Football is finally back in the City of Brotherly Love and for the first time since the pandemic, the parking lots outside of the Eagles stadium were filled with fans tailgating together on Sunday. From lot A all the way down to Z at Lincoln Financial Field, Bird fans were out and about and letting their pride show, and one photographer was there to capture the spirit.
“It was interesting to me, because I’ve never been at a tailgating party in my life,” says local photographer Zave Smith. “What I was amazed at was just how friendly everyone was.”
“Everyone was into it,” he says. “It kind of reminded me of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, all these people basically having a good time and being open and sharing. It was more Philadelphia, it didn’t have the costumes or music, it had a certain amount of I would say positive Philadelphia grit to it….A little dirty, a little uncomfortable, really long lines at the restroom. But the whole vibe was very, very positive.”
Smith says he must have photographed at least 100 people, all of whom (except for one or two fans) were happy to have their first tailgate of 2021 documented.
As for talk of COVID, there was more or less a void. In between grilling, drinking and dancing, any talk of the pandemic was virtually silenced by the cries of eager awaiting football fans.
“I think I saw three people the whole day with masks on. There was no masking and there was no talk of COVID at all. Most of the time you’re outdoors and you’re with people who you know when you’re tailgating with friends of family, but there are times where people were on top of each other,” says Smith. “People are done, or at least the Eagles fans are.”
Smith also said fans impressed him visually. The spirit of the football season rings through their movement and their facial expressions—and it’s all just as loud as the announcer on the field.
“I’ll be honest, I was cursing my business partner whose idea it was to do this when I was stuck in traffic trying to get there. But once I got there, I thoroughly enjoyed myself,” he explains. “Sometimes as artist and photographer it’s good to go someplace you haven’t been before to get uncomfortable and see if you can make it work.”
Smith brings up his work on the Wildwood boardwalk from his “Back to Work” series for that example. “It’s a place I don’t really hang out and I don’t have any connection too…but when I go out and do this work I don’t go out and do it anonymously. Everyone you saw I asked and positioned them and directed these shots. They weren’t found images. There was a relationship between me and those people.”
While out there for the two and a half hours, Smith’s maiden voyage into the land of tailgating was meaningful enough to inspire more voyages of similar capacities.
“It made me feel like I would enjoy doing these shoots of places where people gather. I think part of it is we haven’t been able to gather for a long time. Even now, it feels still kind of new and fresh and slightly dangerous. But it made me think if another occasion came up, I might just go do it,” explains Smith. “It was just a giant party. People were eating and drinking and what I thought was interesting was there a lot of people of all ages dancing and enjoying themselves.”
With ‘Back to Work’ Smith documented the early movements of once-quarantined citizens venturing back into the world when it was still very scary. The pandemic is not over, but the spirit with this latest series shows instead the passion of people finding some sort of normalcy (if we can even say that anymore) by coming back out to play.
“We did ‘Back to Work’ and I feel like this could be back to play or back at play—because that’s what it felt like. Obviously, a lot of people have invested some real-time and money into tailgating, they do it religiously and they haven’t been able to go to the church of the giant Eagle in a year. They were very happy to be able to do the high temple of football-dom—even though they lost,” he explains. “Philadelphians do what they do with heart. They work hard, they play hard, and they do it with all their hearts.”