"This is not just a collection of photographs, it is a collection of memories."
i believe it was frank sinatra who sang "regrets; i've had a few..." before continuing to inform us that, perhaps ever so slightly anti-socially, he'd done it his way. it is my one great regret that, as a teenager in the 1970s, i lived my life more or less oblivious to the existence of eddy merckx, particularly during those molteni years of black and brown wool jerseys. over the time he rode for italian coffee-machine manufacturers faema, i was too young to know any better.
in fact, now that i come to consider the seventies with a clearer sense of recall, i blame my parents. for which twelve year-old is sufficiently independent of mind to be aware of the various acts of sporting prowess taking place all across europe? my father and brother were engrossed in parochial football antics, and cared not one whit for velocipedinal activity. however, i think that a particularly weak excuse on their behalf (and one day i might well point this out), for my younger brother owned a ten-speed racer, yet there was no familial education as to the lineage leading to all those gears.
it is all well and good to own a bicycle with drop bars and a couple of downtube levers, but surely someone of greater years and wisdom must have known those features were not developed for delivering newspapers each weekday morning?
europe however, and more specifically the belgium that was the birthplace of the great eddy merckx, was and is besotted with bicycle racing. no matter that eddy was from the wrong side of town, so to speak, he was at least diplomatic enough not to come down on one side or the other, thus endearing himself to both north and south. it bears comparison with the wholesale british adoption of scottish athletes and tennis players providing they're winning medals and trophies.
but the sixties and seventies were a long time ago. legend has it that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there. a clever ploy, but less than applicable to countries other than the usa i would imagine, and they'd have been even less aware of eddy's exploits than was i at the time. nowadays however, it brings less than palpable joy to know that i was there so to speak and let it all drift by without comment. sport of any sort was never uppermost in my mind, and even pragmatism ruled the newspaper round, delivery being made on a raleigh twenty shopping bike.
i don't doubt that eddy's palmares would have been any less impressive even had he been aboard a similar set of two wheels; tartan saddle bag and all.
i have a couple of photographic teaching/mentoring duties to perform over the coming two semesters (a technical term that seems to have arrived along with campus), all of which are based in the digital realm. as such, i have a certain amount of studying to do in order to give that air of authority should any of the students ask awkward questions that i rather hoped they wouldn't. there are, apparently no rules in photography, other than the warning never to develop colour film in chicken noodle soup. and develop is a word that no longer truly applies in the digital realm.
gone are the days when film had to be carefully installed in the camera, avoiding unnecessary exposure to light. when the alotted number of exposures had been used, it was time to wind on, pop the film in a little plastic canister and hand it in to be developed. those were the days of photo albums, when the best of the summer holidays and day trips to the seaside were carefully and chronologically affixed to each page. no matter that these albums rarely saw the light of day except during infrequent bouts of nostalgia brought on by unsuspecting visitors. it was simply what you did.
such was the proclivity of the belgian monsieur lecouf, except the photographs pasted in his album eschewed those of his family (if he indeed had any) in favour of a huge selection of candid pictures of eddy merckx. these run the gamut of images depicting eddy in race mode, signing autographs, posing with friends and fans, enjoying the occasional pensive moment and hustling his way through adoring throngs either on his way to the podium or attempting to reach his molteni liveried bicycle.
even kicking a football dressed in a suit.
these photographs had never seen the public light of day until a selection were published in the eighth issue of rouleur magazine. though i would protest in the strongest terms that i am not one for collecting autographs, i must raise my hand at this point and admit that i did get eddy to sign a copy of that particular issue. however, current owner of this unique photo album, kadir guirey has now had the foresight and grace to offer the collection in book format, one that retains the appearance of the original. it's importance, i would suggest, should not be underestimated.
it is unknown whether m. lecouf was the photographer, or simply a close friend or obsessive fan. scrawled on the inside cover are the words 'Bien sportivement - M. Louis leCouf' accompanied by eddy's signature. there then follows an eclectic display of ninety colour and black and white photos, many with the almost obligatory white border beloved of the mid to latter days of photographic prints.
it's difficult to tell whether the prints have deteriorated slightly over the intervening forty odd years, or whether the world truly existed in less saturated colours in the 1970s. what is quite uncanny is the impressive standard of composition in pretty much every image. as paul fournel makes mention in his accompanying essay, these were different times. "...it's hard to believe that Eddy Merckx was so easy to get close to. Could you simply go up to him and take a picture?" ..."When you see the number of barriers that you would need to break down to even approach stars of his caliber today...the simplicity of these images is quite astonishing."
i can think of no better author to inscribe testament both to eddy merckx and the accompanying images than paul fournel. a long-time contributor to the pages of rouleur his perspective of the era and its importance to cycling's ever increasing heritage proves him the ideal candidate for the job. his words were a pleasant surprise after an admittedly lengthy period of perusing the images. rarely does cycling memorabilia get any better than this.
whatever your perceived status within the cycling milieu; beginner, veteran, professional or simply a bloke/girl with a bike, these are frozen moments in history that cannot fail to impress. though cycling benefits greatly from the expertise and vision of many superb contemporary photographers, l'album d'eddy is from a wholly different place, one that will delight and excite in equal proportions. i missed it all the first time round; don't repeat my youthful error.
"...was he simply another race fan, one of those devoted Tour lovers who runs across fields and climbs mountains just to snatch a photo or grab a racer's cap still damp with sweat?"
l'album d'eddy, encased in a leatherette bound cover with gold foil lettering, is available from the rouleur shop for £28.
tuesday 10th september 2013