Few American cities have an identity as distinct as that of Portland. By far the largest settlement in Oregon, Portland is famed for its rose-growing, its devotion to the environment and its walkability. It also known as a centre of liberal attitudes and cultural production, both of which have earned it a reputation as a hipster nexus.
When the British photographer Rob Low spent a summer in the city, however, he unearthed a lesser known aspect of the town. The exhibition Roses: The World's Game in Portland explores the city's relationship with football, one of the oldest and strongest in the US.
"There has been," Low recounts, "a soccer team in Portland for well over 40 years." The Portland Timbers, who now share their Providence Park stadium with the women's team Portland Thorns, gained a loyal following through its initial success. "And," continues Low, "the city has no other big teams from baseball, hockey or the NFL to dilute this incredibly passionate and loyal fanbase." The Thorns, for instance, has around 20,000 supporters – a huge number for a team founded in 2012.
Immersed in Portland's football culture, Low discovered Premier League obsessives who wake up at dawn to watch matches. He followed pick-up games among the local Ethiopian communities, and had exclusive access to shoot in Providence Park. There he found ample evidence that North American soccer is every bit as boisterous as its international equivalents. The atmosphere in the stadium was, says Low, "noisy and passionate. They sing their songs from the first minute to the last."
Low, who hails from Birmingham but is based in London, has practiced his photography around the work. Although he also works on fashion shoots, much of his output stems around two quite different topics – sport, and architecture. His 2014 series Paradise Lost tracked the now-demolished Paradise Square, a Brutalist landmark in central Birmingham.
The approach required for Low's two disciplines varies hugely. "When I shoot sport reportage," he explains, "I allow myself the time to feel the rhythm and atmosphere of the event. Once my mind is properly locked in to it, I can then react. With architecture I'm more methodical and calm, and I pretty much know instantly the shots that I want."