breakfast usually consists of a stodgy plate of porridge, the sort of stuff my mother always said would stick to the inside of my ribs. actually for a good while, i believed this, and it concerned me greatly how on earth i would regain shiny insides. anyway, i have decided that a more solid plate of appropriately cooked oats holds more attraction than the thinner variety that previously featured on my breakfast setting. this is accompanied by toast and marmalade, and a glass of either orange juice or soya milk. on a good day, this will get me through most of the morning, prior to face stuffing at lunchtime (purely in the interests of nutrition you understand). if there is such a thing as a traditional scottish breakfast, then that is likely as close as i'll get.
in portland, oregon there is a team of cyclists who are suitably and healthily obsessed with all things belgian, no doubt aided by the ready availability, should one desire, of belgian beers, and even belgian frites with mayo. a member of the portland 'belgian fraternity' is slate olson who, along with mr joe staples, constitutes the two members of hup united with whom i have had handshakes, conversation, and coffee. from a cycling perspective, belgium has much to commend it, and, in terms of a sparkling start to the day, a belgian flavoured breakfast could just be the ideal way to make it from daybreak to lunch break.
thus, in the couple of days i spent getting in the way of marley the dog, i awoke to a rather different aroma emanating from the kitchen. aside from the almost obligatory coffee, the olfactory mix contained an aroma with which i was not familiar: the waffle.
for the uninitiated, waffles are, well, waffle shaped. they get that way by being produced within a waffle maker, the insides of which would give a gruffalo cause for concern. by mixing flour, milk, separated eggs, and, in the case of the belgian variety, a smidgeon of yeast, a rather viscous mixture is created that can be conveniently poured onto the heated plates of the aforementioned waffle maker. when baked, the waffle mix rises sufficiently to fill all those little geometric shapes on top and bottom heated waffle plates. the result provides the eager cyclist with either a pre or post-ride snack, one which can be augmented with fresh fruit of choice (banana in my case) before being liberally doused with maple syrup (an expensive necessity).
at this time of year, particularly as january is visible at the end of the tunnel, calorie counting for the prospective forthcoming season's victor should be uppermost in the mind; but for those of us who couldn't win a raffle, you should know that waffle vendors in the country of its ancestry have been known to proffer these savoury delights with a dusting of confectioner's sugar, augmented with whipped cream, or even chocolate spread. not, i'd suggest, pre-ride.
the american version of this delicacy substitutes baking powder for yeast, but otherwise looks somewhat similar. electric waffle makers can be had for not a great deal of the folding stuff, thus the regular cereal, toast or porridge can be consumed knowingly through each weekday, safe in the knowledge that, come the weekend, with only a modest amount of preparation the eve before, waffles and syrup can be consumed for those eddy merckx or roger de vlaeminck moments.
doesn't this cycling lark just get better and better as the years roll by?
posted sunday 27 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
richard sachs has had a particularly busy and ultimately successful cyclcross season in north america this past few months. successful on a personal note having finished 5th in the masters' rankings, which is no mean feat, and successful in terms of the results achieved by the remaining members of his team. remember, richard has a seven year plus waiting list for his frames, so team sponsorship has little to do with sales. his committment to his sponsors keeps him even busier however; if you're on the right mailing list, richard has been sending out toilet roll length list of links to photography featuring the team after every race, committment which makes writing a daily article for the post seem like a walk in the park.
one of the photographers featured in those lengthy lists is portland, maine (east coast) based jeff scher, whose eye has brought a fresh view to the sport, if only because this is his first full season of taking dirty pictures (if you see what i mean).
"cycling has always been a large part of my life. since the late 1980s I have pointed my lenses towards adventure sports and human powered activity. i've been cycling since i grew up in new york city, and even spent some time as a bike messenger during high school. however, photographing cyclocross racing is new to me this year but but i think it fits in well with my history as a photographer."
it's unlikely that there are too many photographers managing to make ends meet by focussing entirely (pun intended) on the sport of cycling; i can think of one or two in europe who have made successful careers and reputations out of the classics and tours, but doing so in north america is likely an altogether different proposition.
"at this point the cross photos fall into the personal work category. i'm not currently out there on assignment for any commercial client other than myself. as a pro photographer it is important to keep shooting, whether you are on assignment or not and I always find inspiration for my commercial clients through much of my personal work."
in cases such as that of pdxcross.com (the other portland), those sitting in the gloaming with lenses trained on the song and dance taking place around and in front of them, there's not only a personal interest, but oft-times personal friendships. the guys at pdxcross are personal friends with the bulk of the local riders snapped weekend in, weekend out. with the recommendations issuing forth from the offices of richard sachs, were he and jeff previously acquainted?
I don't know richard personally, but i knew about him for years from his legendary custom built bikes. after the first verge series race this fall at pine land farms in new gloucester, maine, i had some great images of his team riders and contacted him to share those images. richard was then kind enough to share those images with his team sponsors and others in his network (including thewashingmachinepost). through these photos, richard and i made a good connection."
freelance photographers must, by necessity, subjugate any personal preferences they may have when it comes to the subject matter required by a paying client. snapping pics of barn doors for a company that manufactures same, would not be described by many as their ideal gig. but when it comes to personal time, such as jeff's foray into the world of cross, it's a whole different tyre game. however, even within the world of cycle sport, there are distinct subsets, and i would imagine that it's the photographer's affinity, sympathy and experience with each of those on offer, that determines just how successful the lightbox display will be. bearing this in mind, does jeff have any preference for the size and tread pattern of the tyres on his bike?
"currently i find myself mostly on my mountain bike these days. this might be in part to the awesome trail network I get to ride on, right from my driveway, but i do own a road bike, and for years that bike was the dominant mode of cycling for me. I don't own a cross bike yet ,but am starting to slowly amass parts to build one. component donations are always welcome."
the advent of digital photography has effectively enabled sites such as thewashingmachinepost to exist in their current format. it would be a slow(er) process if we were all still wed to film; waiting for developing, printing and scanning would often result in any given manufacturer releasing a new product before i'd managed to post a review of the original. however, many of the current crop of astounding images that grace exhibitions, magazines, books and promotional iconography in modern day cycling still bear the luxurious veneer of film grain. does scher subscribe to the modern or the traditional when venturing into the wilderness of cross, or the commercial world that pays the bills?
"digital all the way! i still love the look of film and miss the tactile connection of putting film in the camera, dropping it off at the lab and having those anxious feelings waiting to see the results on the light table. however, these days, having the ability to get pictures anywhere in the world in 30 seconds or less, is hard to beat. digital provides so many advantages for the type of work i do, it would be impossible for me justify shooting film."
new technology, however, doesn't come without a penalty clause, in this case, the almost necessitous requirement for post-processing; we're talking photoshop here. while i personally have an extremely narrow gamut of photographic expertise, i do have a wealth of experience in post-processing of this type. and more to the point, i rather enjoy this aspect of pixel-wrangling. however, a professional photographer of my acquaintance insists that getting it right should be done 'in-camera' rather than on the computer at a later date. while i am not referring to illicit manipulation of the end result, does jeff profess to skills in this area?
"this is where I am old school. i still like to get it right in the camera the first time. photoshop is simply a tool with which to process images, tweaking them to look their best. i shoot everything in raw, and If i'm doing my job correctly, then time on the mac is hopefully minimal.
"if something comes along outwith my photoshop abilities, i'll sub-contract; usually to somebody who hasn't seen the light of day recently."
that's me put in my place.
but examples i've seen of scher's photography employed on a couple of magazine covers (see above) exhibit qualities verging on the abstract. is this consciously obtained? "yes. there are so many professional pictures taken everyday by an army of talented photographers worldwide, that it is creatively imperative to seek ways of making my pictures stand out, or at least provide some differing points of view."
the post is a prime example of technology enabling the amateur to realistically compete with the big boys. setting up a quality cycle publication nowadays would cost considerably more than i have at my disposal, coupled with the fact that i really have no professional credentials on the office wall that might convince you reading would be to your advantage. similarly, the ability to purchase camera technology that was previously the preserve of the professional, at prices attractive to the amateur or enthusiast, has produced a new breed of faux professionals eager to believe they have a peer group that, in reality, is several worlds away. however, the same availability has provided new horizons for the visually gifted. is jeff trained in the art, or one of those prodigies for whom digital has enabled a successful career supported by innate, natural talent?
"i actually went to school for fine art photography and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from purchase college in purchase, ny in 1989. college taught me a ton about the craft aspects of photography and how to look and think about it as art. however, it did very little to teach me about the business end of photography.
"most of my adventure photography skills are self-taught. i later decided that i needed to learn more about the business end of things, becoming a pro photo assistant in the metro boston area. that was some of the most valuable time spent in my career. school can't train you for the real world, unlike on-the-job training with some of the best photographers around."
the thought of being able to take successful photographs of pretty much anything, let alone cycle racing, is an ambition many of us aspire to, but very unlikely to be the basis of a future career path. unless you find yourself with the observation and skill displayed by someone like michael robertson over at velodramatic, most of us would be best advised to stick to that compact digital that stuffs in a rear jersey pocket. confining ourselves to the occasional frantic snapshot burst of fellow riders, or stationary bicycles. what makes a guy like scher decide the path lies in the professional arena and just what sort of qualities should the subsequent portfolio demand of him?
"i was born and raised in manhattan on the upper west side. my back yard was new york city, a visual feast for my eyes every time I walked out of the front door of my building. at an early age, my parents handed me a camera and that was it. they seemed happy to pay for film and processing, so i kept taking pictures. i took classes at high school, and started to experiment through unlimited access to a dark room. that's when things really took off. i was hooked. when it came to a career choice, photography seemed a likely direction. the rest is history.
"as to what i look for in an image, hopefully in just about every picture i create, i do my best to blend a number of qualities. of course, some days are more successful than others. but on leaving for an assignment, i have an idea of what a jeff scher picture should look like. the picture has to satisfy me first; i'm my own harshest critic. i want the images to put the viewer right there with me, to feel what it's like to be at the location, to witness a fine moment, and to feel the tension the racer is experiencing.
"technically, photographing bike racing is not the easiest of disciplines. lighting is always tricky, the weather can be totally fickle and often nasty, people are moving quickly and the riders may not ride the same lines each lap. the element that drew me to cross was the athletes. they work so hard to stay in shape, stay healthy and perform at the highest level over a season. i admire that. and i'm constantly inspired by their commitment. i've been a life-long cyclist, so there's a bond with those I focus on at the race course."
cycle racing of any discipline has a marked tendency to shift about a bit, with races frequently taking place quite some distance apart. this is likely a factor magnified within the united states, where the sheer size of the country has a tendency to place venues in the realm of air travel rather than a quick drive down the autobahn. portland, maine is situated on the east coast of the usa; is this the ideal location to get about a bit?
"maine is ideal for a lot of outdoor related activities, with portland a small city provding a fantastic blend of people, and culture. however, it's located in the most northeasterly corner of our large country. while not exactly centrally located, i do live close to a major highway and a two mile drive from portland jet port. this provides regular services to all the major air hubs in the northeast and mid-west. this past season, i committed to following races as far south as rhode island. i gave myself a 200 mile radius, and given the fact that I was funding my own travels, this seemed reasonable. i regularly travel to the new york city area for clients, so maybe next year i'll include races down there if the opportunity presents itself."
based on the images the man has achieved in his first season of cross, the future augurs well for jeff scher, because a professional at this level is unlikely to find themselves regressing, particularly when the subject matter is one that excites their visual abilities. still, given this initial success, has scher a vague notion of where this aspect of his photography might lead?
that's a crystal ball question if ever i heard one. as a freelancer it's one hard question to answer directly, but i do have a number of future projects in mind. winter is starting to kick into gear here, with snow already covering most of the fun winter play spots. i'll be out on my skis a lot, with a camera strapped to my chest.
"as far as cross photography is concerned, i'm already looking forward to next season. i had a blast following the verge new england series and i hope they continue with a similar schedule next year. i'll evaluate the work i created this fall and come up with a plan to push myself visually for next season's races.
"one of the first things i realised about photographing bike racing, is that it's so easy to shoot the same kinds of images week after week. my goal, therefore, is to avoid this kind of mentality at all costs. if there was one element in my pictures i felt I could improve upon, it would be getting psychologically closer to the racers. i want to capture and connect with their emotions as they speed by on their way to a podium finish or personal best."
like many aspects of professional life, those that are good at it make it seem so simple. cycling is a highly visual sport and activity of which many of us would like to create a pictorial record or montage, but find ourselves somewhat lacking. photographers such as jeff scher provide much needed inspiration in this direction, and it can but aid our amateur efforts to understand or appreciate even a small fraction of what makes a professional cycling photographer, aside from lenses that look as if they were removed from an army tank.
feel free to try this at home.
all photographs copyright jeff scher. reproduced with permission.
posted saturday 26 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
christmas is always the same, but different. all those magazines that are dutifully collected from the newsagent's every month, or garnered through the mail, are pretty much guaranteed to include a free calendar inside a non-recyclable polybag. every year, someone will have their tree and decorations in the front room window well before the end of november. every year we'll schedule a mince pie ride on the sunday before santa comes, and every year we check the weather forecast for the only time that year, to see if we're actually going to get out (didn't happen in '09). every year we get about three cards from people we either can't remember ever knowing, or realise on the 24th, that we didn't send them one.
every year the local supermarket closes for two days, but everyone shops as if it were for a week, and every year, as i sit in the office alone with the lights out in case anyone realises i'm there, a child is dragged kicking and screaming up the street, with the promise that if they don't stop, santa won't visit on christmas eve. it's the way of the world, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
and every year, i trawl the archives of the post to see if it's still there. because it's christmas, and i really truly, desperately want it to be. this is, i think, the third year of existence, and perhaps the folks at specialized have forgotten it's there; the web page on which it resides is likely locked in a cupboard at the back of the factory, the one just next to that old china sink with the crack near the tap and the dented stumpjumper frame hanging off a coathook on the side. it's no wonder that it's been forgotten.
but i still have the link, and i'm not afraid to use it, nor am i reticent to present it to the world. it's christmas, and like all good folks across the world, i hope to have the day off tomorrow, and re-join you on saturday, hopefully after i've had a few hours on the colnago, wearing that enormous sweater that my well-meaning mother knitted for happy holidays. so therefore, i leave you with this.
don't wear it out; i'll need it again next year.
and just so as you'll know, walking on icy roads with cleated shoes, is not the party piece it's made out to be.
have a great christmas.
posted thursday 24 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm sure we all remember the years as kids, not wanting to get to bed really early on christmas eve, but conversely wanting to, so that santa would visit and leave enormous piles of presents if not actually under the tree, then pretty darned close to it. of course, having grudgingly made it as far as a cosy bed, the excitement got in the way of getting to sleep, and the worry that santa would know this and by-pass the chimney on his way down the street. sleep always arrived, though where it came from i'll never know, but awakening occurred at a time of the morning that wouldn't even have been considered, had it been a school day. that led to those thoughts of perhaps sneaking downstairs to check if delivery had been made, and perchance, grabbing a random present to take back to bed. mum and dad would never know. would they?
as childhood becomes teenage years and on into adulthood, the naivety wears off and, to varying degrees, depending on how grown up you think you are, so does the excitement. it's now different things that trigger that emotion, many of them connected with christmas, but not all of them revolving around the 25th. i may have been quoted last week as saying that christmas had come early because my review copy of the rouleur photo annual had arrived, and just a few days later, a somewhat delayed, but no less welcome, copy of rouleur 15. this i am savouring over as many days as i can manage, and there's a good chance that there will still be some pages unread by the time santa's back at the north pole.
however, some of us appear to be smiled upon more than others, as yesterday evening, a mundell's delivery driver looking nothing like father christmas, and a mite grubbier into the bargain, delivered two cardboard boxes from abroad. while these were expected, the vagaries of the scottish road haulage system deemed that they had visited a large portion of the country before making it across the water to civilisation. in fact, on reflection, it took one day less to travel from their undisclosed international location to glasgow airport, than it subsequently took to make it to washingmachinepost cottage. apparently the old adage 'it is better to travel well, than to arrive', still has some mileage in it yet (pun intended).
by now, i'm rather hoping that, like the childhood stage described above, you have worked yourselves into a lather of disinterest over what could possibly be in those two cardboard boxes. if so, then my diatribe has engendered the desired effect, but in order to use up my annual quota of pixels before hogmanay, i find myself unable to disclose that information just yet. i would show you more revealing photographs than the one displayed atop the scribblings, but there are a few stages that require to be undertaken before i will feel ready to reveal all. in fact, had my enthusiasm not got the better of me, i would have posted this as a mystery tale for christmas day.
so much time, so little to do
in the time-honoured tradition of soap operas, i will therefore leave you in suspense, wondering what on earth could have brought christmas a few days early. i assure you all will be revealed in the fullness of time, and i think you will be interested enough to forgive this festive teasing.
don't you just hate it when this happens?
posted wednesday 23 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................