In 1998, photographer Hans van der Meer published his photo book 'Dutch Fields' ('Hollandse Velden'), a superbly satirical look at amateur football. Its carefully framed images, taken on drizzly Sunday mornings on forlorn fields, captured the make-belief of grown men being football stars before nonexisting crowds. As wry observations of football's rituals, they exposed something of the absurdity of all human activity.
Since then, Van der Meer went on to photograph European football fields, "as far away from the Champions League as possible". The result, 'European Fields, the Landscape of Lower League Football', possibly surpasses its Dutch predecessor in its almost Beckettian estrangement.
The book's subtitle identifies a central strategy in Van der Meer's photos: even though he portrays people, his photos are essentially landscapes. Whether it's a Dutch polder, a Swiss meadow or Mediterranean seaside gravel, his subjects always look lost in their surroundings, frozen in the middle of some strange enacted drama.
Much of this drama consists of waiting, which is in itself a rather absurd activity but even more so when it concerns organized waiting for a ball. In maybe half of the images (I should count this) the ball is not even in the frame. Or, in one hilarious instance, the ball is high up in the sky and all the players are just gazing at it, waiting for it to come down. (There's also a separate collection of his photos of goal keepers, mostly just watching the action elsewhere and waiting for it to come to them.)
The Nederlands Fotomuseum just opened an exhibition showing Van der Meer's football photographs, along with other work including an older series from Budapest and a new projects in Dutch suburbs. Definitely worth seeing up close in large prints.