"I have some thoughts about why cycling photography is doomed to fail. The market is driven by marketing people that don't understand photography, and want the cheesiest shot every time. They want their product to show. Sharp. And thus, photographers aren't incentivized to make "artistic" photos. They are continuously told to provide the cheesiest shot with product focus, versus a real moment. Not to mention team access, and the obsession with heroism. Cyclists MUST look heroic at all times, or else."
It was the last part of his email ("cyclists must look heroic at all times") that got my attention. I think he's right, so I have to ask: have we chosen to forfeit a great deal of humanity in how cycling is depicted, in our quest for heroic imagery and narrative? The hard-as-nails ideal of cyclists enduring endless amount of pain while barely wincing might be attractive to some, but it's a caricature. More importantly, it gets away from the very reality that makes the sport attractive. These are people, and rather frail ones at that, who are competing at a high level and doing some rather amazing things. It's the difficulty of the task at hand, versus their humanity that makes this all worthwhile, isn't it? Give me the frail, the flawed, the mundane...and show me the very moments where riders show just how human they are.
Did we learn anything from seeing riders have to hit the brakes at the apex of a steep uphill switchback because they were going so fast? I hope so.
But when portraying this humanity, don't fetishize it, or we'll be right back where we started. Let's simply remember what first drew us into the sport.
And on that note, I want to leave you with an image that Emiliano Granado actually posted to Instagram last year during the Tour of Utah. Is it the greatest picture—in technical terms—in the history of the sport? No, probably not. It's just a simple picture taken with a phone, but I share it with you to make a point. To me, and maybe I'm insane, this image does far, far more to represent the humanity of a rider like Freddie Rodriguez than most other pictures and bits of text that I've seen about cycling. It was tweeted out with the text, "Fast Freddy just being Dad".
Yes, riders' exploits on the bike are interesting, and will continue to get our attention. But isn't it also worthwhile to show other aspects of the sport, at least to fans who follow the sport closely? After all, what is the reality of being a father when you're a professional cyclist? It may not be glamorous, but it must surely revolve around moments like this: sitting in the hallway of a random hotel, talking to your kids about their day in school, trying not to bother your roommate with your endless talk.
I'm not saying that all cycling photography should be phone snapshots taken in hotel hallways. I just want to point out that this shot, simple and mundane as it may seem, gives us a fair amount of insight into the realities of professional cycling. Particularly in a way that many can relate to. There's certainly both room and need for all kinds of interpretations and depictions of the sport, which is great. I just wish more of them would find a way to put some bit of humanity, however little of it, back into the equation.
Otherwise, we'll miss the point, and once again fail to realize that most human beings simply don't have to hit the brakes when going steeply uphill.
PS: If you've been watching the Volta a Catalunya, and wondering who Nairo Quintana is, please read this post from last year. And remember, he's still only 23 years old.