19 August 2023



Celebrating World Photography Day 2023 is certainly an easy thing to do from a sporting perspective, photographers provide an unparalleled view, revealing and delivering the emotions and drama that makes sport as special as it is.

The European Judo Union can boast some of the best judo photographers in the world and setting the standard is Head Photographer, Gabriel ‘Gabi’ Juan, also fondly known as ‘Osoto Gabi’ by the judo community. The theme for World Photography Day 2023 is ‘Landscapes’, so how does our leading photographer interpret this on the tatami?

I conceive photography as a way to tell a story, I look up to all the photographers that are “story tellers”. Photography comes to me, hand in hand with judo. Judo showed me how beautiful photography can be, and I grow as a photographer thanks to judo. In this way I’m not the photographer that used to stop in front of a sunset, or a city skyline, for sure I can appreciate a beautiful landscape and understand the picture, but for me portraits and action photos give us the background story, and I can’t conceive photography without trying to tell a story. 

Each photographer tells us a story in a different way, each with their own signature, but what makes a successful photographer?

There are many essential factors to becoming a successful photographer. For sure, trying to be this story teller, for me, must be one of these. But, to grow as a photographer, you need to improve, or at least try to, every day. You need to think, to experiment new angles, to look for something different. In judo, for example, after many years next to the tatami, you need to find some new perspectives, or maybe bring some ideas from outside judo photography to our sport. Maybe it will work or maybe not, but if you do the same every day, probably sooner or later you will be bored of photography, and then your photos will become boring too.

ONO Shohei and the child of MARUYAMA Joshiro.

ONO Shohei and the child of MARUYAMA Joshiro.

'Home time daddy!' Teddy RINER and his daughter in the Doha World Championships.

‘Home time daddy!’ Teddy RINER and his daughter in the Doha World Championships.

I can tell you as a judo photographer, I think my main strength is that judo is part of my life. I can spend 12 hours per day during and eight-day judo competition and I never get bored. I try to avoid to do the same all the time, judo, as all the sports, has limited photos and limited situations, and you need to find the way to make it different and unlimited.

Working for many years and across numerous Olympic Games, various levels of judo, what are the most important things to focus on with each new event?

More or less, all judo photographers have a clear idea about what you have to do in any new event, but every event is different and you need to find the way to take advantage of those differences. Backgrounds and perspectives to try and do something special in this competition, check the big names of the events, check those judokas that always gives you the big throws, these kinds of thing are very important for at least have a clear picture of the event. 

Above is a selection of ‘flat action’ images from the recent world championships in Doha, Gabriel explains that using this angle gives the image height and a new perspective.

The Olympic Games are unforgettable, since my first Olympic experience in London 2012, going to Rio 2016 and the last and weirdest Olympics during the pandemic Tokyo 202One. My next step will be next year in Paris 2024, where judo and sports will recover all the shine that was lost in the last Olympics because of the pandemic.

In judo, we are very lucky to have talented photographers within national federations, the European Judo Union and International Judo Federation that offer us different perspectives and a window in to the sport, but who influences our own head photographer?

Many names, and I’m lucky because some of them are my friends and I learn working side by side with them, like Emanuele Di Feliciantonio (ITA) or Marcelo Rua (ESP), they give me a goal every time I sit next to them: I try to do my best in every shot. From outside of judo, and outside of sports, I think we have many things to learn from the photo journalists, for me real story tellers of the moment, and my biggest inspiration is the Pulitzer prize winner Emilio Morenatti.

Given the depth of Gabriel Juan’s career, picking a small selection of favourite images can be near impossible, though he gives us a taste of his top work, the ones that he is proud of, the ones that reflect the moment. This doesn’t just mean within the competition spectrum, but the images that capture the personality of athletes, that capture historic moments and give insight of things to come.

Not only does photography develop but the mediums in which we can access the hundreds of thousands of images has changed dramatically. Gabriel and some of his friends from judo started the ‘Hajime-Judo’ project in 2007, attending the Spanish Championships to conduct interviews, reports and of course take photographs. This was his first experience with photography, never envisioning that he would one day be mat side at the Paris Grand Slam or a European Championships, let alone the Olympics.

I’m completely focused on my job as an EJU photographer and it’s very difficult to find time for Hajime Judo but, maybe in the future I will go back to it. Maybe not as a judo magazine, maybe in a different format, like a podcast or Twitch, but for sure Hajime Judo will be part of my future.

Aside from horrific moments including one of his cameras being stolen, technical issues are always a threat to a photographers work and posed a potential disaster for Gabi in Rio during the 2016 Olympic Games, his most disastrous in fact, 

On the first day of competition at the Rio Olympics my laptop overheated in the press room because the air conditioning stopped working. The computer just shut down and I couldn’t process any of my photographs. It prevented me from focusing in the final block, thinking where would I be able to get a new laptop in Rio?

As I told you, photography came to me from judo. I don’t know what I would do if didn’t start with photography, but for sure it will be related with judo. Also, I’m not sure if there is any golden rule for photography, if there is, I don’t know it, but in life, I love the idea of “do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.”

World Photography Day 2023 may be focused on the ‘landscape’ idea, but in judo, the individual portraits and actions together give us the bigger picture and the wider landscape of the entire sport.

Author: Szandra Szogedi