Photographer Sophie Kirchner: There Is No Such Thing as Male Sports

Photographer Sophie Kirchner: There Is No Such Thing as Male Sports

Share article

Hockey, water polo, rugby. German photographer Sophie Kirchner has spotlighted three sports traditionally associated with men, challenging stereotypes in her project Männersport (translated as Men's Sport). Through vibrant images, she showcases top-notch female athletes from Hamburg and Berlin clubs, breaking the mold and redefining the game. "I've been interested in gender roles, stereotypes and prejudices for a very long time. I like to scrutinize this in my work and involve the viewer in this questioning. At first glance, it seems to be about portraits of women doing sports, but at second glance it's about more than that," says the author, who focuses mainly on portrait and reportage photography.  

Sophie Kirchner, Rugby 1, 2012. Source: Lensculture

When selecting her own projects, Sophie Kirchner is particularly drawn to individuals who are not in the spotlight. She addresses gender inequality and is part of the IN WAVES #womenincovid initiative, which focuses on the impact of the pandemic on women's lives. One of her major themes is Eastern Germany, where she was born. Through her photographs, she aims to spark discussions. She succeeds in doing so, notably through the series Männersport or men's sports, created in 2012, which aimed to highlight ingrained stereotypes that still persist in society.

"In Germany, women still are not equal to men in some aspects of society. I was looking for a platform that almost everyone can relate to – like sports – to address this. I wanted to provoke a discussion about how we look at women,” explains Kirchner, emphasizing the challenging historical positions women held, even in fields like painting, even though more women now graduate from art schools than men. According to the photographer, this transformation is still lacking in traditional sectors like sports. This gap served as one of the motivations for the creation of the series, to which she adds, "I've been interested in gender roles, stereotypes and prejudices for a very long time. I like to scrutinize this in my work and involve the viewer in this questioning. At first glance, it seems to be about portraits of women doing sports, but at second glance it's about more than that." 

In the series Männersport, women are captured statically, offering a perspective entirely different from what we are accustomed to in sports photography. The athletes are depicted moments after concluding their matches, presenting a view distinct from the dynamic images typically associated with sports. The neutral and simple backgrounds, distinguished only by color based on the respective sports, allow us to focus solely on their expressions. Additionally, the athletes are stripped of their jerseys, making it challenging to discern their sports discipline—water polo players are identified only by their swim caps, and the absence of jewelry sets rugby players apart. This intentional simplicity provides the viewer with space to concentrate fully on the determined and exhausted gazes of the sportswomen, observing their sweaty and tousled hairstyles, flushed skin, or droplets of water trickling down the faces of water polo players.

I asked them to come to me immediately after the game so that they didn't have time to think about how they looked. This moment was important, it had to be quick. Because of the exhaustion, the injuries, the sweat in their faces, the sport does play a role in a way.

Naturalness is a vital aspect of the entire series. Anyone who has fully engaged in sports likely knows the feeling of absolute focus on the game, exerting maximum energy and effort. Sports can absorb us to the extent that we forget about everything around us, allowing ourselves to be disheveled, sweaty, and unconcerned about our appearance. For a brief moment, we abandon all conventional beauty standards that are otherwise considered important to us.

It is precisely naturalness that Sophie Kirchner emphasizes when discussing her work on the project, drawing comparisons with her experiences photographing personalities in fields like politics: "Very different. I have the impression that many athletes have a very unpretentious and relaxed approach to their appearance and body. It was very easy to work with them. Politicians, on the other hand, often have a very strong awareness of how they appear or want to appear. It almost has something controlled about it. I can understand that, after all, they are in the public eye and have a certain reputation to uphold. Getting to the point of capturing an authentic moment with a politician requires a lot of luck and time (which is often not available). The sportswomen in my project, on the other hand, had less experience of being photographed professionally, they were very open and pure. I appreciated this openness because it also made them very vulnerable in a way. I think you can see this vulnerability and at the same time strength and passion in the pictures." 

Sophie Kirchner, Ice Hockey 2, 2012. Source: Artsy

Sophie Kirchner, Water Polo, 2012. Source: Lensculture

Sophie Kirchner's portraits of female athletes showcase women who love what they do. "Most of the women I spoke to do not have a political agenda. They started playing the sport as girls and were introduced to it very early on. So it's natural for them. And they have an incredible passion and loyalty for their sport, which impressed me a lot," admits Kirchner.

In 2015, she exhibited this series alongside works by photographer David Magnusson at the American Pictura Gallery. A year later, the photographs were featured in an exhibition in Vancouver at the Truth&Beauty Gallery. Even after more than a decade, this collection remains relevant.

"Sport is an important part of our society. It is an area where all people can come together in some way. So it's a good field to explore artistically."

Sophie Kirchner, Rugby 4, 2012. Source: Artsy

Sophie Kirchner, Rugby 3, 2012. Source: Lensculture

Sophie Kirchner is a contemporary German photographer, born and raised in former East Berlin. Her father was a competitive rower. She studied photography at HAW Hamburg and the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, USA, with her thesis focusing on intersexuality. Outside of photography, she has a passion for hiking, cycling, and practicing yoga. Her works are featured in various collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the collection of the Stiftung Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. 

Sophie Kirchner. Zdroj: Laif. Photo: Marlena Waldthausen

Currently residing and working in Berlin, Sophie Kirchner showcases her photography on her Instagram (@sophiekirchnerphoto) and her website.







Share article


Published 30.01.2024

Anna Strasserová vystudovala dějiny umění na Filozofické fakultě Univerzity Karlovy, působila jako webová redaktorka Národního památkového ústavu, nyní pracuje pro pražskou Artotéku. Amatérsky hraje florbal, má ráda kolektivní sporty, běh a běžky. Propojení sportu a umění je její vysněná kombinace. Obdivuje Miroslava Tyrše, má ráda jemné vzory a dobré knihy.

Message us

Did you enjoy this article? Do you have any questions? We are grateful for your input.

More in Artists