As Told To
Stories about the way the world works, in the words of people living in it.
Matt Stith is a 26-year-old soccer photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He spoke with The Outline as part of “As Told To,” our ongoing series about how the coronavirus is reordering peoples’ lives. This conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
After playing soccer at Syracuse University, Stith started shooting live soccer games before officially signing a contract with Major League Soccer and Adidas. He photographed the World Cup in 2018, and has worked on shoots for American soccer stars like Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe. Before the coronavirus outbreak, he was set to shoot the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) soccer championship and the Olympics this coming summer. He’s now staying in New Jersey; you can find his work on Instagram at @bystith.
I love shooting soccer because it’s my favorite sport, I've played it my entire life. Being at the games almost feels like being home. I look forward to it every weekend. It’s electric on the field. You hear so many more things than you do in the stands. In the stands, you usually can’t hear the ball being kicked, you can't hear players yelling at each other or the shit-talking, but on the pitch, you hear all those sounds. It’s a dream job. I can’t lie.
Right before the pandemic got super serious, I was in Columbus, Ohio, shooting the Columbus Crew playing against New York City FC. It was the Major League Soccer home opener. And you heard a little about about coronavirus obviously, but I was still flying everywhere. But then one day it all shut down. [MLS officially announced a 30-day shutdown on March 12]
The pandemic has changed everything. As a freelance photographer, I don’t get a salary, because I work on a retainer. And that works for me, because I can do what I want when I'm not shooting soccer. But now that i can’t go out and shoot at all, because I’m stuck inside the house, what I’ve been up to is like pitching ideas and working on content plans for when this is all over. In all the emails, I’m told to come up with ideas and to pitch ideas, but it’s kind of odd knowing that it’s all on hold for at least seven or eight months.
The Olympics and Euros [soccer tournament] were going to be really big events for me this summer, and thank God they're just postponed and not canceled. And honestly, I’ve lost a lot of money. At the beginning of the year, i planned to make a certain amount of money, and with Euros and the Olympics not happening, I have so much more time where now nothing is happening.
I’m not gonna lie and say that I’ve been like, working constantly [since quarantine started]. But there was a lot of sitting in my house and just coming up with ideas to send to my supervisors, to try and continue to do something. And when that was over, it was doing just arts and crafts in my living room. I work with acrylic paint, and I’ve started a drawing club on my Instagram. I put out a prompt on Mondays and Fridays, and I have all of my friends reply to the post with their drawings, and that’s been pretty cool. You gotta think outside of the box to keep yourself entertained. Especially for someone like me who is super high-energy.
If I’m not pitching or working, then I’m either doing arts and crafts, listening to music or cooking. I left the city because it got to the point where the only thing I thought about was coronavirus. It’s crazy, my mental state after leaving the city. Ben and I, we live together and we’re best friends, there's no issues there. But we were like sitting ducks in the living room, with TV on, just seeing the numbers go up and everything. When you're in a small apartment, there's nowhere to hide from this stuff.
I would say that [quarantine] has changed my view of how I spend time with myself. A lot of the time, when I used to chill at my crib, I would just watch YouTube videos or something. And now, I have this whole other thing, like the drawing club. And a lot of photographers are in this gray zone. We don't know what to do. No one really knows what to do. Because we know as soon as this ends, and the quarantine gets lifted, we know it's just gonna be right back to what we were doing, with traveling and shooting. This crisis doesn't change how I view the next five years, but in the meantime, it’s changed so much.