Some of the most iconic photographs of the professional peloton have been shot by this week’s VeloEye, Pete Goding. Pete started his cycling photography career at Procycling magazine, when it was just a pup so many years ago. He’s got an exhibition coming up this weekend as part of Edinburgh’s Festival of Cycling and he took time out to have a chat with me about his work and exhibition. (All photographs ©PeteGoding.)
Kitty: First of all, when did you get interested in cycling?
Pete: I was working as a stills photographer and picture editor for a relatively new publishing company and was asked to help out on Procycling magazine as a researcher and product photographer. My knowledge of cycling at that point was pretty low but I found myself trawling through amazing archives like L’Equipe’s in Paris and it didn’t take long to fall in love with the sport.
Its allure had a lot to do with the arena in which you could find these lofty feats of human endeavour. I became hooked on those faded images of forgotten athletes who stood proudly next to their wooden single-speed bicycles having ridden for 200km, only drinking the local wine to rehydrate!
I loved all the images of them in extreme landscapes, journeying through snow drifts, down icy roads and finding themselves at the summits of wild, remote landscapes where the vegetation wouldn’t even survive.
Kitty: Who’s your favourite cyclist and your favourite race to watch? Would that answer be different if I asked who and what your favourites are to actually photograph?
Pete: It’s hard to say but Chris Boardman is someone I have a lot of respect for. He was one of the first pro cyclists I worked with – and one of the only ones I’d seen on tv before I started on the magazine. I loved watching him try to break the hour record in 1993. As I worked with him, I observed his meticulousness. He used to test bikes for the magazine and he would weigh them, deconstruct and re-construct them before spending half the day putting them through the motions.
My favourite race? The Tour de France has to be the one to beat them all in terms of scale and grandeur – it’s hard work, fast-paced and unrelenting. I’ve also started to enjoy the smaller, less over-the-top races these days. Paris-Nice for example – smaller press rooms, less people on the roads, less spectators but a tough race. The arena is the same as any grand tour but there’s less of a spotlight and media frenzy.
Kitty: How did you get started in photography? How did you start to specialise in sport?
Pete: I studied media at university, focusing on photography (forgive the pun), which has always been my passion. I didn’t know how to get started after I finished my degree (they didn’t teach us that important lesson!) and took the second job I applied for at a photo library. The first job I applied for was a BA pilot, which barely got past first base.
The photo library job wasn’t taking the pictures but selling them to newspapers and magazines. When I applied, I didn’t have a clue what the job was. The advert said it was photography-based and that was all I knew as I travelled up to London for my interview. The wage barely covered my train fare into London, but it allowed me to make the transition into picture editing and I began to pick up my camera again.
In my spare time, I’d do the odd band photo or portrait – I even did a wedding or two before putting a stop to that, as all my friends started to get married and I ended up being the only sober invitee left at the end of the day! Working for a small, relatively new publishing house, I was encouraged to set up a tiny studio in a cupboard and it grew from there. Next thing you know, I was flying out to Vegas and the Rockies to shoot bike tests and cover features.
This isn’t just sport – this is much more. The travel, the different cultures and the unpredictable nature turns every day into a new adventure.
Kitty: What’s your secret for getting such great action shots during the races?
Pete: Ansel Adams said “a good photograph is knowing where to stand”. He may be a landscape photographer but the principle remains the same. To capture a cyclist, you need to judge the line they will take, the context of the race, and then react to the situation. Things can be planned but you have to be able to think fast and re-adjust if someone walks in front of you or the dynamic of the photo changes.
Kitty: How do you prepare to shoot portraits of athletes? I suspect that they may be comfortable with cameras shooting them as they go about their race, but being stripped of the action, does it make them more difficult to shoot?
Pete: Some are more comfortable than others but on the whole it’s a fairly routine affair for most of the cyclists. My job is to put the subject at ease while unearthing something from their personality. Most of the time you’re given only a few minutes to get what you want.
The key is to recce out the location and make sure everything is set up so they can walk in and out, hassle-free. For the Chris Froome portrait shoot for Procycling last year, I was given five minutes before they rode off to the Champs-Elyseés. To make sure he could be shot in the style of the current Procycling format without delaying his departure, I had to set up all the lights in the car park of their hotel.
Kitty: Who’s your favourite to shoot as a portrait?
Pete: I can’t say I have any favourites but there are some more wacky than others. David Millar loves photography and is always helpful and relaxed. Former pro Marcel Wust once rode along a narrow 20ft-high wall with no barriers so I could shoot something ‘unique’. It dawned on me that if he lost concentration, my unique shot would be of him being whisked away in an ambulance.
Frankie Andreu, on the other hand, took me to some derelict land in Detroit to have his photos taken amongst the burnt-out diggers and graffiti-clad buildings, made all the more menacing by the restless youths wondering why a chap in lycra was posing for photos on a 10-tonne burnt-out digger – one of the more gritty shoots I’ve experienced! I like it when I have a subject who’s up for trying something off the wall. I insist on it in most cases.
Kitty: Take us through five of your favourite shots.
Pete: These change all the time but currently I’m thinking these:
On top of the world
There aren’t many happier marriages of road and mountainous terrain than up here, overlooking the Lago Agnel, 2500 metres above the sea.
Daniel Friebe, Mountain Higher
No cyclist here but a dream road for any cyclist!
I salute you, sir!
Wiggins on a ride with Steve Cummings, Geraint Thomas and Thomas Lofkvist on a training ride around Morzine in the high Alps.
Say no more.
A Béarnaise farmer is fairly disinterested in the cyclists, posing for his portrait as the peloton rides over the Col d’Aubisque on their way to the Col du Soulor.
I like this because the farmer owned a little hut on the corner and he didn’t seem to think there was anything out of the ordinary here. Just another day watching another epic day of cycling.
Froome: the second coming
Chris Froome discards his water bottle on the climb of the Col d’Aubisque in the heart of the Pyrénées, ahead of Mark Cavendish and Levi Leipheimer.
A bit of luck will always helps a photograph.. Chris Froome decides to throw his water bottle at the perfect time in the perfect spot on the corner. It even twisted into line so you can read the text on the bottle.
Reflecting on Wiggins
Bradley Wiggins rides toward the starting podium through a puddle in the pouring rain. I decided to flip this image and it brought it to life.
Kitty: Tell me a bit about your exhibition in Edinburgh and the charity auction.
Pete: I was asked to put an exhibition of my favourite images for the inaugural Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, and I thought it’d be fun. It’s part of nine days of cycling entertainment from spinning marathons to frame-building workshops. Check it out on www.edfoc.org.uk. It’s from the 15th-23rd of June.
I also wanted to do something in memory of a friend who recently passed away. The Trinity Hospice in Clapham (www.trinityhospice.org.uk) did a lot for Lisa before she died. The proceeds of the sales of books (donated by Quercus Books), framed prints, signed prints by Sir Chris Hoy and David Millar, and the auction of a Revolution Belter Bike kindly donated by the Edinburgh Cycling Co-op will be a great help to people who need the care and attention the hospice can provide. Keep an eye out for the auction – follow me on Twitter for more details!
The Press Association have been fantastic arranging the printing and framing and Newhaven have been working hard hosting it.
My exhibition runs from Sunday 16th June from 12 noon until 4pm and then Monday 17th June to Friday 21st June from 11am to 4pm every day. Entry is free but please make a donation on the day.
Kitty: Thanks so much, Pete, for talking to us and we hope that your exhibition will be a great success.
Check out more of Pete’s work on petegodingphotography.com and keep an eye out for his work in Procycling magazine. For those who can’t make it to his exhibition and would like to donate to Trinity Hospice, he has set up a JustGiving page to help raise money.