Friday Feature: Photo-journalist Monika Prell

You may have spotted a couple of photographs from Monika Prell in our recent reports from the Clasica San Sebastian and the Vuelta which was where we met for the first time and discovered our mutual admiration for Euskaltel-Euskadi’s main man Samu Sanchez. Not unnaturally I asked Monika if she’d a) be happy to be interviewed and b) write a guest post for VeloVoices. She very kindly agreed to both without me having to resort to any sort of inducement.

Here’s Monika at work in her office conducting a quick interview

Sheree: So, Monika, tell us a bit about yourself and how and why you started writing and photographing cycle races.

Monika: My passion for cycling comes from my family. My grandfather wanted to be a professional cyclist, but World War II changed his plans. My uncle also does a lot of cycling, and my dad loves every sport. He used to watch a lot of sport on the television too, and so I started to watch the Tour de France, especially in 1997, when Jan Ullrich won that edition. I started to go to races in 2000, I did some crazy things with my friends, like driving 1,000 kilometers in a car to go to the Tour of Poland, and this at the age of 20. I was also member of an internet cycling forum.

Sheree: It’s amazing how many people get turned onto a particularly sport by parents or a defining moment, like Ullrich’s Tour win. Where did you go from there?

Monika: In 2006 I spent a year in Bilbao for my studies –  Spanish and French with a view to teaching in high school –  and I translated an article on cycling I found in Marca into German. One of the forum’s members wrote for Cyclingnews and she asked me to rewrite that Marca article for them in English. So I did and then they offered me work as a freelance reporter, especially for the races in Spain, but I also had the chance to go three times to Mexico. That was a great time. I wrote as well as studying, and whenever I had the possibility to escape for a couple of days, I went to the Basque country to cover the races there. Two years ago I finally had the money to buy a ‘professional’ camera, and since then I always take photos, even if I don’t sell them. They are more for the pleasure.

Sheree: Monica’s being rather modest here. She’s a gifted linguist who speaks and writes in French, Spanish, English, German and Basque! It’s also quite evident from observing her at the races that she has a great rapport with many of the riders. Typically, where would we find examples of your work?

Monika: Normally I write for www.radsport-news.com, in German, but from 2006 to 2009 I worked also for www.cyclingnews.com, and sometimes I write for a Mexican newspaper, El Clarín.

Sheree: Is there any advice you would give to aspiring photo-journalists?

Monika: Just start going to races and taking photos, try different positions (lying on the ground you get a great angle to take good pics). And never give up.

Sheree: That last bit of advice sounds like something Jens Voigt would say, but it’s so true. If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Which are your favourite races to cover and why?

Monika: My favourite races are without doubt the Basque ones. I enjoy the landscape and the people. I really loved the Euskal Bizikleta – unfortunately it disappeared. And I just love the Vuelta a Burgos. The organisation is so good, and all is very familiar. I love being there. You always feel very welcome.

Sheree: Who are your favourite riders?

Monika: My favourite rider is Samuel Sanchez, and I like Xabier Zandio too. In general there are so many nice riders, like Adrian Palomares or Ruben Perez. And then I have a lot of favourite ex-riders like Dionisio Galparsoro or the Gonzalez de Galdeano brothers, or Joseba and Gorka Beloki. [Another one with a brotherly fixation – Ed.] Some of them I meet from time to time during the races, with other ones I keep contact via email or Facebook, and very few just disappeared. It is always a pleasure to meet them, because when they stop riding they are sometimes even more likeable and even more open than before.

Monika with her favourite rider. Don’t you just love Samu’s shy smile?

Sheree: Which riders do you most like to photograph? Talk us through some of your favourite shots and when and where you took them.

Monika: Well, of course I like to photograph the riders I like, but then I really have the intention to take very good photos of them, and most of the time I am not satisfied with my shots, even if others might say that they are good. I take between 100 and 800 photos per stage. (The latter number was exceptional, as both of my favourite riders were in the same race, ha ha!) Here are just a few of my favourites:

Monika’s showing her colours here and support for the Carrots

This next one was during the Bayernrundfahrt in 2009. I travelled with Contentpolis as their translator, but I ended up translating also for Euskaltel-Euskadi and a French team, I don’t remember which one. It was the second race where I took pics with my Canon EOS350D (I now have a 40D) and I was very happy about having changed my old non-SLR camara to this better one and I just tried to take shots of various situations. Here you can see Mikel Gaztanaga taking his bidon.

Dionisio Galparsoro, Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2009. I love this pic because I don’t know how I was able to take it. I just searched for him through the viewfinder and he just raised his head, and I took the pic. I like it because it is just him being focussed well, and the rest is like fuzzy, unreal.

Samuel Sanchez with his son Unai, when he won the Vuelta a Burgos 2010. I don’t think that I have to explain why I love that picture, do I?

Sheree: No, you don’t. It’s a really sweet photo.

The most recent pic was taken at the Clásica San Sebastián 2012. I like it because I think it’s almost perfect. You can see the front riders are focussed and in the background you see the peloton. I guess I could sell pics like that. (Hope that does not sound too self-opinionated!)

Sheree: Not at all. It’s a great action shot.

Sheree: What’s next on your agenda?

Monika: I really have no idea. I just finished my exams and actually, I don’t have a job. Perhaps I will get some freelance work for a newspaper or a website. Probably my first race next year will be Vuelta al País Vasco.

Sheree: I’ll be there too. Like Monika I love the people, the races, the culture, the gastronomy, the countryside … [Are you two working for the Basque Tourist Board? – Ed]

Talented polyglot photo-journalist for hire!

Sheree: In the winter months when there’s no racing, how do you occupy your time?

Monika: Well until now I had no problem with that because I worked as a teacher, so I had a lot to do.

Sheree: Monika, many thanks for agreeing to be in the spotlight and sharing those fabulous photos with us. We’ll look forward to showcasing more of your work on VeloVoices and good luck with the job-hunting.

You can also check out Monika’s work at www.radsport-news.com and watch out for a guest post from her here on VeloVoices in the near future.

In memory of Andrei Kivilev

Andrei Kivilev (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Andrei Kivilev (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The death of Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis) from head injuries sustained in a fall on stage two of Paris-Nice in 2003 was the trigger for the UCI to implement the compulsory wearing of helmets. They had previously tried to introduce this requirement in 1991 but riders had protested at – ironically – Paris-Nice, effectively quashing the initiative.

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