Putting Rugby's real image in the picture

(IRB.COM) Thursday 10 April 2014
 Putting Rugby's real image in the picture
On his travels in South America, Oscar Hemberth has captured the essence of the game through his photography

By Frankie Deges

Have camera, will travel. Colombian Oscar Hemberth Moreno has combined his love of Rugby with a passion for photography as he travels around South America.

Having left home in February 2013, he has shot the Game in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil as well as his native land and his lofty goals will see him adding many more miles and countries to that impressive list.

Although he has not yet played a Rugby match, he has become an ardent fan and the Game has been the motor pushing him in his travels.

“In 2011, I rode a bicycle throughout South America for a year and when I returned home I came into contact with local Rugby players who invited me to their team in the Universidad del Valle,” said Oscar.

“I started training with them and as I wasn’t yet ready to play in a team, I took photos of their games. Soon after, with my younger brother Carlos Eduardo, we decided to hit the road again. By that stage, Rugby was part of us and we knew the Game would open doors.” He left with 20 dollars in his pocket.

A pilgrimage to honour his late brother

Carlos Eduardo’s twin Juan Eduardo died tragically in 2011 and the second trip was a pilgrimage to the places he had wanted to go to. A labourer who put himself through university – earning a degree in history – Oscar’s first love is cinema and taking photos is also something he loves as it involves a similar form of art.

“As I started training, I learned the intrinsic values of Rugby, those which you don’t find in other sports. In an individualistic world, Rugby is a truly team sport that teaches you how to work for your team-mate, within the boundaries that are set by your opponents and the laws. In principle, it sounds like many other sports but it is not.”

Rugby is growing in South America at a fast pace and there are pockets forming all over. In the past five years, six new member Unions have been added to the regional association, CONSUR, namely Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama, and the number of active players has grown by almost 50 per cent from 127,289 to 187,514.

“On my travels, I would usually be the only one shooting at a match and so by selling those photos, I was able to buy my bus ticket to the next town. I would choose places with a Rugby team and the way I was always embraced by the local Rugby community was incredible.”

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil

His travels chasing the oval ball started in his home town of Cali, moving to Quito in Ecuador, Peru’s capital Lima, on to La Paz, which is a very tough place to play due to the fact it is 3,640 metres above sea level, down to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, also in Bolivia, before crossing into Brazil.

Although he always trained with the teams he joined, he understood that he needed to take photographs on match day. In training in Corumba, in the Brazilian Mato Grosso, he broke his foot in a tackle, pushing back his playing ambitions. “My dream is to play but I have to pay my rent so Saturday means taking photos.”

He is currently living in Brazil, working construction during the week and taking pictures at the weekend. In what spare time remains after that, he writes movie scripts, produces short films and trains with the local Rugby club.

“It is what it is,” he says. “As long as you have goals and dreams, it is not a problem. I have them and pursue them every day.”

Rugby can transform people's lives

After breaking his foot, he worked at a tournament in Campo Grande and the connections made there took him and his brother first to Anapolis and then on to Brasilia, the capital.

“We were invited and introduced to a social project in the favelas (shanty towns) with Rugby as its main weapon that showed how the Game can be a transformation tool,” he said with great enthusiasm.

Next stop was Rio de Janeiro where he has been for the past five months. Shooting with a Canon D3i camera and two lenses (55mm and 200mm) he acknowledges he doesn’t have the best equipment but claims that’s not the most important thing.

“It is about telling a story with each photograph,” he says. Ironically, Oscar is colour blind so brother Carlos Eduardo helps him edit the photographs. 

'Warmth of Rugby people has been incredible'

“Rugby opened many doors, even though it’s a new sport in many of these countries. It is very inclusive, they support projects such as ours and everybody has been very helpful in our travels. If I compare this to my first trip, it’s much easier having Rugby has part of it. It’s a tough sport, physically hard but the warmth of the people is incredible.”

“There is a common thread in Rugby. People are respectful, open, friendly. They are not elitist.”

Oscar uses social media to showcase his work and to contact new clubs. He is currently with Guanabara RC, the first team to answer when he was planning his trip to Rio.

“As in Rugby, it is about loyalty – they were there for me from the first day,” he said.

Young people learn how to find peace

Having been to so many different off-the-track places and seen Rugby at its purest, Oscar knows that the Game’s collection of values is a powerful tool capable of effecting real social and personal change. “I have realised that Rugby is a weapon for peace. Children that come from daily violence at home and in their neighbourhoods. They find passionate coaches who respect them and teach them much more than how to pass, kick and catch. They learn how to find peace.” 

“It is a very positive process for these kids to go through, and you can sense their transformation every time you see them come back for more.”

He is happy with his life and in the yet-to-be-ticked boxes is a trip to Europe, stopping at different Rugby clubs, doing his thing. But right now, Rio is home until he feels those feet starting to itch again.

“Not having yet played in a game of Rugby is frustrating because I train every week with the team. I know my first match will come soon – I only hope there will be a photographer there when it does.”

For more details on Oscar’s travels and photography, click here.

This feature forms part of our Around The Regions series exploring the game beyond its traditional heartlands. Do you have an interesting story to tell about Rugby around the world? Let us know by emailing aroundtheregions@irb.com.