The energy of team spirit was palpable as Philadelphia-based photographer Zave Smith captured the excitement of football fans during the first Eagles tailgate since the pandemic. Thousands of “Birds” fans flooded the parking lots of Lincoln Financial Field ready to show their pride in celebration of the new season ahead. With his simple camera kit in hand, and a feeling of nostalgia from his early days as a novice photographer, Zave hit the streets to document raw moments of Philadelphians uniting for a feature in Metro Philadelphia.
It had been years since I did any serious street photography but after a year of COVID-induced isolation, the urge to shoot, the urge to explore, and the urge to create pictures hit me with full force.
Zave has worked in the photography business for many years and was previously featured in Metro for his “Back to Work” series, which documented people venturing into the workforce following isolation. Although the pandemic is far from over, his latest series highlights the enthusiasm of Eagles fans reclaiming a sense of normalcy by coming back out to play.
The camaraderie and passion for tailgating is a hometown tradition that’s been taking place at the heart of Eagles fandom in South Philadelphia for decades. People of all ages come prepared and fully loaded to party from early morning to game time with everything from RVs, coolers full of cold beverages, and grills topped with sausages, burgers, and hot dogs. The energy was a combination of Mardi Gras meets the City of Brotherly Love as fans cloaked in Eagles gear ate, drank, danced, and anticipated the game ahead.
The NFL is a symbol of the American way of life and as this autumn season began stadiums were once again full. Our beloved Eagles were going to take the field and hope was in the air once more.
After almost two years of empty stadiums and being cooped up due to the pandemic, this initial tailgate was sure to be a momentous occasion as fans were eager to make up for lost time. The congestion of endless rows of parked cars, with lots A-Z jam-packed with tens of thousands of people, meant that navigating the event would be a challenge for Zave.
Although he had an initial feeling of frustration while stuck in traffic on the way to the stadium, Zave admitted the logistics of the project were worth the effort as he enjoyed capturing the joy of the crowd on this memorable day. While this was a new experience for Zave — having never attended a tailgate before — his willingness to stretch outside his comfort zone and revisit the art of street photography made the challenge worthwhile.
It reminded me that no matter how big the crew is, how talented the creative team is, it all comes down to you, your camera, and the scene in front of you.
In true Philadelphia fashion, Eagles fans rang in the 2021 football season as a wildly passionate sports town. Zave and his camera were well received by the crowd as they welcomed him with open arms to document the sports fans’ celebratory spirit. This spontaneous project has inspired Zave to capture more candid moments in the future.
Photographer: Zave Smith