Anyone who follows cycling is sure to recognise the work of Jered and Ashley Gruber. They have a distinctive style – the panoramic grandeur of a mountain scene, the stillness of a solo ride through an open landscape, the almost animal passion of a rider in full flow, the triumph etched on a rider’s face as he comes over the finish line first or the agony when he finishes second.
Just as the Grubers have been chasing the professional peloton around Europe all year, I’ve been chasing Jered, albeit from the comfort of the laptop, all year for an interview. I’ve been in love with the Grubers’ work for quite some time and he was the first photographer I wanted to interview for the blog. It didn’t work out that way, but it’s fitting that he’s the final photographer interview I’ve posted for VeloVoices this year. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have the chance to share his story! Jered is quite the talker so, as you can tell by the title, this is just part one. The second part of the interview will be posted next Friday. (All photographs are copyright of GruberImages.)
Kitty: Thanks for taking the time to talk to VeloVoices. You and Ashley have been in Europe now for nearly the whole year. Give us a flavour of what you’ve been up to – what have been some of your most memorable times this year?
Jered: The spring was great. We got to spend a lot of time in Flanders and get to know it. We rode a lot and made a concerted effort to explore as much as possible, so when the big races came along, we were able to chase them more effectively. Even better, we chased all of them on our bikes! That was a lot of fun, if a bit crazy at times, but then again, isn’t it always crazy?
My favorite story from that was from either the E3 or Dwars door Vlaanderen. Ashley was on her way to the Steenbeekdries, I think. She was behind schedule and was not going to make it, but AG2R’s Kristof Goddaert had just dropped out and was riding along to watch the race as a spectator. He saw that she was struggling to get somewhere, and basically motorpaced her to the next spot. It was pretty cool.
In May, we did our first Grand Tour and shot the Giro (more on that in a minute). After that, we did shoots when asked or required, but when it wasn’t, we put the cameras away and did our best to do as little as possible. Toward the end of the year, we realised that we needed to take our newfound profession a bit more seriously and search out images and stories of our own.
One of our first adventures was in Fonzaso, Italy – just a few kilometers from where we were staying with Castelli. I had always wanted to shoot the tenth way up Monte Grappa, so that was our goal for the afternoon … until we were hit by the most tremendous storm I’ve ever seen. I was on the bike, wading through winds I’ve seen on the Weather Channel. Trees were falling, branches were flying, earth was sliding under the weight of the downpour, day became night, visibility was nil, but we did our best to keep shooting. It was insane. It was a bit scary, probably a bit irresponsible, but it was a lot of fun. We got some cool pictures too.
Along those same lines, we went to Bormio after Il Lombardia to shoot the Gavia and Stelvio. Unfortunately, we got there a day late and arrived in the season’s first snowstorm! Once again, we pressed on and shot – this time, the moisture was frozen and the winds only crazy, not quite insane. The images from that day and the days following are some of my favorite of 2012.
L’Eroica. I didn’t expect it, nor did Ashley, but L’Eroica blew us away. It’s such an amazing event, and it happens to be in Chianti – one of our adopted homes. It’s a magical event, and largely based on how much fun we had at L’Eroica, we’ll restructure our spring to make sure we shoot the Strade Bianche in March.
But my favourite race day of 2012 was probably chasing Roubaix with Roger Hammond sans car sticker or press credentials. Roger is amazing. This was his first year out of racing, and while he seemed comfortable with that fact, there was a fire glowing in him that day. We pulled off some moves in the big red van that should not have been possible. To have someone like Roger telling you about anything you can think to ask? Special.
Kitty: Wow, you’ve had quite a time! But I remember when you had all of your kit got stolen, including your laptops with all your photographs on it.
Jered: We lost everything the first day chasing the Giro. We had thankfully gotten out of making the trip up to Denmark for the official start of the Giro, but we were in Verona for the true, Italian start.
Kitty: Ah, yes. Were you ever able to recover anything from that? And didn’t the organisers of the Giro help you out to get you back shooting?
Jered: We lost both computers and all our external hard drives. It was awful. We were parked in the official Giro parking area with security guards and everything. It didn’t matter. They got the computers, all of Ashley’s clothes – but the really bad part was our external hard drives were full of every picture we’d ever taken. This is where people tell us how stupid we are, but for two people living constantly on the road, it’s kind of difficult to keep your pictures anywhere but in your car or on your person! Just as we were settling into a stunned state, O’nev, Veeral Patel, came running up – his car had been hit as well except Veeral lost all of his camera gear, while we lost all of our pictures and computers.
I’ve never felt that way before, and I hope I never have to feel that way again. It was the deepest empty. We were sitting on the grass, wondering what we were going to do next. What was there for us to do besides go home? We didn’t have one of the most basic tools necessary – a computer!
Then Michele Acquarone [head of RCS Sport, which runs the Giro] walked up to us and even though we’d never met him before, in that terrible moment, he made us smile. He is such a great presence – he’s such a positive figure. We immediately felt that little bit better and what he said next made the dark fade even more: “What do we need to get you so that you can continue to do what you’re here to do?” It was simple, direct and perfect. He didn’t have to extend a helping hand like that, and we will remember and be thankful for that forever.
Kitty: I have to say, everyone I’ve spoken to who has met Michele says the same thing. I think he’s great and now that I’ve heard that story, he’s even more of a legend in my book! But let’s go back to the beginning for a minute – you’re a photographer without any formal training. Yet you take the most magnificent shots. Do you feel that lack of training has held you back at all?
Jered: Yes and no – although I’m leaning hard towards yes right now. I know that just picking up a camera and playing, then getting on to my computer and playing got us a long way, but at a certain point, I want to really learn. We see pictures all the time where we realise, “we can’t do that”. I hate that feeling! I think we both live our lives with an attitude of “we can do that – there’s nothing we can’t do”. It hurts to admit that, at least for the moment, we can’t do something. It kills me.
I feel like this has been my year of (moderate) discontent. The images I aspire to take, the shots I have in my head, they’re getting harder and harder to take. I know I can do better, that we can do better. I want to press pause for a year and do nothing but learn how to shoot better, how to process better, how everything works. Because I’ve learned on the fly, I fear my knowledge is a bit shallow. I want to know everything I can about my – I don’t know if it’s okay to say it – but my trade. The ceiling for growth is still very, very high.
I think I spent most of 2012 fretting about details – the knowledge I’ve gained seems to only make me more frustrated. I want more, always more! That’s a part of growing and maturing and I know it will get better, but for now, I feel like I’m always on my heels.
Kitty: Well, you must be doing something right because you’ve worked with Castelli. Do you have any other big commercial projects coming up that you can talk about?
Jered: This year, things have gone crazy for us. At the beginning of 2012, we were really working only with Castelli. Then, earlier this year, Focus gave us a call. We had met their Junior Brand Manager Andreas Krajewski back in 2010, when he was interning at the company, and visited the company, shot at the factory, and generally had a great time.
We stayed friends, and he became a fan of our work, as was Focus’s newly hired Brand Manager, Jan Willem Van der Straten. Jan Willem had seen the Giau image in 2011, and he wanted that kind of style and feel for a new look Focus. So we shot for two weeks in the Dolomiti and Alps in the middle of June, both on and off the road. It was a huge step forward for us. It was our first time working with models. Up to that point, it had been either a Garmin rider for Castelli or Ashley. The shoot was hard, really hard, but we had a lot of fun. It came out really well too.
Not long after that, Cervelo got in touch with us, and before we had half a second to figure out what was going on, we were in Pennsylvania shooting Cervelo’s 2013 catalogue. It was a lot of fun, but while the Delaware Water Gap area is fantastic, it’s not the Dolomiti. It was one of the first times we had to really find good pictures without a lot of experience ahead of time. Up until this point, we’d been spoiled as we were well acquainted with many of the places we’ve shot – and we’re proud of the work we did there. Learning, always learning!
We had the amazing experience when we walked through the huge halls at Eurobike and saw our pictures blown up to cinema screen size. I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but my response was simple – I smiled until my cheeks hurt, and then I kept on smiling. It was an amazing feeling to meet someone at the Focus or Cervelo or Castelli booths, and when they asked us what we did, we just pointed.
Kitty: What draws you to a brand that makes you want to work with them? Are you mainly looking to cycling brands for your commercial work?
Jered: We’ve been really lucky so far to have the great brands that we really like approach us. It’s kind of cool to think they are drawn to our work and want to use it for their purposes, just like we’re drawn to them because we love what they do. People talk a lot about a certain picture being our style. I guess it’s one of those things that’s hard to see when you’re in the middle of the forest, but I’m not sure what that means.
Kitty: Oh, you guys definitely have an identifiable style!
Jered: Well, we look for the prettiest pictures we can find. We ride, drive, talk to people, research on the internet, anything that could lead us to the next cool, special spot. Whatever that is, I guess people like it and that’s awesome.
I don’t ever want to leave cycling. I love it. I’m absolutely obsessed with it. Ashley gets mad at me, because I don’t want to do anything but ride my bike. I’ve started joking that we need to start taking bad pictures, so we’ll get fewer jobs, and then I can ride my bike more! I’m joking, of course.
We’d really like to expand. It’s not that we’re unsatisfied with cycling – not in the slightest – but we love exploring, we love taking pictures, and we want to take pictures of everything! Road bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, hiking, traveling, running, diving, sleeping, eating, dancing, night shots, morning shots, anything and everything!
I realised recently that I don’t read as much as I would like to. I felt kind of bad about it, but then I realised how much time I spend looking at pictures on dozens of websites. We’re still so young in this profession, and we need to be eternal students if we’re going to reach our full potential.
I want to make disciplined learning a part of my life, just as much as I want to be able to go for a walk or run without spending the next five days crippled. I need to turn my legs that rotate easily and my mind that wanders easily into appendages that can make strides forward, upward.
Kitty: How does the photography partnership with Ashley work? Are you both ‘Gruber Images’ or does she have an offshoot all her own? The images you both make are so in harmony with one another – the shot she did of Sylvain Chavanel last year (on the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons) where from the angle of his head he almost looks like something out of Alien, is just fabulous. How do you divide up the work, so to speak?
Jered: We work together 100 per cent of the time. Gruber Images is Jered and Ashley, Ashley and Jered. Ashley has made gigantic steps forward in 2012. Photography wasn’t her thing. When I came down with this affliction in 2009, it was entirely mine. Gradually, Ashley was swept up in it, but there are still times when it’s a source of conflict. She’s fiercely independent and stubborn, so there are points when she feels like she has been roped into a profession that she had no say in. It’s true. I feel like we both didn’t have much say – it just happened. I think the main point of conflict is that she didn’t get to personally select it. We’re like little kids. It’s only a good idea for me if I come up with it – it’s only a good idea for her if she comes up with it.
This photography thing was mine. Cycling was mine as well. That’s not to say that she doesn’t like photography – not in the slightest – it explains a little bit why she’s super interested in moving beyond the confines of the road and out into the wild world outside of cycling. She’s constantly researching, looking at new places, looking at pictures she likes. I think this winter, moving into 2013 will be a big time for Ashley’s development, which is awesome.
There are a lot of photographers out there, but how many out there work in tandem? There are some for sure – the Patituccis and Hages jump out as two great examples, but overall, there aren’t many. Working together, we can do so much more. We can be in two different places at once. During the Ronde van Vlaanderen, we got to 12 different spots in the final 80km on our bikes. That wouldn’t have been possible solo. I’m sure the motorbike photographers can do that times ten, but I don’t have any aspirations of spending my days on the motorbike.
Once the pictures are taken, it’s my job to process. At this point, Ashley hasn’t done any real post-processing, so that’s completely my job. I think we’ll focus more on that this winter. Since I’m usually up to my ears with processing and writing, Ashley takes care of everything else. If you get an email from us, it’s a 99 per cent chance that she wrote it. She has assumed the role of taking care of everything in a big way during the latter part of this year, and we’ve benefited hugely from it. I can’t wait to see how we can improve in 2013. There’s just so much more we can do …
Jered had a lot to say – pick up our next installment on Friday 21st December, where he talks us through his favourite shots and about life on the road, chasing the peloton …