i've been writing this stuff since around the mid-nineties, long before anyone had invented conjunction of the words web and log, and its subsequent shortening to blog. there was a time when it came as somewhat of a surprise to discover that other folks were scribbling about the same subject matter, but in their own delightful way(s). likely many of us were blissfully unaware that cycling was so popular, literate and worldwide.
i'd be guilty of fabrication if i thought i could remember exactly how i came across michael robertson's velodramatic, but i think it might have had something to do with a request to assist in the hiring of a suitable bicycle for a visit to the isle of skye, a larger island a bit further up the scottish west coast. ever since then, we have kept in touch through the magic of e-mail, having not only blogging in common, but cycling, photography and a sense of humour too. michael is somewhat infamous for his thirty days of rapha series for a few years back and there was a concerted, but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a mexican wave of rapha reviews across the atlantic with last year's autumn/winter range .
on my visit to portland last year, michael took the trouble to fly up from san jose for the day, hired a car, and chauffeured me about while we got lost in portland. a thoroughly decent bloke.
however, unlike me, michael can not only write, but takes more than just a decent photograph, an aspect of velodramatic that has been on the increase over the past couple of years. while i have a tendency to stick to a standard 350 pixels because photos on the post are mostly by way of illustration, photography has come to dwarf the text on velodramatic, a move that has gained considerable approval from all concerned. this propensity for classy photos (i have two examples framed and hanging in washingmachinepost cottage) took him this summer to the tour de france, if a couple of days ahead of bertie and andy, to photograph a team of dutchmen riding the route to raise money for charity. it was michael's job to document the affair.
michael had gained the necessary experience for such a lengthy travail having photographed the specialized cycle trip to eurobike last year, a trip which resulted in the first self-published velodramatic book. in fact, if you were eagle-eyed, you may have seen fit to peruse the copy of velodramatic's 2009 photography annual that was resident in the london rapha cycle club. the tour de france trip made michael's mind up to cast aside the daily grind and enter the family business himself: as a professional photographer. in this day and age of everyone owning a digital camera, that's a gutsy choice to make.
so i took the opportunity to enquire 'whether velodramatic'...
horrible question to ask straight off the bat, but in view of your new career move, is velodramatic the most appropriate vehicle for your photography?
It could be limiting. My photographic interests certainly extend beyond cycling for creative and monetary reasons. Potential clients might draw the wrong conclusion and assume I shoot cycling exclusively. On the other hand the cycling industry in all its facets consumes an enormous volume of creative every day. There's room for specialization, and there are many other considerations that go into being a professional and running a successful business.
will your morphing to a pro photographer alter the public face of velodramatic?
I think the look and feel of the site will evolve over time. Right now I lead with the blog and link to a portfolio in the primary navigation. At some point I could see those roles reversed. Over the last year there's been a slow transition in VeloDramatic content to include more photography-related material. Given how many of my current readers seem to be avid cyclists AND photographers the overlap may not be as schizophrenic as it appears.
although you have been fairly sporadic with posting lately (with good reason), will you still post articles of interest on velodramatic in the manner of the past few years? in other words, will we still recognise velodramatic in the manner we havae come to know and love?
I really want to continue with the first-person experience of a committed road enthusiast and that means ride reports, and product reviews/opinions. I know we both enjoy having a degree of early access to industry ideas and products, and each of us have met an incredible group of people (online and in person) through our blogs. I don't want that to stop. It's also an important way to stay in touch with the audience that my new clients are trying to reach. In terms of posting frequency I hope to improve on "sporadic" but I'm never going threaten your prolific publishing record... as I've said before your wife is a saint and you must employ elves in that shed of yours.
will you be working as michael robertson, or masquerading as velodramatic?
I have many aliases (and matching passports). I don't know... my photo credit these days is "Robertson/VeloDramatic" and over the years I've always answered my work phone as "Robertson". I stole that directly from my dad who gruffly answered his phone that way in the newsroom. He had no time for first names, I loved that.
any notions to incorporate a bit of writing in the career move?
Yes, I'd like to do some writing, perhaps wordsmithing a photo essay or an editorial feature if those assignments arise. I've done my share of ad copy and headline writing for design clients over the years, it's an integral part of concept development, and many times more important than the imagery (did I just say that).
in a world where seemingly everyone is a photographer, how much of an uphill climb do you expect this to be?
It's always a challenge to get your first opportunity with a client, but I've never had a problem getting work and keeping clients. My issue was trying to balance work and personal life. Hell, I couldn't spell the word balance until I hit 40. I built a thriving ten-person studio in Toronto in my thirties but derailed several promising relationships in the process. I'm very fortunate to have a supportive wife in Juli and won't be jeopardizing that this time around. (I had to say that, she's listening)
I mentioned that there's much more to offering a successful service than creativity alone. You don't miss deadlines, you don't show up late, you sweat the details and you make it clear to the client in everything you do that you're both on an ethical two-way street. They pay their bills on time, you don't work for free, you don't criticize other people's work (because you never know the real circumstances in which it was created) etc.
is the intention to keep the bicycle as the central theme?
Until Sports Illustrated asks me to shoot a swimsuit issue, but I'd still continue to use bicycles as props, and bring you on as an assistant.
will you be all digital, or is there room for some film?
I'm not a tube amp guy, but there may still be some aesthetic magic in the analog world; it's just not for me. I was happy to leave film behind because of its limitations. The chemistry, the cost and having to rely on others (if you don't process your own stuff) made the transition to digital easy for me. I love being able to experiment on a job with the benefit of a safety net digital affords. Having said that I'm annoyed when shooters chimp after every shot.
The biggest challenge to shooting digital is workflow. The tools (lightroom for me) are getting better, but with file sizes perpetually climbing it's tough to keep ahead of the curve. I want to take pictures not moonlight as an IT professional.
is this one of those situations that, with the benefit of hindsight, you've always been heading towards?
I think so. As I wrote recently photojournalism is my family's business. I'm following in the footsteps of two photo editors and a staff photographer... I just chose to take a twenty year detour into design.
are you able to let slip any of the projects you have lined up?
I'm shooting Specialized's Ride to Vegas again this year. Thirty employees, friends, media and dealers cover the 650 miles from Morgan Hill, CA to Las Vegas in six days, arriving just as the interbike show starts. The route is a little different this year and I'll be producing another self-published book for the participants. Last year's was well received.
Long range I want to reprise this year's Kika experience following the TdF with the Cycling Dutchman touring company. We learned too much not to put it to use again and perhaps we'll take a shot at the other grand tours down the road.
do you think this will alter the way in which michael robertson is viewed, or approached by those you have worked with in the past?
I might have trouble getting a car loan in the next six months, but those that know me best will have seen this coming. I've been on the fence for about a year, and it's very difficult to encourage new business when you're trying to respect the boundaries of an existing full-time job. Now I have the time to devote myself exclusively to VeloDramatic and to use my full complement of design skills to present the work online and in print. I'm particularly thrilled about self-published books.
will there be a 'thirty days of canon lenses' feature?
Canon doesn't have thirty lenses I'd want to own or carry around. They just announced new versions of the 300 mm and 400 mm telephotos which might have some attraction for me, but what I really want (and have even spoofed before) is a very fast 85mm with responsive AF and image stabilization. This would be a killer lens for cycling.
earlier this year, you experimented with the video features incorporated into recent dslr cameras. is this something you would like to explore further?
Not sure Brian. It may be that we all end up shooting continuously but sampling our stills in the end. I know two things. Making films is very different from shooting stills and clients increasingly imagine us being able to do both. When I shot video and stills during last year's Ride to Vegas, it was extremely difficult to switch between the two. Better HDSLR technology can help, but technology can't provide compelling narrative. Having just watched Ben Ingham's D'acciaio, there's no doubt some photographers are up to the challenge. It was my favorite of the three Rapha films.
are you intending to rely on commissions, or is there a possibility you might look to self-generated work to keep the tab in the healthy state to which it has become accustomed?
A mix of the two would be ideal. There's plenty of opportunity to create and market your own products these days and I intend to get both revenue streams up and running soon. Given my developer connections in the valley there might even be a workflow software project out there if Adobe doesn't pick up the pace. Stay tuned.
can you see a situation where moving and still photography merge into a seamless single entity?
As I said, it will be possible soon to extract hi-quality stills from video. I believe that is the design objective for Red's pending Epic and Scarlet projects. From a still's perspective it will be a workflow/editing nightmare choosing which of 24 frames per second (as a frame rate example) worked best as a still. And yet, it's coming, so there's no point in doing anything but trying to get ready.
will you take care of all your own post-production?
Yes, for the foreseeable future. I know many busy photographers hire or associate themselves with digital retouchers. I think that makes perfect sense for studio photographers but less for those of us with a documentary or photojournalistic bent. There's also a formidable set of ethical constraints to the degree images can be post-processed, and no shortage of embarrassing examples in main stream media illustrating the pitfalls of digital manipulation. Publication paranoia on this front actually has some publishers insisting that photographers NOT crop their images. While I can appreciate this concern in a pure news context, it's one of many reasons why photographers need to keep tight control of the final product going out to the client. And for the record, I do my own shaving and will crop my non-news images as I see fit.
is this new independence engendering comfortable feelings?
I'm happy about the decision and this is familiar territory. Being an employee of a large company going nowhere is a lot more stressful.
how much should we ask for when google offer to buy out the two of us?
Seven figures minimum. I know a few people at Google and can probably get us a meeting. With your words and my pictures we can't miss.
when are you coming over to islay?
The next time I get over to see my uncle in Glasgow, I'm on the ferry headed for a ride with you and a cuppa at Debs.
posted monday 30 august 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................