Pitching For Success: Agathe Breton
Former footballer Agathe Breton is still very much in the game. We chat to the photographer and filmmaker about how she uses her skills to highlight women and girls in sport
Photography by Agathe Breton
Growing up in a small neighbourhood of Paris, Agathe Breton started playing football at a young age, encouraged by her brother’s friends. In her teens she played on a women’s football team but, despite her enthusiasm for the game, she was forced to give up her position due to a series of knee injuries. Agathe wanted to somehow remain in the footballing sphere and so, combining her love for the game with her artistic skills, she became a photographer and filmmaker, documenting women players on and mainly off the pitch. Her passion for highlighting women in sport has equally been a motivational force and her work on the short film Sorore saw her win a national prize.
Glorious: Tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, where you live now and your career to date
Agathe Breton: I grew up in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, in a social housing residence in the heart of a neighborhood that looks like a small village where everyone knows each other. I love Paris and I feel really lucky to have grown up in such a positive, caring and cosmopolitan environment. I found my independence two years ago and while I always thought I would never be able to leave my neighbourhood, I moved to the suburbs.
Glorious: Tell us about your journey from a football player to a photographer
Agathe Breton: I started playing football at five years old and I quickly joined a men’s team on the advice of my brother’s friends, who were the first to push me in that direction. It was only at 15 that I joined the women’s team of Paris FC, which would become my training club. In 2017 I had the opportunity to play a season with FC Nantes – this is one of my best experiences of the game.
Unfortunately, after five knee surgeries, I thought it best to find other ways to get involved in the development of women’s football. For two years I was responsible for the U13 category of the new women’s football school at the Paris Alesia Football Club. And at the same time, I started to photo-document the world of women’s football. Today I try to capture another side of women’s sport and give it the visibility and the look it deserves.
Glorious: How did you start documenting the world of women’s football in photography?
Agathe Breton: I couldn’t play after yet another knee surgery and I wondered how I could still be part of a team without playing. So I asked for accreditation from Paris FC, the club where I was licensed to photograph a Paris FC – PSG women’s derby. While all the photographers were waiting for the start of the match and had their eyes glued to the pitch, I was waiting for the players outside the locker room. I wanted to capture all those moments outside of the match – on the bench, during half time, after the game, etc. I loved this experience and I naturally continued to photograph the young female players I coached at the time, with the desire to share positive moments of women’s football.
Glorious: What made you choose photography as a method to showcase women in sport?
Agathe Breton: One of the first things that struck me as an athlete was the visual representation of female athletes. When I was younger, I was a real tomboy, I hated femininity precisely because the image of sportswomen conveyed by the media didn’t portray anything athletic, powerful or combative. It was the advertisements of sexy female footballers that stuck with me, so naturally I chose photography to share my own vision of female athletes.
Glorious: You produce energetic and inspiring images through film – can you talk us through the process? Do you work on your own or with a team?
Agathe Breton: When I document experiences, I like to be alone and let myself be guided by my intuition, above all because I like to be discreet, to capture spontaneous moments. When I work on campaigns and shoots for brands, I work with a team. I like to surround myself with people I trust and appreciate personally and artistically.
Glorious: You mainly focus on film rather than digital photography – what’s special about it?
Agathe Breton: Film photography for me was above all a “choice of the heart”. It’s all thanks to my grandmother. She was a tennis player who was also passionate about photography and she left me her personal collection of film cameras, so I became familiar with the medium. I grew up in an artistic family environment and all my studies were in the field of applied arts and design, so I naturally liked the creative process of film photography. In my approach to photography it’s not about having the perfect framing, light or the perfect poses, although I am instinctively sensitive to that. I like to live the moments that I capture and film allows me that since I do not have an immediate view of my photos. I spend more time chatting with the people I photograph than showing them the photos I’ve taken and for me that’s so much more important.
Glorious: You’ve done a lot of work with fencer Ysaora Thibus – how did this come about? What was working with her like?
Agathe Breton: Ysaora was looking for a director to accompany her on a video project with Olympic athletes and after seeing my short film Sorore (sisterhood) she asked me if I’d work with her. It’s obviously one of my most beautiful collaborations. Our common vision and respective investment in sport, on the aspects of mental health, lack of representation and diversity of women athletes, lead us to imagine and carry out several projects together for her Instagram EssentiElle Stories. This season we are documenting her daily life as an athlete, with a series of episodes that come out every month on her social media. She’s generous, dedicated and sincere. I really like working with her because I am totally aligned with her way of communicating about her sport and her lifestyle, which is aesthetically pleasing, athletically inspiring and also very authentic.
Glorious: Besides your photography, you direct films to showcase powerful female athletes. What intrigues you about these stories and why are they so important to you?
Agathe Breton: The lack of media interest in female athletes is partly the result of poor communication strategies. Why follow athletes about whom we don’t know much? To create interest, you have to create identification. Often, when female athletes get media interest, it’s far from being true to reality. The angles of view, the subjects covered, the voiceovers, take over their own stories. In 2021, when I made Sorore, my goal was to give women of my generation a voice again. Through the struggles of young women and athletes, the documentary highlights difficult and important topics that are still too invisible and invites the subjects to speak about themselves.
Glorious: What do you want an audience to see and feel when they look at your work?
Agathe Breton: Through my work, I aspire to make the spectator feel a greater empathy and have a better understanding of the sporting paths of women.
Glorious: Tell us about the favourite moments that you’ve captured and what they mean to you.
Agathe Breton: I would say that my best experience and the one that means the most to me today is the making of Sorore. This is the first project that I directed independently and that allowed me to express myself, to let those I have always wanted to hear, express themselves. The film won the first “France Television short film” prize and the many positive reactions it received testify to a real lack of representation and identification. It also gives meaning to all my involvement in the field of women’s sport and gives me some comfort in my heart, following my retirement from football against my will.
Glorious: There is a buzz around women’s football, especially with the World Cup taking place later this year. In your opinion, what are the challenges that football and women’s sport in general continue to face from grassroots to professional level and what can be done?
Agathe Breton: Gender stereotypes are one of the main barriers to playing football for young girls. The main thing, in my opinion, is to make sport accessible to all and to encourage sports practice among girls to be more diverse. This allows young girls to gain self-confidence; it creates strong relationships between them and helps them to flourish, and for these reasons, it is a real lever for emancipation. Then of course it’s all about investment: football has money and must generate it with the women’s game; as in all areas, you have to invest.
In this sense, the media and institutional actors have a major role to play, in order to develop public interest in women’s sport by offering more women’s sport on television, by encouraging women to get involved in clubs and the federations, by completely stopping stereotypes and by representing female athletes as athletes. I don’t have the answers to everything and although things are progressing, I think a lot more could be done.
Glorious: Who is your favourite sportswoman and/or team and why? Which athlete would you love to work with and why?
Agathe Breton: There are so many athletes I’m inspired by, but my first inspirations in women’s football when I was younger were Alex Morgan and Amel Majri. Considering both have pursued their careers while becoming mothers, I’d definitely love to work with them one day. But if I’m not talking about football, Coco Gauff is one of the athletes I’d love to work with. In France I am especially inspired by runner Rénelle Lamote. I love her spontaneity and her honesty in the way she communicates. But beyond that, she is above all an immense athlete who has been able to bounce back after a career marked by injuries. This echoes my own path with five successive knee operations. Maybe I will have the opportunity to work with her one day.
Glorious: What’s next for you?
Agathe Breton: So much is going on! I’m directing several projects that won’t see the light of day for a while but which I’m working hard on right now. In the meantime, I’m continuing to share my professional work and collaborations with clubs, federations and athletes, always with the same desire to make women and athletes shine.
Photography by Agathe Breton, Editorial Design by this is root
Title Image – “Les hijabeuses”, during filming of short film “Sorore” (Sisterhood), France Télévision First Prize 2021.