Despite being raised in the sunshine of Sydney, Australian photographer Zac Crnjac grew up with a strong connection to his parents’ culture, taking great pride in his heritage which was instilled into him by his father who was born in Croatia and his mother who was born in Finland.
“I’m from the inner-west of Sydney,” Zac tells us. “I grew up in a great area with lots of different cultures and people. It’s the perfect spot for me – I am around 30 minutes from the city and 30 minutes from the beach so it’s a good middle ground between urban and coastal Sydney.”
Zac spent much of his youth travelling with his parents, going to Finland, Croatia and around Europe to visit family, and it was those trips that would help spark his interest in photography. As well as spending endless summer days with his friends outside capturing everything and anything.
His love of football which he now encompasses in his work, began when he received his first-ever football jersey. It would also be the 2006 World Cup that proved to be an eye-opening experience for him. Watching it together with his dad he became hypnotised by the passion and fervour of it all. Since then it is a love that has never left.
As he got older it was the sub-cultures around football which began to appeal to Zac, especially the Ultras and fan culture. It was also the vintage jerseys, the style and the fashion, which held great appeal to him.
It was during trips to Europe that he became fascinated by how football and society seemed to go hand in hand. “Everybody I saw had football jerseys and tracksuits on which always stuck with me and got me even more into football kits and the fashion culture of it.”
Zac’s work has seen him put together a series of vintage-inspired football shoots, showcasing kits from across the 90s and 2000s and concept kits as well as national teams like Argentina and the Netherlands. He absolutely nails everything that everybody loves about football culture. The images are drenched in nostalgia and the cinematic element to them, combined with the vintage styling is incredible. Every time I look at a selection of his work, I can’t help but smile and reminisce about my days growing up in that era of football.
A lot of Zac’s work is also inspired by his life growing up in Australia, being outside, hiking, and camping, as well as all his travels and it was great to catch up with him as we spoke about football, subcultures, travel, and how he wants to reimagine how sports are captured in Australia.
I’ve always had in interest in different cultures and subcultures
When I was younger we would go to places like Finland, Croatia and around Europe to visit family. My mum would always let me use her point-and-shoot camera and I’d take photos of nature and the environment I was in.
As I got into my teenage years two of my best mates also got into photography and we would always go out shooting together, going on camping and hiking trips, which was a great way to grow up and spend my teenage years.
Every weekend we would try to figure out how to get to locations with public transport before we got our driver’s licences which was also part of the fun. I’d always wanted to make photography part of my job but was never really sure how, but I started shooting portraits in the music industry in Sydney and that’s when I started to make money – this was about 3-4 years ago. I think I’ve always had an interest in different cultures and subcultures which influences my work a lot and trying to find ways to capture different subcultures.
I’m not sure how exactly I would describe my photos but I think they’re both nostalgic and gritty. I have been inspired by a lot of my favourite photos and photographers’ aesthetics, and I think I’ve tried to make this style my own. I was also inspired by my friends who I grew up shooting with as we all learnt together.
I’ve never been too caught up on the gear, but I love shooting outdoors and using natural lighting, particularly during golden hour. I always shoot with a digital camera, I like to bring a 24mm and also a zoom lens usually and a 70-200mm. Recently, I’ve been getting into film but it’s something I’m still learning – I’ve found it enjoyable working with a new format. I have been researching getting a medium-format film camera to try something new.
As I got older I started to take more notice of the action off the pitch
When I was a kid one of my good friends supported Arsenal so my dad got me a 2005 Arsenal away jersey from the markets which was my first ever jersey. I remember watching the 2006 World Cup with my dad and seeing the passion of football.
My grandma bought me my second-ever jersey which was Hajduk Split, when the club turned 100 years old. So those are the two clubs I supported growing up and still do to this day.
As I got older I started to take more notice of the action off the pitch, particularly in the Balkan region where my dad is from, and particularly ultras and fan culture. When I was 14-17 I was really into our domestic game here in Australia and would go to nearly every Sydney FC home game.
The game really flourished here in those years too, crowds were really good and people started to notice football here, even though it’s not really the main sport. But the fan culture is one thing I think separates football from other sports here in Australia. In all the big codes such as AFL, cricket, Rugby etc the atmospheres don’t come close to what you get at a football match.
I think after 2016 football started to go downhill in Australia which was disappointing. Interest in the game wasn’t as big, and the crowds dropped. However after last year with the men’s national team making the round of 16 in the World Cup and the women’s national team’s successful run in the World Cup, it has really boosted the game here in Australia.
streetwear culture was so intertwined with football culture
My love for kits has always been a thing, I’d always buy kits and wear them ‘fashionably’ when going out. In 2019 I always remember going to Paris and noticing the streetwear culture was so intertwined with football culture. Everyone I saw had football jerseys and tracksuits on which always stuck with me and got me even more into football kits and the fashion culture of it.
I spent a lot of last year travelling in Europe and North Africa and again noticed the football streetwear fashion when I returned to Australia I really wanted to start shooting people in football kits, so every time I got a job I’d bring one of my jerseys and get some portraits of artists, models etc in jerseys.
One of my favourite jobs was earlier this year when I got to shoot Nike ‘Kit Couture’ – a fashion show, where 13 designers redesigned 13 different national team jerseys during the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. I had only really just started my football jersey portrait project a few months earlier and to have it rewarded with a job like that, the first event of its kind in Australia, was a massive achievement for me.
reimagine how sports is captured and portrayed here creatively
My biggest challenge in photography has probably been figuring out exactly what I want to shoot, and what I want my niche to be. When I first started I did a lot of landscape photography, and I still like doing that when I go travelling, but I figured out quite quickly that style wasn’t what I wanted to do full-time. I love getting to work with people and capturing them through my work so I have found portraits to be more fulfilling.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite extensively. Last year I took my biggest trip which was 8 months, this was quite spontaneous and I decided to do it after the COVID lockdown. It’s hard to pick one place that was my favourite to shoot but the ones that stick out from my last trip were Iceland, Finland, Morocco, Albania, Montenegro and Turkey.
Next year, I want to keep shooting consistently, and get more into the fashion industry as well as the sporting industry. I’d love to do a campaign for a sporting brand such as Nike or Adidas.
One of the biggest goals I have with my football jersey personal project is to be able to do photography and eventually full creative direction for a football club. You see it in Europe now, but sports are still captured in a very ‘traditional way’ here in Australia and is creatively bland apart from a few clubs, so I’d love to reimagine how sports are captured and portrayed here creatively. Hopefully, I’ll also make it to Germany next year for the Euros and get a bit more travelling under my belt.
All our thanks to Zac Crnjac.
You can follow Zac on social media here.