My nine month journey as the photographer for the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour is almost finished and I’ve entered into the reflection phase, where I’m looking back at the places we’ve been to and the people that I’ve met. I’ve been trying to summarize it in my own mind, how incredible and powerful spending the last 260+ days in foreign countries has been in my life and the lives of those I work alongside. It’s difficult to put into just a few words, to only touch on some of the smiles and stories and moments of complete joy and happiness that we’ve seen.
The tour is centered around bring the FIFA World Cup trophy around the world to allow every fan the chance to experience sport’s greatest prize, but for me I feel that the tour is centered around one objective. Happiness.
Throughout the last nine months, 89 countries and 100,000+ kilometers, we’ve been spending every waking hour with one goal in mind. Making people happy. I’ve seen it from the first day, the look on a young player’s face who just found out he’d be meeting some of his football idols at the foot of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.
It’s been kind of a running joke to some of those on my team that my role, the photographer, is “the best job in the world”. It was defined as that in an article and while sometimes it seems a bit grand for the job I have, I must admit that my job really is the best in the world. My task, to find happiness and take photos of it. To see what happiness looks like in the faces of kids, of adults, of presidents and football players. To find what makes happiness the same in El Salvador, Bhutan, Sweden and Japan. And, after visiting 84 countries it feels good to know that I’ve done just that.
There’s a unifying thing about happiness. Yes, different things make different people happy but what unites that happiness is simple, it’s a smile. After photographing hundreds, if not thousands, of moments around the world, I can recognize that true happiness, the real smile. There’s a shine in someone’s eye when they are smiling from inside and I can look back into my photos and see these smiles coming from the most diverse places, but still unified together in the theme of happiness.
There were moments when these smiles came from those I least expected. I remember sitting in a courtyard in Haiti, surrounded by hundreds of children who had lost everything and everyone in the earthquake and seeing how huge their smiles were, how deeply they laughed and how the power of all this was lifting the mood around us.
In India I came across a group of friends who were so excited about the event and their chance at being able to see the trophy that their smiles and energy was contagious. In Thailand, even though neither of us knew what the other was saying, I laughed alongside a boy that spent almost an hour helping me take photos.
Sitting next to orphans in the street or in front of a King in his palace, there was this energy of happiness. I like to think that each time I saw it and felt it, that I carried it with me and brought to the next person I met, hoping that it would continue to trickle down and reach even more people.
I caught myself with my own smile from within more than once, in Germany when I watched a samba dancer in her costume push an older woman in her wheelchair into the center of a 200 people so she could join the dancing too.
I felt that happiness in France when Pele took photos with some kids and the look on their face was that of sheer fulfillment. And most recently I felt it today, in Rikuzentakata, Japan which was devestated in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Some students had organized a huge community celebration and as I sat there on the steps of the school in front of hundreds of survivors, who were so filled with happy energy that they were dancing and crying and cheering alongside famous football players and musicians, I felt the happiness. You could see it, you could feel it and it was one of the most powerful moments on this trip.
The power of happiness is something that belongs to each and every one of us and as much as it’s available for each of us to receive, it’s just as important to help be the one that gives that happiness to other people as much as you can.
I’d like to say thank you, to those people from the last 9 months of my life, in villages and cities from around the world who have done that for me, given me a happiness that I needed and that I’ve accepted and cherished and for inspiring me to pass that happiness along to others. I’ve shared moments, sometimes in minutes and sometimes in days with some of the most kind, generous, and inspiring people I’ve ever met and I know that I’ve taken small parts of those moments to carry with me onward.