Joyful portraits of teens embracing to celebrate the end of lockdown

Sebastian Barros’s portraits, created in collaboration with Football Beyond Borders, will make you glad the world is open again.

by Roisin Lanigan
02 June 2021, 10:22am

In all the madness of the past 15 (!) months of pandemic hell, it's easy to overlook the little things we've lost. Like, for example, the simple hug -- a casual but important component of our most personal social interactions, a way to show comfort, connection and love. But with vaccine rollouts continuing and more and more restrictions being lifted, touch and connection are back on the table, baby. And photographer Sebastian Barros is helping to celebrate the simple, long-lost joy of the hug with his new series of portraits, released just in time to celebrate the summer of love and the end of the UK's seemingly centuries-long lockdown. 

As the restrictions on physical contact have finally started to lift, the London-based photographer collaborated with UK charity Football Beyond Borders to create What's Good, a series of portraits showing authentic moments of human connection with friends. "I wanted to create something based around that feeling, that moment of reconnecting with friends after spending months apart," Sebastian tells i-D

Spending the past six weeks visiting a number of Football Beyond Borders programs across London, Sebastian photographed players and friends as they reunited after months of government-mandated shutdowns. "I wanted to capture those playful authentic moments of coming together for the first time in so long."

Usually, Football Beyond Borders works with teenagers across the capital who are passionate about football but struggling at school. "We do this by providing long-term, intensive support, built around relationships and young people's passions, in the classroom and beyond," the charity says. But with schools and team sports gone during lockdown, the structure and support Football Beyond Borders provides fell into jeopardy.

What's Good spotlights the importance of the charity, including a number of quotes from the teenagers themselves interspersed with joyful images of teammates and friends embracing at long last. "I missed always having someone to talk to, asking about their day and just having a small conversation," says 15-year-old Arya. "I missed the worldies we used to score over the park," adds Fernando. Check out the series below, and hug your mates today.

Sebastian Barros's portraits of teens returning to Football Beyond Borders after lockdown

Hi Sebastian! How do you feel coming out of lockdown? 
A mixture of excitement and nervousness. There was a lot I liked about being in lockdown, having the chance to slow down and focus on the things that make you happier. Also, so much has been happening in the world since the pandemic started. It makes me wonder, what is the post lockdown world going to be like and how do I fit into it? Having said all that, I'm so looking forward to being able to travel and get back on set again and to actualise some of the projects that we've conceived as a team during lockdown. Also, it's nice to be back inside a real pub; I've missed those lazy Sunday afternoons with friends in beer gardens.

Sebastian Barros's portraits of teens returning to Football Beyond Borders after lockdown

What inspired this photo series?
Over the last year, we had to replace face to face communication with Zoom, and you see now that everyone is getting fatigued from it. Nothing can quite replace that IRL chat with a friend. It's things like being able read someone's body language and being tactile… that little tap on someone's arm when their friend is talking about something exciting happening in their lives. Those moments have been lacking, and I was curious to see how kids responded to those first moments of contact with friends again. Kids are so unfiltered. It's a very authentic emotional expression. That's what I wanted to capture – an unfiltered authenticity.  

How did you come to work with Football Beyond Borders?
I've known of Football Beyond Borders for a while and love the work they're doing. I really started to take notice of them when they released a film called Abi: Being Black & 6Teen. I loved how they were still able to communicate their message without using a football, and it inspired me to take a similar approach to a project idea with them too.

Sebastian Barros's portraits of teens returning to Football Beyond Borders after lockdown

Can you talk a little bit about the process of shooting this over six weeks? 
I was quite lucky as I was able to shoot most of it during the Easter holidays when FBB were running sessions. Shooting during school hours was very problematic because of the rules around COVID. I knew those intimate photos weren't going to be easy to achieve, especially for the boys. So I spent most of my time just hanging and talking to them. We've all collectively had this shared experience of being in lockdown, and it was nice to talk about that with them and see it from their perspective.

How did you choose your subjects, and what was it like capturing these first instances of human connection?
I wanted the subjects to represent a range of human connections because everyone expresses that in different ways. To be honest, I didn't really pick my subjects; I photographed everyone that was keen and crafted my story afterwards.

Two fists bumping on a blue background

Do you have a favourite image? 
There's so many actually, I love them all, but if I had to choose, it would be the one of Silvia and Abi. They're so at ease and peaceful, and just happy being in each other's company.

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Negatives from Sebastian Barros's portraits of teens returning to Football Beyond Borders after lockdown
Close up of a boy smiling while holding handfuls of food
Two boys pose back to back with arms folded against a blue background
Two hands touching against a blue background
Two boys hugging against a blue background