i was just today almost having an e-mail conversation with a friend, regarding his rather fine photographs taken during the recent tour of britain. while i am no photographer myself, i have often communicated with those who most definitely are, regarding their methodology, inspiration and vision, and believe me, i paid attention. it is also a part of my job to fix errors and shortcomings in the photographs of professionals and amateurs alike. so while photography is not a large part of my life, it is, in fact, a large part of my life.
there is an obvious distinction between those of us who turn up at a race with digital compact in pocket, and the guys you often see wandering in places where only those and such as those are allowed. usually you'd need a yellow vest (preferably unfastened) and at least two cameras, one with a lens that would rival the gun barrel on a chieftain tank. such unfettered access has its distinct advantages, but none of which will be of any use if skill behind the lens is conspicuous by its absence. and it perhaps goes without saying that those sashaying about on the other side of the barriers were once in the same position as you and i. effort, skill and being in the right place at the right time are excellent promoters.
one such is john coulson, who spent forty years on both sides of the barriers, capturing cycling imagery rarely seen today, even from the cameras of the modern crop of lensmen. to a greater or lesser degree, many photographs can be said to be contrived, even if such contrivance is only visible in the mind of the photographer, rarely showing itself in the resultant images. coulson describes a learned technique of panning the camera along the trajectory of a speeding rider in order to produce an image of speed, yet one that exhibits no motion blur. that this became a practised art identifies it as a contrivance, but one necessary to produce images that people, and more importantly, paying clients would wish to see.
coulson, by his own admission, exhibited no great promise as a racing cyclist, but in common with many a rider, this was not always a deterrent to competitive participation. however, running in tandem (pun not intended) with this riding obsession was a growing intrigue with the methodology behind photographing the sport. initial forays into this all but necessary accompaniment to cycling activity were reasonably successful, resulting in one or two sales to the subjects of his shutter.
the luck of being in the right place at the right time came into play when a near neighbour and picture customer, as well as a bcf cycling coach, was asked to prepare a series of articles on weight training for cycling magazine. and he needed someone to take the accompanying photographs. though it may be a well-worn cliche, the rest is history.
but john coulson has an extra string to his bow in that he his a superb writer. though the author's introduction to this book extends to a mere 15 landscape pages, the writing is of a standard even more rarely seen than the level of photography that follows. this undoubtedly assisted mr coulson in the pursuit of his career, where he was able to not only capture an event on film, but to coherently and expertly write the words that would accompany them in a variety of cycling publications. in fact, perusing coulson's admirable photography throughout the rest of the book, it is as much of a pleasure to read the substantial captions under or adjacent to each image as it is to view the images themselves.
the photographs are well reproduced in black and white throughout. given that they cover cycling in all its many forms, including road racing, time-trialling, cyclocross and touring over the past forty years, there is much more to each image than superficiality of surface would suggest. for these are almost an historic and social catalogue of how the european side of cycling has developed and changed over the years. from the bicycles themselves (when was the last time michael hutchinson rode to the start with his race wheels on sprint carriers bolted to the wheelnuts of a pair of less fragile touring wheels?), to the wool jerseys, and to the cotton duck saddlebags behind the saddles of a group of touring cyclists.
and then there's the trikes.
for whatever reason you purchase a copy of this book (and you will); whether to marvel at the imagery of a true master, whether to simply enjoy a ride through british and european cycling history, or whether to smile out loud at photographs of an incredibly young malcolm elliot winning the 1980 edition of the grand prix de st parreaux-tertres, you really do need to purchase this book. i doubt there is a sliver of carbon fibre to be seen, though there are one or two low-pro time-trial bikes sporting smaller front wheels than rear. them were t'days. these are the days of real steel and brake cables that exited the top of the brake levers, and gear levers firmly fitted to the down tube.
yet they are some of the most contemporary photographs you'll see this year; the world changed when colour arrived.
posted wednesday 21 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................