If you enjoyed the portraits that we posted last weekend, here’s a chance to find out about the man behind those faces. Winding down from an eventful 2014 season, Wei Yuet Wong talks to us about his first big year as a cycling photographer and shares some of his favourite photographs.
Kathi: How did you get started in photography?
Wei Yuet: When I was a student, I joined a club in school that did various things, including photographing school events. That was where I first learned about cameras but I was more fascinated by the chemistry of the film than the resulting pictures. Photography was a hobby – I made lots of holiday pictures, but I never considered making anything more than that.
Kathi: When did you start photographing cycling specifically?
Wei Yuet: I had been following pro cycling from around 1997 but by 2010, my interest had waned. When I watched the 2012 spring classics, it was really exciting and I fell in love with the sport again. The next year, I started to go out and make pictures.
Kathi: What was the first race that you photographed?
Wei Yuet: The Singapore National Championships 2013. Many of my friends were racing so it was a chance to test out what I could see in a race.
The first big race was the women’s team time trial at the 2013 Worlds in Tuscany. The moment I stepped into the start house, I got overwhelmed, felt jelly-legged, and forgot how to use my camera! “These are the best women cyclists on the planet,” I thought. I sorted myself out, and managed to get some pictures.
Wei Yuet: What motivates me? I guess it’s learning how to make pictures of cycling that mean something to me. It’s not easy at all – it’s easier to just follow what worked previously or take the safe option to at least get a shot, rather than miss out completely.
After many years of following cycling and looking at cycling imagery, I thought to myself, if I could make pictures of the sport, how would I do it? I know that to stand out, I need to try to put something about myself into the work.
Kathi: I think your photographs are very insightful. You capture the humanity and emotions of the race – whether it’s the faces of the riders or the fans. There’s a real honesty in your photographs.
Wei Yuet: Thanks! The fans are important to me, because they are a big part of the race. As for the riders, I’m awed by their efforts. I cannot fathom how they are able to push to their limits, and beyond.
Every race is a little different, and I wonder if I have what it takes for the job. I get around this by building a routine of preparing and checking my equipment, researching the course, and planning for the day. And, lastly, trusting myself.
It’s a lonely road – that’s one of the most difficult things. Often alone, and in strange foreign places, not knowing what to do, needing to pick myself up and go out every day. Now, when I look back at what pictures I got, 2014 has been quite a remarkable year. But, during the year, it was tough.
There were many low points for me during 2014, but even at my worst I was able to convince myself to head out every day, and keep trying many different things, and to sort out the work.
The one time that I felt scared by the fans/spectators was at the CX World Championships. That crowd was different and I was heckled by some groups of fans. However, there were also funny moments – one group offered to buy my press credentials for €500! I really appreciate the Belgian fans for their knowledge and love of the sport, but sometimes I am scared by their craziness.
Kathi: You mention how being on the road, chasing races, is quite lonely. How do you deal with that? I know that you’ve connected with a lot of people from Twitter while you’re at the races. That must help.
Wei Yuet: First, I will admit that it’s not exactly a friendly world out there. The first few months of races were quite intimidating because I didn’t really know my way around, or what to do. I guess for a new person, it was difficult for others to take me seriously.
I met up with lots of people from Twitter, and that helped. I met Sean Robinson from Velofocus that way and chased the Giro Donne with him. I’m at many women’s races, so Bart Hazen is a familiar friend. I also get along with the Japanese photographer, Sonoko Tanaka, and the BrakeThrough team of Jim and Iri.
The riders, especially the women, are quite friendly to me. Julie Leth from Team Hitec started to talk to me, and then the whole Hitec team got to know me. Tiffany Cromwell looks kind of scary when she stares at people, but I found she’s quite funny – and she has a nice smile (pictured above). And, I got to know Lotto Lepistö from the Bigla team at Ponferrada.
The one who understands the best, though, is Mayuko Hagiwara. She told me she had a difficult first year as a pro in Europe, so she understands how tough it is for non-Europeans.
Kathi: What has been your most difficult day out so far?
Wei Yuet: It’s between the 2013 men’s road race at the Worlds or Paris-Roubaix 2014, but I would say it’s Roubaix. The evening after the race, I had this sinking feeling that it was the worst day out (in terms of pictures). I got lost trying to find sector four (Le Carrefour d’Arbre). Then, I was trying to hike between sectors four and three – not as easy as I thought. I knew I was going to miss the finale in the Vélodrome, so I only had one chance to get some pictures. Paris-Roubaix is still an old-style point-to-point parcours, and though I love that format as a fan, it is very tricky for a photographer.
Wei Yuet: I like anything that catches my attention. Recently, I have been looking at mountaineering, trail running, motorcycles, and photojournalism. What I see may not be completely relevant, however I want to see how they get their message across. There’s a downside to that, because when looking at the amazing work out there, it’s easy to start comparing and to doubt oneself. I need to trust what I am doing.
I remember listening to an interview with David Bowie, and he mentioned that it’s easy to be caught in the trap of audience appreciation, but one should not take that as the only measure. He said that one goes in and out of favour continually. At the end of the day, one should look back and say, “I really liked this piece of work,” or “this piece of work really sucked”.
Also there was something that Pauline Ferrand-Prévot said after winning Flèche Wallonne: “This is good for my confidence … I believe in myself sometimes too little.”
Experiencing other things is important. I visited some friends in Hong Kong and saw the protests in Mong Kok. I came away with admiration for the local people, and it also put some sense of perspective about what is important in life.
Kathi: Your work is starting to get recognition – tell us about some of the places your photographs have been featured.
Wei Yuet: I am very grateful to be featured in RIDE Cycling Review (Australia & the UK), Conquista, PEZ Cycling News, Bicycling and also on Cyclismas. For the cycling fans in the UK, my picture of Wiggo is on the cover of the current issue of Ride Cycling Review (UK), together with six pages of images from Ponferrada. I also have generous galleries of the MTB Worlds, and Road Worlds in the current issue of Conquista (issue five). For the Asian fans, I have galleries of the Japan Cup, and Saitama Critérium on the Ride Cycling Review webpage.
Kathi: What do the next few years look like for you?
Wei Yuet: I think there are still many stories to tell in cycling, and I hope that I can pursue more of these projects. I would also love to do some more stories in Asia. That’s assuming I get to do it for the next year – it’s quite uncertain, and I’m taking it day by day.
Ultimately, I want to work on projects that help people, and make a difference in the world. Hopefully that is something meaningful I hope to achieve with my pictures.
Lastly, I want to say many thanks to you at VeloVoices, for taking the time to talk to me about my work. I’m so honoured – it’s my first interview! Also thanks for the support throughout 2014.
Kathi: The pleasure is all ours, Wei Yuet. Truly.
My favourite photographs
Wei Yuet takes us through some of his favourite photographs, starting with Toscana 2013.
Toscana 2013 – Men’s ITT: Before the individual time trial, Fabian Cancellara announced that 2013 would be his final try in the ITT, and after that he would focus on the road race. The crowd adored him – there was a lot of emotion that day – and it was a happy/sad moment when people started chanting ‘Bye bye Cancellara’. He responded with waves and smiles but this picture shows that he looked visibly disappointed with the result. However, I think he appreciated his fans.
CX Worlds, 2014: De beste! Marianne Vos during the last lap of the 2014 CX Worlds in Hoogerheide. Most riders had to dismount and run this corner, but she could ride through it. I can even see her licking her lips! Dominant, and maybe showing off a bit?
Track Cycling Worlds, 2014: Edwin Ávila Vanegas brought the roof down with his win in the points race at the 2014 Track Cycling World Championships. It was the loudest crowd I have heard anywhere, indoor, or outdoor.
Giro d’Italia Femminile (Giro Rosa): The opening prologue was an evening time trial on the streets of Caserta. It was a challenge for pictures because of the low light but it must be even more harrowing for the riders to ride in near darkness, on bumpy and slippery flagstones.
Tour de France 2014: Mikaël Chérel and his daughter at Le Tour 2014, stage 15 (Tallard to Nîmes). This was a heartwarming moment – Mikaël seemed genuinely happy to see his family.
Tour de France 2014, Paris: I thought that the most memorable moments of Le Tour would be the epic mountains, or the like. But the most special was at the end in Paris, when the riders were embraced by their families.
Tour de France 2014, stage 20: Caught between the Wolfman, and the fence! I had to squeeze a bit to get this picture of Laurens ten Dam and the Belkin soigneur understood that I was not going to bother ten Dam – I just wanted one picture. If the soigneur is reading this – thanks for not pushing me away!
Tour de France 2014, stage 20: The comforting hand of a soigneur – “the one who provides care.” It’s a fitting definition because they really do an excellent job of caring for their riders. I can imagine it’s one of the things riders look forward to after every race.
MTB Worlds 2014: I was impressed with the courage of the downhill riders at the MTB World Championships. Full-on courage, balancing the fine line between caution and recklessness – which meant some very bad crashes. One of the most amazing things I have seen.