The Tour Series 2017

The Tour Series 2017

In May 2017 I was commissioned to cover three stages of this years’ Tour Series sponsored by Brother.  I had covered a couple of stages last year so knew I was in for a fun few days of high quality circuit racing.

As expected it was a fun, action packed set of shoots, however if you’d have asked me in the immediate aftermath of the last stage which word would sum up my time on the tour most it would simply have been “wet”. By the end of the Bath stage I was beginning to think I was cursed. I have had a few really wet shoots before but nothing like those on this years Tour Series.

My first stop was Wembley Stadium for stage 4 of the series. It was the first time the Tour Series had used Wembley as a venue and it certainly provided a dramatic backdrop for the evening’s racing. By the time the men set off on their first lap dusk had rolled in and by the last few laps it was more like a nocturnal ride. Coupled with the biting rain, capturing high speed cycling provided an interesting challenge. Fortunately there was a degree of street/stadium lighting that provided dramatic colours and shadows as the riders completed stage 4. Steele Von Hoff of ONE Pro Cycling took the win and it was straight onto the next stage in Croydon.

Upon arriving at the course in East Croydon the heavens opened and sent organisers, security and spectators rushing under bridges and bus stops for cover. The rain didn’t relent throughout the evening, effectively sorting the casual cycling fan from those happy to be drenched in order to watch the likes of Ed Clancy power around the street circuit. It was a great spectacle; JLT Condor attacked the race from the off hammering round at the front of the peloton and eventually leading out Tour Series veteran Graham Briggs to take the sprint finish from George Harper of ONE Pro Cycling.

After drying out, it was onto Bath for the next stage of the Tour Series. Bath is always a great city to shoot in; sprawling out in the valley of the river Avon it is drenched with history, which is reflected in the stunning architecture and layout of the once Roman spa town.

Known for being a city filled with a large population of cycling fans it was therefore unsurprising that fans turned out in force to watch the events of the day. Despite the odd torrential downpour fans manned the hoardings cheering the riders on. The slick track condition certainly added to what was a challenging circuit brimming with tight turns and fast straights. The race certainly didn’t disappoint. An early break away by James Lowsley-Williams was eventually reeled in by the chasing pack with about ten laps to go. Within the chasing group was Madision Genesis rider, Connor Swift who broke away himself with about five laps to go and made it stick, taking the win in the city of his birth.

The high quality racing, stunning backdrop and less frequent rain showers all helped make the Bath stage a very memorable and fun race to cover. I am already looking forward to next year come rain or shine.

Mountains

Mountains are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.
— Anatoli Boukreev
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I certainly share Anatoli’s sentiment when thinking about and shooting mountains. I think I am at my happiest when I’m in the mountains, camera in hand. I’d never describe myself as a landscape photographer. However, place me in the Alps or the Scottish highlands with a camera and tripod and try to tear me away.

As well as the incredible views, mountains also invoke a strong emotional reaction, tapping deep into anyone who has an appreciation or passion for nature and the lives that form it. As Ansel Adams mused, “The whole world is, to me, very much "alive" - all the little growing things, even the rocks. I can't look at a swell bit of grass and earth, for instance, without feeling the essential life - the things going on - within them. The same goes for a mountain, or a bit of the ocean, or a magnificent piece of old wood.” For me mountains, more than anything else bring out this awareness of essential life in nature and an overall sense of peace.

When I started getting into photography I tended to gravitate to portraiture and social commentary but I always had an eye on great landscape photography, particularly works featuring mountains.  Therefore, I became well acquainted with the likes of Ansel Adam’s, Don McCullin and Peter Lik. I remember attending a Peter Lik exhibition in Australia and being blown away by the power of his imagery.

I have not shot extensive mountain imagery, but when I have, I have more often than not had the images of the above photographers in mind. Especially Don McCullin, which may seem like an odd choice compared to the perceived landscape master in Adams, but I really connected with the mood of McCullin’s eerie black and white landscapes.

In April, I had the chance to visit some friends in Veysonnaz, Switzerland. Veysonnaz is a very rugged, farming town and ski resort in winter. The town nestles in a valley surrounded by sharp alpine peaks, densely populated by pine forests and the odd hunter’s shack. I was blown away by the scenery and was glued to my viewfinder for much of the trip.

I was there for a week and in that time the weather changed dramatically. Initially, we propped up ominous, dark clouds that allowed little light to permeate onto the slopes. However, halfway through the week, the clouds broke and then disappeared completely leaving blue skies and sun in their place. The changing weather had a huge impact on the mood of the mountains. Under the thick cloud there was a constant ominous foreboding yet when the sun fought it’s way though a sense of calm filtered into the valley. Throughout both contrasting weather conditions however, the mountains retained a regal poise and a dominant presence in the valley. They also continuously summoned my awareness of essential life both natural in the forms of trees, earth, snow and rocks and man made in the form of; huts, dams, crosses and agriculture. I don’t currently have any trips booked in but I look forward to visiting my cathedrals again soon. 

Cyclocross

If you wait for the perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.
— Adapted Ecclesiastes 11:4
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I couldn’t think of a more apt statement in relation to British Cyclocross. A sport that embraces racing in the autumnal cold, wet and mud. I had wanted to photograph a cyclocross race for a while, so when the opportunity to document the Western League series was presented to me I leapt at the chance. 

As with virtually every cycling event I’ve attended, the atmosphere in Bristol was friendly and upbeat for both races. The athletes taking part in the stage would go through their final bike checks and then a few pre-race laps in order to get a feel of the course before finally assembling on the start line, ready for the chaos to ensue. 

Both races featured a steep, mud strewn uphill section of the course that presented the rider with a choice to plough up in the saddle or get off and run. This is an archetypal feature of cyclocross circuits and provided the catalyst for multiple overtakes and the odd crash (without serious injury). 

Cyclocross is a physically demanding sport. The riders’ race around the circuit full tilt for an hour, facing numerous terrain changes and man made challenges in the form of Belgium style pens and tight cornering. The sport is arguably the ultimate test of bike control, endurance and the ability to adapt to the conditions around you. You also have to be very aware of your fellow riders, I was struck by how considerate and responsive the competitors were when it came to deciding who had the racing line in tight corners or who had priority when coming down from one of the many steep sections.

I really enjoyed photographing the Western League Series and was even tempted to try my hand at the sport in 2017. It’s a bike race that has the lot and I look forward to photographing many more races.

Scottish Highlands

A meandering path leads round the sculptures, mostly carved in wood but some of stone; small interpretative panels help to understand their symbolic or political significance. However, such is Bruce’s talent, his sculptures barely need these explanatory panels. Each facial expression, gesture or pose provides a thoughtful insight into a range of thematic, symbolic or political perspectives.

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The Tour of Britain 2016

Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride
— Eddy Merckx

As a keen cycling fan I was very pleased to be asked to photograph the Bristol stages of the Tour of Britain 2016. I had photographed a number of smaller cycling races in the past and was looking forward to stepping up to a larger meet. 

On the morning of the race I was awoken by the sound of rain hammering on the window. Not ideal conditions I thought. However, as I gathered my gear and headed for the individual time trail start line the rain clouds, as if hearing the prayers of the organisers ceased their downpour. I decided to set up camp at the start line in order to get some portraits of high profile riders such as; Mark Cavendish, Ella Viviani, Alex Dowsett and Bradley Wiggins who was competing in his last ever road race. With my viewfinder packed with cycling royalty teamed with the atmosphere created by the vociferous Bristolian crowd it was impossible not to get wrapped up in the buzz of the event.

After an hour or so I wandered across to the final KM of the circuit that snaked out of the woods and then wound around the edge of Clifton Downs. There I was able to see the riders in full swing, trying to eat up as much time before hitting the finishing line. I managed to get a few shots of the riders finishing the race before hurrying back to the start line to catch overall race leader Stephen Cummings complete his lap.

As I walked through the team camps after the time trial, I was able to gain an insight into the mindsets and preparation of the riders and teams preparing for the next stage of the race. It was interesting to see how the riders approached their preparation – some very relaxed, chatting to their teammates. On the other hand, some had entered a concentrated state, headphones locked into their ears clearly visualising the race ahead.

With a couple of hours before the start of the next race I had time to track down a much needed bacon roll and touch base with some of the other photographers following the Tour of Britain. I also took some time to take shots of the people who were watching the tour, as they had become a massive part of the event and created a great atmosphere for the riders.

The start line for the circuit race was a who’s who of international cycling with a mixture of international champions, Tour De France veterans and Olympians taking their places on the start line with their respective teams. At one stage I turned away from the line and practically walked into Bradley Wiggins, which added to the slightly surreal environment.

The race started quickly with a small breakaway group including German champion Andre Greipel taking an early lead. Throughout the course of the race the main peloton worked hard to reel the leading group in, succeeding in doing so on the final lap with about 2km to go. At this point, Rohan Dennis attacked and managed to sprint away from the main peloton to secure the win for him and his team, BMC Racing. Stephen Cummings did enough to retain the yellow jersey and overall lead. It had been a long but enthralling day of cycling and one of my favourite jobs to date.

 

Street Photography

Street photography is art and if art is a crime, please God, forgive me.
— Thomas Leuthard
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  As mentioned previously on this blog, street photography is my favourite genre of photography. It is where I started, like many other photographers; teaching ourselves about the camera we’re holding and the medium in general. The genre is a popular training ground/workspace as it offers photographers a wide range of subjects, shapes, tones and settings, as well as a substantial element of unpredictability and risk.

 It is also a controversial genre, as Thomas Leuthard’s quote relates to. The controversy centres on the idea that taking a picture of someone on the street is an invasion of privacy. To this end, the below article (see link) examines a number of photographer’s different perspectives on the genre and this moral dilemma.

 

http://bit.ly/29I8Ifb
— Daily Post
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The article offers interesting insights into how photographers approach the genre and tackle the moral predicaments it throws up. I am very much in the “street photography as an art form” camp (however pretentious that sounds). However, I do understand the opposing argument. Ultimately, I feel it comes down to the way you behave and the guidelines you adhere to when taking images on the street. The main thing I took away from the discussion is the importance of having personal guidelines that negate the morale ambiguity of the genre. Similarly to the photographers featured in the article, I have a set of guidelines that I stick to when capturing images on the street:

 

·      Try to engage your subject in someway after taking the picture. I.e. a smile or nod, if its appropriate say hello – the aim isn’t to be completely invisible, it’s to get insightful images that tell a story or capture someone’s character.

·      Never keep/take a photo of someone who is uncomfortable with having his or her picture taken. In my mind, any charm a photograph had is diminished if the subject is unhappy/uncomfortable as a result.

·      Never take a picture that pokes fun at the subject.

·      Try to keep a low profile – this enables more natural, candid images.

·      Avoid taking images of the homeless – it’s probably my least favourite street photography cliché and if I was homeless the last thing I’d want is a photographer sticking a camera in my face.

I will continue to take photographs of people on the street while adhering to the above guidelines and being mindful of the impact of my presence when taking pictures. I feel the images gained offer cultural, social and creative insights into people and a place where many of us spend a large proportion of our lives.

Leave Your Ego at the Door

A Day at KO Gym

In the summer of 2015 I visited KO Gym in Bethnal Green, London. The gym is a training ground for some of the top Muay Thai fighters in the country. 

The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.
— Morihei Ueshiba

To the untrained eye there wasn’t much slack on show as Tom (my second camera) and I watched these athletes put through their paces. Amongst the talented fighters training at the gym was Greg “The Prodigy” Wootton. Greg is the UK’s number one super lightweight, WMC MAD World Champion and winner of an Enfusion World strap. He was in training for a career defining fight against Saenchai at Yokkao 14 but took time out of his hectic training schedule to talk to us about his life as a Muay Thai fighter at KO Gym.

As well as spending some time with Greg we also spoke at length with Jonas Gren and especially Tyson Douglas who are also good fighters in their own right. They answered all of our questions and took us through their training regimes with a refreshing openness and honesty that was mirrored by all the athletes we met at the gym. Based in one of London’s rougher areas, the gym offers a great family orientated collective, offering great opportunities for athletes young and old to hone their skills. I was very grateful for the insight of into the gym and the athlete’s lives, their approach summed up perfectly by their motto; Leave your ego at the door.

Boston and New York

Boston

I have wanted to return to the US ever since road tripping across the Southern States a few years back. So when the opportunity to do a flying visit to Boston and New York came up, I leapt at the opportunity.

Like most, my knowledge of these two iconic cities was based on various films and TV programmes set in the cities. When I arrived at the Motel in Boston (spitting distance from Charleston) it conjured images from films like Martin Scorsese's The Departed and Ben Affleck's The Town. With that in mind I avoided the banking district and headed for the Freedom trail. I’d heard it was a good way to see the centre of Boston in a short space of time. I used it as a rough guide, leaving the trail and then picking it up at a different point when I’d finished exploring whatever market, building or district I’d wandered into.

Street photography is my favourite genre of photography and a busy market day provided lots of great opportunities to capture some insights into the people of Boston. The colourful market places were further enhanced by the various dance and street entertainers working any tourists who stopped to watch them, adding to the vibrant, bustling atmosphere. I gradually made my way from the centre to the docks, which turned out to be my favourite area of the city. The smell of fresh seafood, the sound of the sea and a welcome breeze along with the awesome views of the Boston high rises provided a great parting shot of a memorable city. Also, a shout out to the 99s near my motel - the craft bear and steak pizza were great and I appreciated their attempts to improve my baseball knowledge even though I think they were fighting a loosing battle on that front. 

New York

There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man’s bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die.
— Walt Whitman

There have been countless travel and photography blogs written about New York City and it's easy to see why. It’s an overwhelming place of epic scale, iconic sights and interesting people. 

I was staying in Brooklyn but apart from a couple of early morning runs and some late night burritos I didn’t explore as much as of it as I would have liked. Most of my time was spent wandering the streets of Manhattan, camera in hand. It was mid-summer and the city was buzzing, providing lots of insightful and interesting scenes for my camera to focus on. When describing New York, artist and author Djuna Barnes observed; “New York is the meeting place of the peoples, the only city where you can hardly find a typical American”. Whilst walking the streets of the city, photographing various New Yorkers going about their daily routine I found this statement to be true. I was struck by the vast array of different cultures and people, as well as their relationships with the city in which they lived.

A trip to New York wouldn’t have been complete without taking in the views from atop the Empire State Building. By the time I reached the summit of the tower the sun was just disappearing over the horizon. This allowed me to take in some amazing sights of the city bathed in late evening light as well as some dramatic night views. 

Whether lit by the setting sun or numerous twinkling neon lights, the city was an awe inspiring sight and one which will stay with me for a long time.