though it may be a slight exaggeration, it seems rarely an issue passes without at least one of the cycling monthlies or weekly claiming to contain at least one exclusive. when the same exclusive appears in two magazines, you really begin to wonder about the true definition of the word. much like our local supermarket's express checkout, a queue that often takes longer than any of the others. it has occured to me over the course of the years, that while i'll never shy away from any exclusives i might be offered, i've no intention of chasing after them. once that starts, i figure i'm on a slippery slope to doom.
with that in mind, thewashingmachinepost may well be at the cow's tail when it comes to this year's tour de france. truly, how much more can there be to be said about the hundredth edition of the race? that, of course, depends pretty much on who's doing the telling, and in this case, thankfully, it's not me. though i joined the virtual throng watching every stage via eurosport's old style online player, there's not a darned thing i could tell or show you that you haven't already been told or seen.
even this month's cyclesport magazine purports to contain unique coverage of the race. in actual fact, their reporting of the event is rather good, but i can think of few ways in which it could be classed as unique. don't you just love the way the cycling media is redefining the english language?
the post thus makes no such claim, but i did have the good fortune to ask someone who was not only there, but often in the confines of the teamsky deathstar, and has the pictures to prove it. edinburgh-based photographer scott mitchell has seen his occasional work for team sky morph from an initial outing at the 2012 tour of romandie into his current position as the team's official lensperson. for the second year in succession, the world's number one ranked team has carried off the yellow jersey, making them justifiably the centre of cycling and mainstream media attention.
at great risk of stating the incredibly obvious, the man who stood on the second step of the podium last year, had the luck, skill and tenacity to move up to the top in last month's centennial race, an event that, by common consent, was substantially different from that won by sir bradley in 2012. did it seem that way to scott?
"Yeah, it was very different this year but not just because Brad was not there but for many reasons. Personally I struggled with the extremely hot weather, especially after the cold conditions at the Giro. Also it seemed even more difficult to get to where I wanted to be to shoot. That included nearly missing the finish in Paris."
since last year's tour of romandie, scott has seen duty at both the 2012 giro d'italia and tour de france as well as both races in 2013, along with attendance at this year's paris-roubaix amongst others. few would be the cycling fans who would classify each of those rides as simply the same race in different locations. we all know better than that; each race has its fascinations, winners and losers and is often targetted by a different faction of riders. that's to say little of the change in attitude, fitness, skill and ability of those who raced last year and again in 2013. in parallel with those considerations, does scott figure that his photography has changed substantially from romandie last year?
"Yes, but I don't know how. I suppose I have a lot more cycling knowledge, or at least TeamSky cycling knowledge. I think this understanding now enables me to anticipate what might happen next a bit better. Last year at Romandie I was wandering around missing stuff. I do tend to get easily distracted."
for me, scott's daily gallery on the teamsky website during any particular race, but especially this year's tour, is an essential accompaniment. through his lens, it's not only possible to view often hidden moments from each day's stage, but the significant paraphernalia and imagery that surrounds the cycling. for me, and a whole host of others, those are the pieces missing from not actually being there in person. and even were i lucky to have been on-site, there's a strong possibility i'd have missed the art that lies in the details.
during a race, scott generally posts between 25 to 30 images on the teamsky website each day, but how many never make it that far? "I am posting less now; around 20 each evening. I tend to shoot about 300 frames a day. It might sound a lot, but one photographer I spoke to said he shot around 4000. I prefer to try and be a bit more disciplined about it, it speeds everything up at the edit stage in the evening."
though editing 4,000 photographs each evening would scare the living daylights out of me (and probably scott), even the thought of a deadline that meant i'd to make a selection of twenty from 300 would be unlikely to make for a relaxing three weeks in july. how on earth does he choose the final images? is he conscious of having to do his best for the sponsor...?
"No, not at all. I think it happens quite naturally. The team has great bikes, cars, kit etc and obviously they tend to feature in the shots. I also like using the bus and logo as a backdrop, if say for instance the start is a less photogenic spot like an industrial estate." ...or is the image still king? "Yeah the image is king, otherwise what's the point?"
i was never much good at maths or arithmetic at school, tending towards the more creative subjects. but by using a calculator, twenty images per stage for a total of twenty-one stages works out at around 420 photographs over the course of le tour. if we increase the stakes to encompass scott's average of 300 images per day, we reach 6,300 photos. with all the additional photographs appearing daily on a seemingly endless number of websites, the newspapers and wall to wall television and internet coverage, it has become incumbent on the tour photographer to differentiate himself/herself, consciously or otherwise from their peer group.
does scott struggle to keep the imagery fresh, or does he simply push such thoughts to the back of his mind? "It's the most difficult part of my job, along with sleep deprivation. If you think about it, every day a rider or member of staff, if he's in Oman, France or Australia has the same routine. It's all about performance, but my goals differ. I'm trying to tell the team's story in an engaging way day in, day out. Sometimes I have had to sacrifice an amazing shot with a view, because I need more shots from something like the finish instead. Would be nice if there was two of me sometimes."
it cannot be other than a skilful balancing act trying to exist as a professional photographer nowadays. the inclusion of multi-megapixel cameras in each and every mobile phone has made everyone into a photographer, many who see little difference between their hurriedly snapped photo of chris froome at the suummit of the ventoux with those of the accredited lenspeople. web-based services such as instagram and flickr have also made it a remarkably simple process to disseminate those mobile phone pics far and wide across the world.
scott mitchell's engagement as teamsky's official photographer must surely have made his job more comfortable"? "That's funny but no. I was never uncomfortable last year with the arrangement we had. Obviously from a scheduling point of view it's great to know for sure when I will be busy and when I can do other stuff too. I really enjoy being part of TeamSky, they are a set of extraordinary people."
i'm risking revealing the rather tedious nature of my questioning by bringing up, yet again, scott's claim to me a few years ago, that he was "not a cycling photographer". but as a man embedded with cycling's top professional team, and perhaps a talisman in their successive tour victories, how long can he maintain the innocence of this stance? "Always. I'm a photographer, not a cycling photographer. There are some good cycling photographers out there, but I'm not one of them."
each year, come those three weeks in july, the monthlies, weekly and the websites are festooned with images of the latest in cycling technology. even if the carbon and electronics have been in the cupboard for a few months, it seems the ideal time to reveal their existence, and thus offer the greatest bang for buck in front of an apparently eager audience is at the tour. i'm reasonably sure that the advance of technology is not confined simply to bicycles, though others may not be reliant on a french bicycle race for the publicity. has camera technology changed much since last year's tour?
"To be honest I'm not really a very technical photographer. As long as I've got a nice camera and a great lens, it's all good for me."
on the second thursday of august each year, islay's annual agricultural show is held in bridgend on a field provided by islay estates. commonly held opinion would have it that the second friday of each august constitutes the start of winter, and it is of great concern as to how often this has pretty much proved to be true. similarly, many view the champs elysees as the end of the cycling year, with every subsequent race as somewhat irrelevant, including the world's at the end of september.
however, the tour of poland is currently underway, following on from the one day clasica san sebastian. and before you know it we'll be viewing images of spain in the corner of the computer screen when we really ought to be working. what's next for scott mitchell?
"I'm lucky to have a lot of interesting projects on the go just now. A couple of really cool books this year. A trip to Colorado with TeamSky and working with some very talented musicians and my favourite clothing brand. Oh, and a week's holiday in Brighton soon. I love Brighton."
all photographs copyright scott mitchell 2013. used with permission.
posted friday 2 august 2013