Austria’s Hannes Jirgal helping grow the game with his passion for photography

As American Football continues to grow in Europe, we need those who will stand on the sidelines and capture their best image of the players, coaches and fans.

For Austrian photographer Hannes Jirgal, he has had this passion from a very young age when he got his first camera. Years later, his work is showcased all around Europe for many eyes to see.

AFI was able to have a chance to ask Hannes questions about his journey, experiences and opinions from his time as an American Football photographer in Europe.

AFI: How long have you been in photography?

Jirgal: I got my first camera when I was about 13 years old. At age 20 I went to art school and learned photography from scratch … (in the meantime I am 56 years old). After finishing art school, I worked in a photo studio professionally. After digital photography was invented and changed the landscape of photography totally, I basically do photography as a side job only. The meaning of photography to me has still not changed, I just do photography much more extensive and thorough,than in my early years.

Photo: Peter Kramberger

 AFI: How did you get into American Football?

 Jirgal: A schoolfriend of mine had been playing as a running back for the Vienna Vikings and he invited me to a game in 1986. Since then, I have not missed a lot of Vikings games. In the beginning, I tried to be a player, however, after a severe knee injury I returned to being the photographer.

AFI: How many photos do you usually take at a game/event?

 Jirgal: It depends on the weather, the teams, the level, never less than 1,000 pics per game, in the ELF mostly about 2,000 and more.

AFI: What is your routine when photographing on game day?

Jirgal: I start by trying to be at the stadium as early as possible, viewing the facility spots and places to take the best photos from different angles and perspectives. Preparing the working space in the eventual media center, set up electricity source and W-Lan, mounting cameras to get ready. Taking photos of the arriving players, locker room situation, warm up, maybe covering fans outside, game day and hospitality events.

After that, jumping into the game, usually the league administration wants to have photos quite simultaneously sent, so I always need to work on best photos and send them right away. After years of working together we developed a great team covering the success of the Vikings over the years, mentioning the great Kiki Klepsch, Director of Communication, who is holding the reins of the Vikings Media Department with lots of empathy and professionalism.

Gameday routine starts days before, working on travel itinerary, gameday schedules and preparing equipment is essential, usually I travel with the team to every away game, stay in the same hotel, joining meals and meetings.

Hannes Jirgal sprinting to find the best shot at a San Francisco 49ers game. @pospischil

AFI: What do you enjoy most about your job?

 Jirgal: That might be the hardest question, I took my first ever photo at a football game in 1986, so I had many anniversaries since. At the beginning of every football season, I ask myself if I still have the same fire and energy to cover every game, to search and go for the perfect football photo. I enjoy every new location, every play of every game. Enjoy covering the energy of this game and the boundaries and brotherhoods of many generations of football players in purple and gold.

In the meantime, sons of my old teammates play on the team, so I even be able to compare their way of playing football to their dads. It’s about creating stories, showing the colorfulness, the complexity of the sport, visible in newspapers, books, magazines, nowadays in social media. Every year, team, game, play is different, so photography has to develop the same way, it’s about reinventing photography every year, game, play.

AFI: What are your opinions on the growth of American Football in Europe?

 Jirgal: The growth of American football in Europe is quite impressive in regard of the ongoing improvement of quality of players, teams and leagues. Meaning, football in Europe is quite on a high level, especially in Germany, Austria , by chance also in Scandinavia. Especially if you compare the limited financial background of football programs in Europe. Football in Europe is based on the obsession of people, coaches, players and staff, building an environment of being able to work and train professionally without getting their input paid accordingly. In my eyes, the ELF is starting to try changing mechanisms. Viewer interest, fan bases and spectators at football events start growing, but unfortunately cannot be compared yet to the crowd watching Soccer here.

Photo: Peter Kramberger

AFI: What is your favorite experience from photographing American Football.

 Jirgal: In many years I have had great experiences taking photos at football games, most memorable ones have been taking photos in the US at high school, college football and at NFL games. Being able to take photos of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in their active times, meeting and shooting J.J. Stokes or William Perry, attending NFL practice or meet and greets … This gave a lot of inspiration for the years to come in Europe.

Hannes continues with his passion and fire every time a new season comes around. In the eyes of Jirgal, the perfect football photo has not been captured just yet. From what it seems, this is what keeps Hannes going every season.

For Hannes, we thank you for your art, as your photos continue to shine light on American Football and help it grow in Europe one picture at a time.

Noah Costantino is a student and football player at Baldwin Wallace University in Cleveland, Ohio. Fueled by his love for the game he looks to continue his knowledge of football at an international level. He is majoring in Communications with a