Kevin Couliau has played basketball on courts all around the world. He’s a Frenchman who, along with Manhattan’s Bobbito Garcia, made a documentary about pickup basketball in New York City. He’s been to the States, Asia and Europe, letting his fadeaway jumper fly in too many timezones to count. He’s a professional photographer and he’s kept his camera on hand throughout his trips, shooting playground basketball since 2004.
Couliau just released asphalt chronicles, a collection of exclusive photos taken during his time in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. asphalt chronicles is 24 pages, independently funded and printed, by Couliau. He wrote all the captions and text in the issue. He, along with his “design master” Richard Bertetic, worked on the beautiful layout. The colors and pictures pop off the page. Text wraps its way around photos of Filipino basketball players. asphalt chronicles moves differently than other basketball publications, which was what Couliau had in mind.
In the issue, Couliau writes about showcasing basketball in its purest form: “This is not about NCAA, NBA, or the pros. This is not about the show, coaches and performance. This is not about money, sponsors and medias. It’s about the true essence of basketball, this universal movement taking place on playgrounds: pick-up basketball.”
The pictures were shot on 120mm film, which offers a perspective that a digital camera can’t capture, Couliau says.
“There’s a vibe you can’t get with a digital camera and [film] fits well to the history of the subject I’m shooting,” Couliau says. “There’s nothing better than traveling back home with a stack of films, dropping them at the lab and admiring the results a few days later. I also shoot digital, but it’s definitely not the same approach and mindset.”
Only 150 copies of the first issue of asphalt chronicles were printed. Couliau did the packing and numbering of each copy. He also added a one-of-a-kind wax seal on to every envelope that asphalt chronicles was sent in.
“In a way, I wanted to see how people would react to the project, but I also wanted to make it exclusive,” Couliau says. “In the end, basketball is basketball, you play with what you have. I always wanted to pay homage to the culture and aesthetic of the sport.
“In the Philippines, most of the kids don’t own sneakers. This economic reality is not enough to discourage the Filipinos. They’ll build their own hoops, occupy the streets and cross roads to play basketball.”
Couliau says that basketball is most popular with the Filipino youth. They play all day, rain or shine, even if they don’t have a pair of shoes.
“The game is number one there, they all know about it. [They know] all about the NBA as well and their leagues are really developed. I have traveled a lot to document and play basketball. I must admit, I’ve never witnessed such passion for the game.”
Couliau captured that passion with his photographs of kids playing in the street, without shoes, inside a court that Couliau says is smaller than The Cage in Manhattan. Makeshift hoops and weeds growing in the middle of the court don’t matter to these kids, Couliau says—all they want to do is play ball.
“Kids in Manila are really athletic, jumping out the park on every move. It was really impressive to see them elevating barefoot and blocking shots or taking fadeaway jumpers,” he says. “From what I’ve seen, they are way more into crossovers, jumpshots and dunks than posting up the guys down low. It has to be with the height obviously, the average there is 5-4 , so they have more of a flashy point guard style. Kids are the best. Each time I would take the camera out and release the shutter, they would always come towards me to be in the pictures.”
Couliau plans to release one issue every two months. The next installment will feature Dakar, Senegal, with 300 copies set to be printed. With the first issue completely sold out, keep it locked on asphalt-chronicles.com to find out when the second issue will drop.