"you can't buy happiness, but you can buy a bicycle and that's pretty close."
in the mid to late nineties, our local newspaper purchased its first digital camera made by kodak. because there is no specific need for digital cameras to emulate the shape of the analogue versions we all know and love, kodak's tentative steps into the world of low resolution digital imaging resembled nothing more or less than a very big lozenge. as can perhaps be easily imagined, this made the camera slightly unwieldy to handle and led to more than just a few blurred images.
the only saving grace was that the number of pixels available was so low, that often the quality wasn't high enough to see the blur in the first place.
since those days, digital cameras have reverted to the shape and form factor that we have mostly become used to, easing the grasp for the inept and retaining the familarity experienced by the professional. they have also become completely ubiquitous, not only in the realm of what we might reasonably term photography, but as advertised on tv as being inside every smartphone on the market. the notion of there being almost 100 times the number of pixels inside a modern-day phone than in that first kodak digital camera is not lost on me.
the upshot of all this pixelated imagery is that even those of us working in the realm of image-making tend to assume that every photograph seen in any situation will have been taken with a digital camera. i mean, who on earth would subject themselves to the faff and iniquities of analogue photography with its concomitant spool changing, developing, printing etc., etc. but every now and again, i come across a collection of images that have been snapped on film, yet my assumptions are still entrenched in the world of pixels.
the race photos of philipp hympendahl are perhaps the perfect example, resulting in something of a faux pas on my contacting philipp for some more details about the imagery in 'beyond the finish line'. a goodly number of those populating the opening pages exhibit substantial, yet specific desaturation in certain colours. i not unnaturally asked philipp if this was achieved in post production and why?
"I photograph on a old 6x17cm film camera, which is really difficult when photographing cycling. I have to manually focus and I can take only one photo before I have to manually wind on. With this technique you have to think in advance and be well prepared, but then you have a chance to produce something different than the norm.
"I wanted to present a very personal view of cycling along with the chance to print the pictures realy large afterwords. I had this old camera, so I gave it a go.
"The project nearly came to a early end after my photolab destroyed a long weekend's work at the Tour de France three years ago. But then I got in touch with the guy who takes care of my post production. He scans the films creating the end look as presented in my book. This process takes time and costs money.
the imagery runs the full gamut of cycling photography, from dynamic race footage to a wide panorama shot of a gaggle of hympendahl's peers all but concealed amidst a forest of enormous lenses. we're all likely well-used to the sort of reportage photography that appears in the monthlies, but nowadays we all want more; all the paraphernalia that surrounds the act of racing itself. what inspires philipp to focus his photography on cycle sport?
"I've been working for German cycling magazine TOUR for a long time and always loved to work on personal projects besides the business work. So I started to play around with my old camera, far away from thinking this could work. The first photo that made me understand that in fact this project could work, was the Tom Boonen photo of Paris Roubaix." (pages 38-39)
aside from having an impressive eye for a photo, hympendahl has a penchant for riding his bicycle a tad further than most of us might consider. he has featured on the post most recently in connection with dromarti leather shoes by whom he was sponsored in the recent paris-brest-paris. i can think of several cycle photographers who enjoy being in the saddle almost as much as behind the lens (scott mitchell springs most recently to mind), but none that i can think of would undertake the 1200 kilometres required of paris-brest-paris. other than exhausting, how was it?
"As a cyclist I started to become more interested in a mixture of adventure and sport; that's why I decided this season to try long distance cycling. PBP was such a great journey with very nice, interesting and crazy people. You have such a great distance to cycle, that the riders stick together more than normally. There were long hours of darkness and tiredness, plus I had a lot of pain. Your inner voices tell you to stop, but something makes you carry on and on."
"In Brest i wanted to give up, because I figured I'd suffered enough. But relief of simply channging my clothes off gave me the impetus to carry on. And once you change direction towards Paris that's a big help.
"The last third of the race I cycled with an English guy and later with a whole English group. One guy, even older than I am, was on a single speed; great. I decided then that it wasn't a race any more, because the group was so great we just stuck together to the finish.
attacking a lengthy ride such as pbp is one thing; simply to finish the event really has to be considered amongst one of the biggest challenges in modern cycling. but it's highly unlikely that those who enter are only there to make up the numbers. there are specific goals to be achieved, possibly collateral from a focused training programme, but perhaps as a result of a personal challenge. after all there are specific qualifying races that have need of completion prior to setting off from paris. had philipp achieved his own goals for the event?
"I am very happy with the way it went. My time was still pretty good concerning all that happened en-route. I lost my way once and did missed the direction signs at one point, riding some extra miles in the fog of an early morning. That cost me about half an hour."
aside, however, from a career of image-making and this seemingly insatiable desire to ride a year's distance in a matter of days, philipp has a third string to his bow: that of research and development practitioner. you may recall from my previous feature on the man that dromarti proprietor, martin scofield has sponsored hympendahl to attempt riding his shoes to destruction. the sponsorship arrangement involves a practical means of gathering information that will subsequently improve the end product. how did the shoes fare over those 1200 kilometres?
"The shoes were really good and my feet were more or less one of the few pain-free areas. But my backside is still not ok and there are parts of my hands where I still have no feeling."
though i've never even come close to riding such a distance at one sitting, there have been one or two occasions when i've suffered numbness in places where i'd have preferred not to. on none of those occasions have i ever thought, 'i don't think i'll do that again.' however, my recall features only a couple of hundred kilometres, nothing like the 1200 that gave philipp a pain in the backside. after pbp, does hympendahl have any future plans for any more lengthy bike rides?
"I've not made up my mind, but the fact is that I cannot go much further than I did. Due to an accident when I was younger, I have problems with my right knee and my left ankle, both of which were swollen really badly. My mind could cope with a RAAM, but my body would not."
it is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words, thus impeccable imagery such as included in beyond the finish line therefore surely must benefit from being accompanied by the words of tim farin. the introduction, however, makes it quite plain that farin's words are not intended to be a commentary on or description of hympendahl's photography.
"Neither the pictures nor the text are designed to answer specific questions or fit a set pattern of storytelling."
farin's essays are, if anything, atmospheric. inflections garnered from the arena of professional cycling that assist hympendahl's own photographic storytelling. combined over the book's 127 pages, the end result is quite superb.
thursday 27 august 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................