an interview with dan sharp

dan sharp

are you a studied photographer, or did it all seem like a wonderful idea when you were younger?

I studied photography in high school and college. I had a good foundation of black and white developing and darkroom printing. In college my focus was graphic design and I then worked as a designer and art director for ten years. Editing photography, using photography, and art directing photography was maybe the best training I could have had. You get a feel for what you're looking for, what works, composition, color, everything. I always just wanted to be an artist with no limits, to be able to work in any media.

you covered the giro d'italia in 2009. is this the first time you've photographed a major tour?

I did Tour of California last year before I did the Giro. It was good training for the Giro. Good wet-weather training. That story will be in the February issue of Rouleur.

the results are not your standard cycle racing fare. was that a conscious decision?

Yes. I've always shot in a reportage or documentary style. If you go to a race, 95 percent of your day is travel, waiting, setting up. I think if I were on a moto all day, maybe my shots would be more standard. But, I think the way I see the world is not just sport-focused. I'm curious about what's going on behind the scenes, and I think the environment and the fans are just as interesting and worth celebrating as the race itself. I want to show life as it is, not just a primetime TV version of reality. Everything counts.

giro hairpins

herbie sykes wrote a rather damning piece on the centenary giro in the rouleur annual. would you concur?

No, not really. Herbie took a very academic, opinionated look at the Giro. I went with a different outlook. I wanted to go without all the baggage of history, with open eyes and see what the Giro looks like in 2009. Yes, they all ride carbon bikes, yes they wear earpieces and get instruction all day long. Yes, it's commercial. But sport evolves. At the root of it though, cycling still requires huge dedication and training. And just finishing a three week stage race is no simple undertaking. I got a feel for that because I travelled almost every kilometer that they rode. It's absolutely incredible. I'm in awe. And like the Rouleur annual said, I went looking for a bit of magic. I went looking for faith. Italians might be a bit jaded about the current state of cycling, as many of us are, but you just have to love cycling and not be blinded by the scandals and hype.

bizarrely, i was in portland at the time the giro was taking place, and your photos bring back great memories. does the ability of photography to evoke emotions other than those directly in front of the lens ever occur around the point of clicking the shutter?

dan sharp

I think so. Photography is maybe our way to remind ourselves what's important, what we value. We choose every time we click the shutter. It's a constant choosing of what's important in the moment. What stood out in any given scene. What was special. Good photography should stir the emotions and remind us what it was like in that moment.

were you an accredited photographer for the giro, or were you flying solo?

Both. I had a pass on my car and around my neck, and I flew solo. I was my own driver and assistant. I booked all my own hotel rooms, made my own sandwiches.

why the giro and not its more famous big brother in france?

I thought the Giro might be more accessible and perhaps less crowded. I would love to shoot the Tour, but didn't have the energy to do both last year. It may happen this year.

you moved from portland to italy, then back again. was this for professional or personal reasons?

Both. I was in a relationship with an Italian woman for four years, and moved with her to Italy. There was less happening there for me professionally at the time, and then the relationship ended, so It was a perfect time to come back to Portland. I really enjoyed my time there. The people are lovely. They really value the arts, food, quality of life. I still have great friends there. Portland is really special in its own way as you know. I'm happy to be here now, but always want to travel back to Italy.

did your life in italy help when it came to observing the giro?

india bikes

Absolutely. Having an appreciation for the place you're shooting is huge, and speaking the language is very helpful too. I wanted to communicate some of what I love about the place, and to combine that with my love of cycling... it's a dream come true.

looking through the giro series there are some wonderful distractions (like the sun behind overhead clouds). were these deliberately taken with an eye to the resulting photo collection, or do your eyes just not stop looking?

I think the latter. Like I was saying earlier, you have lots of time to look as your waiting for the race to arrive. I wanted to capture all the events that happen during race day, and sun streaming from clouds is part of that. I think shooting in a documentary style you're always looking and thinking of what will help tell the story of an event. You can't just shoot the thing itself, you have to look to the edges as well.

it seems very unlikely that you could involve yourself in taking such keenly observed photos of cycling, were you not a bit of an obsessed cyclist yourself. true?

True. I think knowing what big climbs feel like. Knowing the satisfaction of arriving under your own power, the thrill of the descent. I think being a participant is a huge advantage. I try to communicate what I love about cycling. The speed, good style, endurance, emotion. Hopefully my love of cycling will help me take more informed photos. I don't think it's completely necessary, but I've always wanted to try to represent the things that I love.

is it the bike, is it the riders, is it the spectators or is it a combination of everything?

india roofs

It's everything. A bike race is like a beautiful performance. It's controlled chaos. It wouldn't be what it is without any of the elements. The place, the towns, the mountains, the fans, the riders, the coaches, the organizers, the soigneurs. The film crews, the photographers, There are so many elements that come together for three weeks straight. It really is incredible.

do you find any subjective difference, apart from the scale, in photographing cross at alpenrose, or the entire peloton ascending an italian mountain?

It's different for sure. I don't spend as much time shooting cross races because I put more energy into racing them. It's hard for me to race, help my girlfriend, Tori prepare for her race and still have time to shoot. I like the focus of being at the stage race to shoot the stage race. You really have to have the intention to do it completely to make it work.

do you find life as a photographer a touch on the precarious side from a work point of view?

Well, you have to be able to be comfortable with the unknown. You don't know when your next paycheck will arrive. It's calculated risks. It's a bit like cycling that way, isn't it? You have to balance the elements and make choices. I don't think shooting a bike race compares to shooting a war zone, but it has it's risks for sure. But small risks keep it exciting. I love it! I feel lucky to be able to do what I do for a living.

ben ingham once told me that in order to take good photos, i should follow the light and the subject would take care of itself. would you concur?

giro tunnel

Yes, I think that suggests following your instincts and shooting what catches your eye as you go. And yes, I'm always on the lookout for 'good light' But I like the phrase 'follow the light' very poetic, Ben. Well said.

your photos of the rouleur annual launch have a quite incredible quality to them (the way the light falls and what appears to be film grain). are those digital or film?

I think you're talking about the images on flickr - my behind the scenes shots of my trip to London. Yeah? Those were 35mm film.

where did the rapha connection come from?

Daniel Pasley, who pitched the Continental concept asked me to shoot that project. I was the first photographer on that project and then Brian Vernor and Chris Milliman joined in. The only real 'Rapha' shoot I've done was a quick one when they launched the 'cross kit. We went out to Pier Park and staged a training ride with Portland locals. I shot the first Gentleman's race as well. That was a fun one. Nate and I rode our Vespas out to Hood River from Portland, and shot the next day. Oh, and I've DJ'ed a couple parties for them. We're friends. We ride... It's been fun to see Rapha establish themselves in Portland. They've done a good job hosting fun rides and more casual races.

are you a part of the portland cycling scene that gets dragged up otto miller, or do you do the dragging? does ira ryan have your poster on his wall?

giro clouds

I do as many of the Rapha fun rides as I can. I did the last Otto Miller ride. That was a good one. Slate was so sick. I don't think he realized until midway through the 60 miles. He had just gotten back from Japan. I'm really proud to be a part of the scene here. We all cheer each other at 'cross races. It's fun to ride with talented, creative, fun people... to ride bikes they made (Tony P., Ira, Sacha). Ira and Rachel joined me for part of the Giro. We went and visited Pegoretti for a day. That was such an adventure just finding his shop. Actually, that was the day I met Guy and Taz. We didn't even meet until they were about to leave for the airport. My girlfriend, Tori (of Gracie's Wrech) teaches people how to fix their bikes as well as hosting a radio show about cycling. I think we all just love cycling and want to promote it and inspire people to lead healthy lifestyles and have fun.

any desire to preserve the tradition of silver halide, or does digital do it for you?

I intend to keep shooting film. I have to admit I love the convenience of digital, but they're just two different tools. It's still about looking and capturing great moments. I'm a big fan of chance and imperfection and I feel like you get more of that with film. It's hard to give up.

is photoshop a comfortable place for dan sharp?

Yes, Photoshop is an amazing tool. I tend not to do much post-production on my images. I don't like heavily manipulated images. Mostly I just process RAW images in Lightroom. I'm not a retoucher or a technician. I want to keep making art, and know just enough tech to be able to keep making high quality images, I have a great crew that helps me on commercial jobs and there are many hands that perfect the images once I'm done shooting. But with personal and editorial work, I have to make sure the images are as true as possible myself.

this is supposed to be a bicycle website, so I'm glad your India trip had bicycles in it, but your photos from that continent are truly stunning. is this 'mere' observation on your part, or is the visualization there all the time as the shutter clicks?

rouleur bikes

Thanks. India was an amazing trip! We (two other photographers and myself) rode from Dehli to Varanasi on steel Indian-made Atlas bikes we bought in Dehli. India is difficult because it's visual overload. It's mentally hard to process everything that's going on there, It's like it exists in its own dimension. Visually, it's incredible, the quality of light, the colors, the people... all so beautiful. I can definitely 'see' the photo before I take them. When you're riding a bike, you have to choose what's worth stopping for. You can't just stop every time something catches your eye, so you're constantly choosing, weighing the importance. Asking whether it will still be there when you've stopped in a safe place and managed to pull your camera out of your bag. But to answer your question, I think the visualization is just something that happens naturally for me.

is there an overall purpose to your photography, or are you and your lens just along for the ride?

A purpose. Sure. I want to celebrate everything that's beautiful in this world. I want my work to be a source of inspiration. I think it's still unfolding... as the Italians would say... vediamo. We'll see.

can you tell me one wonderful reason why you're in portland?

Most of my family moved out here, so it's home. I live here with my girl, Tori. We ride bikes, go to yoga class, make good food, ride some more. We like it because it's not too big. It's still on a human scale. We love the access to nature. We love that we can ride our bikes across town and it only takes 30 minutes. We have a good creative scene here. People are here mostly because they want to be. We have the ability to create our lives as we want them here. Portland is definitely suffering a bit from too much press lately, so I should just leave it at that. It's a good place. It's home.

dan sharp

what do you see on the next horizon?

First, three weeks of riding in Tucson with friends... something about spring classics in Belgium with Jeremy and Guy... another Giro... the Tour, lots more rides with friends... more projects with Jeremy at Embrocation... some commercial work in there as well... then 'cross season again... it's going to be a good decade!

dan sharp photography