In recent years the world of soccer – always global in nature, yet somehow still underappreciated domestically – has become a cultural wrecking ball, helping knock down walls and crumble the stigmas of yore that made the sport seem uncool. Today, NBA stars, hip-hop artists, celebrities, and more hang out with their favorite global soccer icons, don the newest and freshest jerseys, and collab with soccer brands with such regularity that now soccer is part of a cultural revolution helping shape the future of the sport and introduce it to new audiences.
Longtime Major League Soccer fans may know Ethan White’s soccer story. He signed with D.C. United as a Homegrown Player in 2010 after leaving the University of Maryland. During a seven-year MLS career, Ethan also played for the Philadelphia Union and for New York City FC. With his playing career in the rearview mirror, Ethan has moved into the next stage of his life – photography.
What began almost 12 years ago as a way to showcase his and his friends’ outfits and sneakers on social media has blossomed beyond a hobby and into a promising post-playing career. After signing with D.C. United he became more engrained in the world of lifestyle photography as he looked for productive ways to fill his free time, especially after becoming “embarrassingly good” at FIFA. So, he bought a new camera and is continually motivated by the desire to capture the emotion of a singular moment and have it live forever.
Ethan has put himself in a unique position as someone who played the sport at the highest level domestically and now has the opportunity to help push the culture of the sport forward as a photographer. His playing background gives him the ability to spot subtle and quiet moments that make the sport beautiful and thanks to the relationships he’s built, he’s been given exclusive access to teams and players. Luckily for Ethan and for fans of the sport, brands like Mitchell & Ness, Umbro, and adidas and outlets like The Players’ Tribune and Kicks To The Pitch have started taking notice.
In addition to the celebrities, musical artists, and other tastemakers helping lead the soccer culture shift, photographers like Ethan are equally, if not more, important in driving forward new soccer aesthetics in social media, in branding, in advertisements, etc. When I asked Ethan for his perspective on the cultural revolution soccer is undergoing right now, he dropped some knowledge:
“The cultural explosion is dope. I think that with social media allowing us to share so many ideas, styles, etc., people and industries are beginning to rub off on one another. It is happening with all sports but definitely football at the moment. Brands are beginning to collaborate with one another or with specific designers to create fashion pieces, events and, art to engage fans. As a former player, I love seeing the culture grow and for light to be shed on the cool things that football culture has been doing for a long time now.”
Telling visual stories through photography is Ethan’s passion and in today’s digital world, aesthetics matter. I asked him about his ideal shoot and he said he’d one day love to walk the streets of Marseille with Zinedine Zidane to capture the vibe and environment in which Zizou grew as a player. Whether you’re from the urban Marseille or the suburbs of Washington, D.C., everyone has a unique story to tell and photographers like Ethan are bringing those soccer stories to life.
As more and more brands look to attach themselves to the sport and to the young audience it attracts, Ethan offered his perspective. To him, brands should remember their job is to highlight things that are going on culturally in the sport and not try and create the culture itself. As a photographer, Ethan believes that’s his role in this space.