilities on and off the court, gaining the support of tennis fans and photography aficionados alike. Würth chatted with L'Officiel USA about his most memorable career moments and feelings about tennis. If one thing is clear, it’s that the feeling is mutual.
What about tennis specifically interests you?
I love everything about it. The exercise aspect of it is great, and tennis courts are normally in beautiful settings. In New York, for instance, there are wonderful red clay courts around 96th Street and the Hudson River. You feel like you’re playing in Italy on those courts. I’m also really into watching tennis. I’m a big Nadal fan and love seeing him fight in every match, whether on TV or in person.
Why do you find tennis players to be interesting subjects for photography?
I started the tennis project when I became a little burnt out from my commercial jobs. On commercial jobs, everybody has their own agenda. So in my downtime, I thought, “I play so much tennis. Why not bring my Leica with me every time I’m on the court?” From there, I started going to tournaments with my camera, watching TV with my camera, and so on. The project ended up showing every part of tennis that interests me, which is everything!
Do you have a personal connection to tennis?
I started playing tennis with my parents at age 7 on a vacation to Spain. I really loved it from day one. I’m not the most athletic person, so it was always just a hobby of mine.
You’ve been exposed to such tennis superstars as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Do you have any favorite memories of either of them?
I’m a Rafa superfan. Last year, I had front row tickets to the US Open when Rafa played. Being so close to this legend was electrifying. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish the match because of a knee problem.
Did you ever have any aspirations of becoming a professional tennis player?
No, although it seems like the best profession in the world. I do play a lot, and years ago, some neighbors asked if I was a professional player because they only ever saw me in tennis gear. They must have missed my graying hair.
Who has been one of the most memorable subjects you’ve photographed?
Benjamin Hassan in Marrakech is probably one of the book's two most memorable photographs. For our wedding gift from a friend of ours, my wife and I got to use his house for one week in Marrakech. We invited friends and had an amazing week playing tennis, exploring Morocco, and eating delicious food. I loved [Hassan's] long pants-style while playing tennis. The second most memorable picture would be Federer walking through the US Open. I was at the tennis tournament before the main draw started to photograph the people. On my way back to the subway to go home, I turned around and Federer with his coach and hitting partner that day (Marin Čilić, who actually won the US Open a few years later) were walking without security to the practice court. It took about 15 seconds for people to storm him for autographs. I just happened to be right in front of him to document it.
Is there a specific tournament you look forward to attending and photographing?
Monte Carlo and the French Open are on my list. I am trying to make it before Rafa retires!
What is your favorite aspect of the sport?
My favorite aspect is just playing a match with one of my tennis friends. I keep getting injured lately, so watching is becoming very fun as well, but I need to start doing more weights and get out on the court.
Which type of photography (film or digital) is more conducive to capturing the essence of the game when photographing tennis?
I really only like photographing analog. I use digital for commercial jobs, but for all my personal projects, I prefer film and mostly black and white Kodak Tri-X film. It is just so nice not to see the image you have taken. This provides the creative freedom to just shoot what you see without second-guessing yourself and redoing the shots.
You’ve used the word documentation to describe your photography. What about tennis specifically necessitates documentation?
I think tennis is very poetic. There is the dance the players are doing on the court and then visually, the courts are very graphic with the rectangle and the lines, but that typically contrasts with very scenic backgrounds. I also like to shoot very natural scenes, be it commercially or for my personal projects. I just like capturing what is in front of me and sharing my perspective.