Welcome to the Human Playground

Human Playground aspires to build bridges between people and cultures worldwide, showcasing the beauty that exists in diversity. By creating and sharing stories about who we are, what we do and our varied motivations, we point to humanity’s beauty, and to the magic of the planet we share.

Our adventures – taking us across the world – set out to discover awe-inspiring stories, captured in both photographs and moving images.

Why We Play is the first theme we highlight in this multimedia project. It follows some of the most intriguing, extreme, and primal ways that humans express themselves through the language of play. Why We Play is not just about sports; it’s about people all over the world expressing who they are.

Our stories explore the many fascinating ways humans engage in play – from ancient rituals to rites of passage, from daring physical feats to lucrative business ventures. The project offers a glimpse into a series of the most extreme playgrounds on the planet, documenting the inspiring people behind each game.

Eagle Hunters and Horses Kyrgyzstan 2022 kopie
Big Wave Surfing Portugal 2021
Charro and Lasso Mexico 2016
Amputee Soccer Keeper Nigeria 2021
Capoeira Playground Brazil 2021
Course Landaise Playground France 2021
Reindeer Race Finland 2022
Camel Racing Playground United Arab Emirates 2021
Dambe Arena Nigeria 2021
Donga Stick Fight Arena Ethiopia 2021
Kite Fighting Playground Brazil 2021
Tarahumara Playground Mexico 2021

Tarahumara Runners – These legendary distance runners participate in a traditional relay game lasting multiple days. Male participants kick wooden balls as they run, whilst women use a stick and hoop.


Charreada – More than a sport, the charreada is a national celebration. Enjoyed by all generations, it showcases acrobatic cowboys and cowgirls, mariachi bands and carefully-bred animals.


Cliff Diving – One of Acapulco's most iconic attractions, La Quebrada cliff divers have risked their lives for generations by hurling themselves into the Pacific Ocean.


Female boxing – After 60 years, Cuba’s female boxers are punching through archaic rules that denied women – despite their staggering strength and skill – the right to fight in competitions.

Rio de Janeiro

Kite Fighting – In an aerial game played by children over the harsh streets of Brazil’s favelas, competitors race to cut their rivals' razor-sharp kite strings – or risk the same fate.

Rio de Janeiro

Capoeira – Part martial art, part agile dance, capoeira was born out of resistance. Presentations are accompanied by ancient songs and rhythms, played on various traditional instruments.


Reindeer Racing – This sport originates with the Sami – an indigenous people of northern Scandinavia. Men, women, and children race galloping reindeer at speeds of up to 40 km/h.

The Netherlands

Fierljeppen – Born out of the necessity to jump over canals, the country's oldest sport is an odd mix of pole vaulting and long jump, requiring great athletic ability.


Course Landaise – This ancient style of acrobatic bull leaping is more theatre piece than bloodsport, where the bravery, speed and style of both torero and animal are equally evaluated.


Mountaineering – Climbing Mont Blanc requires courage and skill, but not all climbers have both. This story celebrates the guidance of experienced mountaineers – who help others overcome their fears.


Cycling - Nicknamed “the hell of the north”, this gruelling cycling race from Paris to the Belgian border – amongst the first to be open to women – is notorious for its challenging road conditions.


Big Wave Surfing – Europe's largest underwater canyon sets the stage for daring surfers (both male and female) to perform herculean stunts on colossal 30-metre waves.


Eagle Hunting – Honouring a giant bird of prey – the golden eagle, known as ‘the bird of god’ – this age-old nomadic tradition is rooted in a deep respect for the landscape.


Buzkashi – Known as the most dangerous game in Central Asia, Buzkashi is played by various nomadic tribes. Teams on horseback fight furiously for possession of a headless goat carcass.

United Arab Emirates

Camel Racing – In recent years, basic robots have replaced child jockeys in this money-making industry – which draws on the traditions of ancient Bedouin tribes.


Dambe –  The gritty, bare-knuckle combat sport of dambe – which produces some of Africa’s toughest fighters – unfolds in one of the world's most intimidating playgrounds.


Amputee Soccer – Defying social expectations and physical limitations, this super-athletic community of amputee footballers is testament to the resilience of both human body and spirit.


Donga Stick Fighting – The fiercest sport in Africa sees participants battle with spears to demonstrate strength and bravery, and above all, to win over their love interests’ hearts.


Marathon des Sable – In one of the toughest marathons on the planet, runners from around the world gather in the desert of southern Morocco to race 254 km over a 6-day period.


Lutte avec Frappe – Dating back to the 11th century, this form of wrestling is not only about strength; winning is also said to offer protection from sorcery and misfortune.


Savika – An important rite of passage, savika sees young men prove their strength by clinging to the distinctive bump or horns of the zebu – a common cattle species on the island.


Pasola – Marking the start of the rice-planting season, Pasola is a horseback spear-fighting competition. The more blood spilt (human or animal), the better the chances of a good harvest.


Ice Diving – Plunging into the bitterly-cold waters of the Italian Alps becomes a way to heal past traumas, with a goal of finding peace through physical pain, focus and boundaries.


Pigeon Racing – Invented in Belgium, the million-dollar sport of pigeon racing relies on careful breeding and rigorous training. Pigeons mate for life, flying as fast as they can to reach their partners.


Sumo Wrestling – The national pride of Japan, Sumo has been celebrated for generations. Today, young Sumo wrestlers and their families dedicate their lives to upholding a cherished tradition.


Kung Fu – The historic Shaolin Kung Fu Academy houses 35,000 young boys and girls from all over the country. Students train relentlessly to learn this ancient art – and to become model citizens.


E-Sports – Virtual games of e-sports are played by teenagers all over the world, developing into a major sport with managers, huge fan bases, and sizeable sponsorship deals.


Car Drifting – Neither religious pressures nor social inequality have prevented women from breaking into the male-dominated sport of drift racing.


Yoga – Despite its spiritual origins, yoga is a growing business, with over 300 million practitioners worldwide. Each year, Kentucky plays host to a national competition.

Greece (Global)

Bodybuilding  – Breaking from tradition, the bodybuilding world has adapted to include new groups of participants, re-examining ideas of what a perfect body looks like.

England (Global)

Formula-E – One of the world’s wealthiest sports, Formula-E requires automakers like Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz to enter the electric-racing circuit. All the while, a young fan base follows the race on social media.


Tap one of the pins for more info.

Where do we play map

“Welcome to the world of play.”


Hannelore Vandenbussche,
founder and photographer

Why do we play? Throughout her travels, Belgian photographer Hannelore Vandenbussche noticed that people were always engaged in some form of play – irrespective of where she found herself.

She decided to explore the phenomenon further; travelling the world, her journey uncovered a rich heritage of diverse sports, as well as the varied processes that drive them.

The inspiring athletes she portrays keep old traditions alive or carve out entirely new territory, perform sacred rituals or invent contemporary ones, and celebrate their successes or mourn their defeats.

This marked the start of Human Playground, a multimedia project following a range of fascinating sports from around the world.

Why We Play

Photo book by Hannelore

The Human Playground book is a deep-dive into the most inspiring stories and sporting arenas on the planet.

It includes 15 carefully-selected visual stories of sports across 5 continents, from big wave surfing on Portugal’s windswept Atlantic coast to eagle hunting through the wild plains of Central Asia.

It portrays the inspiring human stories behind each sport, celebrates the diverse communities from which these traditions originate, and captures the unique geographies in which they are rooted.

From robotic jockeys in Dubai to child kite fighters in Rio de Janeiro, the book celebrates the diversity of sporting traditions – as well as the human connections that underpin them.

Signed book
€ 68.00
(inclusive 9% VAT)
Unsigned book
€ 50.00
(inclusive 9% VAT)

English edition – Hardcover, 288 pages (25x32cm)
Free shipping within NL and BE
15-day return policy – Track and Trace

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“The richness of Vandenbussche’s vision is that it incorporates the exhilaration of both union and rivalry. With its color, precision and consistent format, her photography feels like a sport itself, an embodiment of athletic joy. She plays with her lens the way Ethiopians play with their donga sticks.”

The New York Times

"Human Playground is a culmination of Vandenbussche’s exploration of play and its role in societies around the world.”

Robb Report

"Making the best photographs of a sport in action meant forming bonds with her subjects and sometimes diving into the mix herself.”

Professional Photographer magazine

"While modernisation poses a threat to many of these ancient sports, Hannelore presents them in a way that captures their vitality, and her photography is as energetic as the sports it depicts. Each frame launches us into the heart of the action."


Netflix Original series

The Human Playground: Why We Play series highlights 24 sporting stories from around the world, delving into the many fascinating ways humans experience play.

This six-part documentary series focuses on six overlapping themes: ancient rituals, rites of passage, business, pain, perfection, and devotion. It offers a glimpse into the world’s most inspiring playgrounds, the people behind the sports, and the extremes they’re willing to go to.

Narrated by Idris Elba
Created by Hannelore Vandenbussche
Directed by Tomas Kaan
Produced by Scenery

No matter where you were born,
who you are or what you look like,
we humans always like to play.

Idris Elba

Fine art prints by
Hannelore Vandenbussche

Hannelore Vandenbussche’s Why We Play series features a collection of 60 limited edition prints, highlighting the inspiring human connections expressed through play across the world.

Exclusively selected, these limited edition prints are available in a range of different sizes. Printed on Hahnemühle photo Rag Baryta paper, each print is sold in a handmade wooden frame with museum glass, with a signed certificate of authenticity from the artist.

For more information about the specifications, please contact fineart@humanplayground.com.

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Every print is a part of a unique story. All prints are numbered and signed by Hannelore.

©2023 - Hannelore Vandenbussche

Tarahumara Hands Mexico 2017
The Wooden Ball Mexico 2017
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A visual journey through different countries bonded by the same question: why we play? These photographs are not just about sports; they reveal what makes us human.


Photographer Hannelore Vandenbussche is nominated for the prestigious Prix Pictet Award.

The Prix Pictet aims to uncover Photographs that communicate important messages about global environmental and social issues within the broad theme of sustainability. 

“Human Playground - Why We Play” is nominated for this year's theme: “Human”. It’ is an honor to be recognised among such a talented group of photographers and one of the world’s leading awards for photography and sustainability. 

Discover more about the award and the mission of Prix Pictet on www.prixpictet.com

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Just like most games,
teamwork is the most
important part.