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Roberto Guerra Covers the Barcelona Soccer Team -- in Ecuador

By David Schonauer   Friday January 5, 2018


It’s the most famous soccer team in the nation.

But it’s not the one in Spain.

“For most soccer fans around the globe, the name Barcelona is synonymous with the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez; huge financial resources; and Champions League triumphs that have often made Spain the king of the sport. But in Ecuador, the name Barcelona is usually associated with the 90-year-old soccer club founded...in Guayaquil, the country’s largest city,” noted The New York Times in a 2016 feature  about the team.

Unlike the more famous FC Barcelona, Ecuador’s Barcelona Sporting Club is not a financial juggernaut. But the team, which was founded by Catalans, is certainly beloved. “People love, hate, suffer, cry and celebrate according to Barcelona’s results,” said Carlos Víctor Morales, a popular soccer commentator in Guayaquil, in The Times.

To illustrate the story, the newspaper assigned photographer Roberto “Bear” Guerra  to photograph the team: Now living in Los Angeles, Guerra had spent several years based in Quito and knew the turf. His images of the Barcelona Sporting Club have since earned him a spot among the winners of the Latin American Fotografía 6  competition.

“I don’t typically shoot sports stories, but the article was focused more on the history and culture of the team, and on how it has remained popular among Ecuadorean fans despite several years of poor performance and financial crisis,” says Guerra. “New York Times editor Jeffrey Furticella asked me to shoot this like I would the types of social reportage I more typically work on — to let the actual soccer playing be secondary to looking for the moments that tell us something more about the players, about the team culture, about the fans.”

And that, unexpectedly, posed some challenges. “The team managers don’t typically give the press much access to the types of things I wanted to shoot — the behind-the-scenes moments. So I was constantly having to navigate that environment, explaining over and over again the types of situations I wanted to photograph,” Guerra says.

He was also working under time constraints, shooting the entire story in a day and a half during the team’s spring training in its facility in Rio Verde, Ecuador. “The team practiced on the field only early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with some training in the gym in between, so I had to make the most of the time I was there,” says Guerra. “At the time, I was shooting with Canon DSLRs and a Fuji X100S. I was shooting straight-forward documentary images with minor color and exposure corrections.”

Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Guerra studied anthropology at the University of Notre Dame but developed an interest in photography while he was in school. He eventually moved to  Quito, Ecuador, where he collaborated with his wife, journalist Ruxandra Guidi, to produce stories for print, radio, and the web under the name Fonografia Collective.

In March, 2016 they relocated to Los Angeles after Guerra and Guidi received funding to work on a year-long, multi-platform reporting project about older adults living in central LA. The project, titled “Going Gray in LA: Stories of Aging along Broadway,” was made in collaboration with public radio station KCRW, with support from the Eisner Foundation. A photo exhibition is currently on view  at the Los Angeles Central Library.

Over the last two years has also been working on a project in collaboration with anthropologist Mike Cepek about Ecuador’s indigenous Cofán people, who live in one of the most bio-diverse parts of the Amazon Basin but have been profoundly impacted by the discovery of oil in their territory (above; go here   for our story about the work). “The first by-product of our work will be published in April 2018 by University of Texas Press  as an ethnography with 40-plus of my photos,” says Guerra.

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