making an exhibition of himself

john dekenkolb

the art of blogging, should it be considered so, originated as a means of publishing one's thoughts on any given subject; aside from server space, cost was simply an equation between effort and time taken, for in many, if not all cases, no-one in traditional publishing would have given those words, sentences and paragraphs house room. thewashingmachinepost has been purveying such narrative for a lot more years than most, long before any web-based blogging software such as wordpress, blogger or posterous were even so much as a blip in anyone's dotcom bubble. this, sadly, gives me no great insight into the whole shebang, for i am scarily loathe to admit that for years i thought i was simply populating a website, and took the term blogger to be a slight on my manhood.

so caught up in my own verbosity was i, that it was many a year before i even realised that others were also occupying their every spare minute offloading cogitative thought upon an unsuspecting populace. i say unsuspecting because i know from experience that more than just the occasional browser thought they had found a source for that tumble dryer and twin-washer they'd always promised themselves. these days blogging seems to have metamorphosed into something less concerned with the pixelated word, and more a way of telling an elite circle of friends just what you found on the web when you probably should have been working. it's a genre i do not understand, for i am more in love with the written word and the act of committing same to html than acting as a hyperlink resource.

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however, i cannot deny that along with the words, some pictures help to alleviate the eye strain and generally brighten up my yellow and black pixels. but i would be, and have been, the first to admit that the images snapped by yours truly are highly unlikely to win any awards; they are merely of an illustrative nature. despite my offhand contempt for photography as an art student (i mean, how difficult can it be?), exposure (pardon the pun) to the work of such luminaries as ben ingham, timm kolln, scott mitchell, dan sharp, chris milliman, daniel wakefield pasley and camille mcmillan, have given plenty of reasons and cause to reconsider my uninformed opinion, and though i could photoshop a terraced cottage into st pauls cathedral, aperture settings and focal lengths are not factors that make much sense to me.

so while we have folks such as myself obsessing over sentence construction and grammatical certitude, and several who make do with the occasional caption under to die for photography, rare are the bloggers who are skilled in both. michael robertson of velodramatic is one.

perhaps most famous for his thirty days of rapha of a few years back, michael's growing skill behind the lens eventually persuaded him to leave behind his fast becoming unsatisfactory daily grind in a design studio of his own making, and make the leap to professional photographer. you have probably seen some of michael's images without realising it; he was engaged as official lensman for specialized bicycles at the launch of the much vaunted mclaren venge. last year he travelled with a group of dutch cyclists around the route of the tour de france as official image recorder, and he has combined this with several other commissions from specialized. and in may of this year he was an accredited photographer on the amgen tour of california, spending one stage on the back of a tour motorbike.

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but it's almost a condition of entry that to raise your profile in the world of photography, necessitates the requirement to display the resulting imagery in an accessible location. to a point, michael still has the pixels of velodramatic in which to portray the results of his shutter speed, but little compares with seeing them, large as life, behind glass in sympathetic surroundings.

the san francisco rapha cycle club perhaps.

open from july 2nd until the end of the month, you can see all of the images peppered hereabouts and more, large as life, in colour and black and white, always assuming the location is one you can easily find the time to visit. for the rest of us (until we can manage to import his works to europe) this is the best i can do meantime. i had the good fortune to spend a day with michael when visiting portland a couple of years ago (michael lives in san jose, california and flew up for the day), and it seemed a natural progression to ask how the career change had led ultimately to this, his first public exhibition.

would you attribute your move into the profession of cycle photographer to having started velodramatic in the first place?

certainly didn't imagine the career switch when I started the VeloDramatic blog, I simply wanted to write about my love affair with cycling. The bicycle truly saved me, distracting me from a design job that had me sandwiched between intransigent development and inept business teams. Most days my 25 commuting miles were the only reason to get up in the morning.

mark cavendish paris roubaix

would you agree that much happens based on who you know rather than what?

I'd definitely agree that personal relationships are key to making things happen, but I wouldn't discount the importance of knowledge and the ability to project it, as equally important. I think the last time we talked about these things I touched on my experience building a design studio from the ground up. That venture lasted thirteen years and gave me a business and creative foundation that has been directly transferable to my current endeavor. Having a good network is one thing, but ultimately you've got to deliver the goods or no one returns your calls.

how did the specialized gig arrive?

A number of folks at Specialized had been following VeloDramatic for some time before I got the call. Though I've yet to pen anything for them I think they enjoyed my writing as much as my photography. We continue to talk about projects where I might put my storytelling to work for them.

cheeky question, but are you currently self-sufficient as a photographer?

Yes, in spite of the economic downturn, business has steadily increased during this first year of full-time shooting. I'm not making the six-figure number I pulled down in the software space, but I'm infinitely happier being back in control of the creative work I choose to do.

sky rider

are you a camera geek or are all those lens millimetres and aperture stops simply a means to an end?

They are just tools but I'll admit to loving the tech a little more than I should. Going back to your "who you know" question, I wish I had a pipeline to the designers at Canon. I've got a long wish list for new glass and better camera ergonomics that needs to find its way to Canon's decision makers.

was it easy to choose the images for the rapha exhibition?

It wasn't particularly difficult to find images that fit the PRO genre the Rapha Cycle Club was looking for during Tour month yet I'll admit I'm definitely my own worst critic. I'm never satisfied with anything I shoot and that's compounded by the fact that cycling is the most difficult sport in the world to photograph. Sure you can produce technically sound, attractive images, you can also capture the set piece moments (the finish line etc.) but getting behind the veil, or more aptly the barriers the sport puts up to document something truly meaningful is very tough. I keep trying.

any preference between colour and black and white, or does each image suggest its own colourspace?

Given the choice it would be black and white every time.

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is there a master plan for the photography career, or are you taking this one success at a time?

Master plans are what got the Soviets in trouble... it's worthwhile looking ahead a bit and setting some achievable goals. Right now I'm hard at work on the Rve Grand Tour project for 2012. We got off to a late start for this year and missed our cut off minimum by a few riders. We'll remedy that next year. I'm excited about getting back to France and another epic Tour with a level of access that'd just not possible with the pro peloton.

will you continue to feed text into velodramatic, or has that stage now passed?

No I'm not done with VeloDramatic. It's an integral part of the present and future but there are time and confidentiality constraints that limit what I can report on now. I'm privilege to a lot of information that's not for publication. I do hope to bring back the reviews that garnered the most interest from readers but for the reviews to be legit I need to get my mileage totals up again. The good news for riding is my aching back seems to have turned the corner.

jens voigt

how will you know when you've 'made it'?

There's no such thing as "making it" I just want to get better so when I finally decide to wrap things up I can count on a few truly special images in my portfolio. As far as I'm concerned I've not taken one of those images yet, I'm just getting to advanced base camp, the summit is completely shrouded in clouds at the moment.

will you still talk to me when you're a magnum photographer?

Sure thing, no matter how grand things get you'll always be able to reach one of my assistants and schedule an appointment ;-) Seriously, we Scots have to stick together, twmp will always have the inside track. thanks B.


all images copyright michael robertson. used with permission

posted monday 4 july 2011

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