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journey. ben ingham. rapha publishing hardback 270pp illus. £45

journey by ben ingham

when i was in third year at art college, there was a fellow in fourth year who based the majority of his work on the photographic image. given that it was (and still is) a college based on visual imagery of the painterly sort, it would have been all but impossible for him to reach diploma stage via simple photographs. as i recall he was ploughing a solo furrow by creating photo-realistic images in paint, using the photos as a basis for his work. it was remarkably unpopular with the teaching staff for some reason or other and the hapless fellow never made it past his diploma, while many of his peers moved onto post diploma coursework.

journey by ben ingham

staff disapproval notwithstanding, several of us in the lower orders, self included, figured he was having rather an easy time of it compared to our own hardworking selves. after all, we had need of purchasing canvas, stretchers, size and white emulsion, an endless series of oil paint tubes and brushes, occupying many a long day or even weeks to create the sort of masterpiece that would assure us of glowing approval from the teaching staff. he, on the other hand, merely had to stand in front of his subject matter and press the shutter. granted there may have been an hour or two in the darkroom if using black and white film, or a trip into town to hand in colour film for processing.

but how could you call that either work or creativity?

i am now thoroughly ashamed of this startling naiveté. aside from my daily work in photoshop where i have the double pleasure of contending with both superb and diabolical photography, i have been very fortunate to meet and become friends with some of the finest photographers on the planet. though i would never under any circumstances describe myself as a photographer, i figure i have a reasonable eye for a decent image. sadly, this has very little bearing on the imagery that accompanies much of the written work that appears in these very pixels.

as a one man band, so to speak, the only means by which i can photograph myself wearing most of the items under review, is to make use of the ten second timer on my trusty lumix compact digital camera. thus very few of the images have anything to do with any personal camera skills, other than perhaps a little judicious cropping in photoshop. however, since the mid noughties, i have made the effort to imbue my imagery with a tad more je ne sais quoi in keeping with the standards set in the world of velocipedinal photography of which the standard bearer has long been ben ingham.

journey by ben ingham

ben is the photographer with whom rapha are most closely associated, having virtually single-handedly created the archetypal monochrome imagery that we all know and love. it is therefore probably of little surprise that in order to appear au fait with such stylish imagery, on removing the lumix from its cover and switching it on, i would invoke the mantra 'what would ben ingham do?' in order to stay well away from the mainstream. if you've followed the fortunes of thewashingmachinepost over the years, you'll be aware that i have not once come close to that ideal.

thankfully, ben has not only remained an integral part of rapha's and cycling's new age, but flourished in the circumstances that he arguably created in the first place. i first learned of the proposed existence of this book in early 2014 when i asked ben if he'd be happy to discuss his rapha portfolio in the runup to rapha's tenth anniversary in july of that year. ben asked that i perhaps stall this until the publication of what has now been released as journey.

i find it very hard to put into words just how truly magnificent is this book of ingham's photography. the imagery is quite consistently stunning, displaying a level of composition that most of us could scarcely even consider, let alone aspire to. lest you think i am over-egging the pudding, it is a salient fact that many an image just works, even if we find it hard to pinpoint why. in retrospect, i can often explain why that is, but to achieve this in the twinkling of a fast shutter speed when the subject is anything but stationary requires an amalgam of visual skills. even the best of us get lucky once in a while, but it takes only a cursory glance through journey to note that ingham is not someone surviving on luck.

journey by ben ingham

"There are thousands of images that have been made over the ten years, and there could be volumes of books.
"This final edit is the last of at least twelve. It took around a year and and half to get there. I feel the book illustrates what we have seen and what can or could be seen on a bicycle Journey. And some of the inspiration, the places and people I've had the pleasure of working with can provide."

however, every bit as important as the images themselves is the reproduction quality. quality printing cannot improve poor or mediocre photography, but poor reproduction can destroy even the best. the bulk of journey contains black and white photography greatly enhanced by its having been printed as a series of duotones (two shades of ink) on heavy art paper. the fact that these are derived from black and white film rather than digital, means the visual luxury of film grain as opposed to pixels, creating a publication that is as timeless as it is modern.

" I favour black and white purely because its a photographic medium I love. It has also been an unusual gift from Rapha to allow me to keep shooting with Kodak Tri X pan, to me the King of panchromatic films, when so many other companies will no longer consider the expense of shooting on film.
"I started as a young photographer discovering mainly by mistakes how to appreciate and see light by processing and printing my own pictures. Tri X has pretty much been the only film I've used, so the love runs deep."
"Digital is fantastic; immediate and a sophisticated way of collecting images. I am learning to love that too."

journey by ben ingham

"The reproduction of pictures has always been of great importance to me. As I said earlier, it has been many years and many thousands of pictures, along with countless hours alone in a dark room.
"We printed the book at EBS in Verona. I would say they are one of the best duotone printers in the world, so I spent a lot of time being sure the files were up to standard. I wanted them to be the best they could be."

a photo may well be worth a thousand words, but combine the former with the latter and the whole is undoubtedly greater than the sum of its parts. thus the introduction to journey as penned by herbie sykes is not only as eccentrically brilliant as many of ben's images, but every bit as praiseworthy. in my humble opinion, the combination of sykes and ingham is one that may well take a long, long time to surpass."Herbie is my pal. I look forward to the opportunities to work with him. Most importantly he's a hell of a writer. Even if we do shout at each other quite often."

many of those associated with rapha over the opening ten years have also contributed words, quite rightly from simon 'maps' mottram, along with jeremy dunn, james fairbank, ben lieberson, phil deeker, tom southam and others.

it would be easy to classify journey as a coffee table book; it's in the right price range, weight and size, but in all honesty, it pretty much deserves a category all of its own. for those who may have enjoyed the oft-reproduced imagery of henri cartier bresson and other stars at magnum studios, and i count myself amongst that number, this will warm the cockles of your shutter speed. if it's cycling photography that you're after, you might be disappointed, for there are far fewer bicycles across those 270 pages than you might expect from a book with rapha printed on the spine. but that would be sort of to miss the point entirely.

quite frankly, this is beautiful.

journey by ben ingham

journey by ben ingham

wednesday 16 december 2015

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