Monday, April 1, 2013

An unexplainable love of cycling. A conversation with photographer Emily Maye.



Photo: Emily Maye


Emily Maye's rise within the world of cycling photography has happened astonishingly fast, at least it would appear that way, if one fails to take into account her photography work and education in film prior to when she started shooting cycling. Hers has been a slightly unusual path, which may well account for her take on the sport, and how she chooses to portray its varied personalities.  

As part of my ongoing series about photographers in cycling (part one can be found here), I decided to speak with Emily about her work. We ended up talking about French cinema, what inspires her, and why she chooses to portray the sport as she does. Thanks to Emily for her time, particularly during such a busy time of year (as proof see her work for Radio Shack during the Tour of Flanders here and here).


Photo: Emily Maye

How and when did you first encounter cycling?
In the living room of my parents home at 5am while they would watch the Tour de France during the Lance years. I have these vague memories of moments that I was paying half attention to but I knew, from the energy in the house, were quite important at the time. The Beloki crash, Ullrich falling in the rain in the TT, the musette bag… But I didn't really know much else. 

My family tried to watch in the years after Lance and lost affection when the scandals hit. When they started watching again in 2009, I paid closer attention. What I ultimately saw once I was really looking was a sport that captivated me. By Heinrich Haussler's Stage 13 win, cycling had a place in my life for good. I wanted to know everything about it. I read about history, I learned about the classics, I watched the races that weren't the Tour de France.

Photo: Emily Maye

Your formal training is in film, which has no doubt influenced your photo work. Do you foresee a time when you could get back into film in order to work on a cycling-related project?
I was writing screenplays at the time that I discovered cycling and I very much had the intention of writing a cycling related film. I have since shelved that original draft but it's always in the back of mind. There are times when I am out photographing that it feels tremendously important to me to stop what I am doing and go back to that project. I do think it will happen at some point. 

Photo: Emily Maye
Photo: Emily Maye

In terms of cinematography alone, what are your favorite movies and why?
The Jean Pierre Melville films like "Army of Shadows" and "Le Samouraï." "Z" is another one that has a beautiful color palate to it. I adore the cinematography in Louis Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows" and "The Fire Within." Both those films are beautiful in black and white. Also any Terrence Mallick film. "There Will Be Blood" and "The Assassination of Jesse James" are two more modern films that are favorites and Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" really influenced me as a kid. Those are movies that you can think of a frame from that film and some how the entire emotion of the film is present in that frame. 


Some cinematographers have that powerful of an emotional cohesion to their work. Some films you think about the story or the actions or scenes that you love, but the movies that I most like are the ones where you think of the film and a single frame of it comes to mind and in that, the movie washes over you. Kieslowski's "Blue" is like that. "La Jetee" is like that. "Paris, Texas" is like that.  When I saw "A Single Man" I almost went back to school for cinematography. Really. I downloaded applications to schools, I started filling them out. 

Photo: Emily Maye


Photo: Emily Maye

Do you have any favorite cycling-related films?
A Sunday in Hell is my favorite cycling film and would be a favorite on a non-cycling list as well. I recently took some friends who know nothing about professional cycling to see a screening of it in Los Angeles and they loved it. It translates across the board. Triplets of Belleville has the right tone of a cycling film. Louis Malle's Vive le Tour is an absolute favorite.  


 
Watch A sunday in hell in Sports  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com


Vive le tour! from Bear Thunder on Vimeo.



The majority of the cycling photography that has been done in the past came from a largely photo journalistic background in the sense that it seems utilitarian in a way. Get the shot of the guy crossing the line, make sure it's well exposed, make sure it's in focus. Done. There seems to be a current shift away from that type of photography, into one that turns the camera away from the action, and toward more interesting and insightful aspects of the sport. Do you agree with such a notion, and where do you think your work stands within the current cycling photography milieu?
I do think that there is a general movement away from that type of news shot but there is also a large emphasis on it still within cycling teams and publications. That certainly wasn't the way that I was interested in photographing cycling when I came to it. It's really important to me that I capture something different than that utilitarian approach. I really want to tell the story of cycling and that's a lot more complex then what happens on the finish line. It's hard to talk about sometimes without sounding silly, but people who love cycling really love it, and I'm not sure they can explain exactly why. I hope to take photos that feel like that, photos that capture it without you being able to explain why they do. 



Photo: Emily Maye


I know and understand that photography is not strictly about the equipment that is used. Having said that, I'm curious about the choices photographers make. With that in mind, if you were limited to one lens only, what would it be and why?

50mm. I think I see best like that. It's hard to connect the eye to the equipment, take awhile to figure that out. 

Photo: Emily Maye
Photo: Emily Maye
 


If money were no object, what bodies, lenses or other equipment do you dream of having?
I hardly spend any time thinking about equipment I would like to have, I'm much more concerned with the dream circumstances for the photograph I would like to have. Vantage points are always an obstacle. The equipment is all so good that I don't have to worry about that.


Photo: Emily Maye

Photo: Emily Maye

 
Why Canon?
I started out with Canon and its hard to change once you've acquired lenses. All of the technology is so good now that I don't think those differences should get in the way of what you do with it.  

Photo: Emily Maye

Photo: Emily Maye

Is there anything you purposefully avoid in your work? (situations, style of shooting, lighting, types of lenses, cliches)
Anywhere that a lot of people are probably isn't the right place. 

Photo: Emily Maye

As you've gotten to know the sport, and the personalities within it better, is there anything that has surprised you about cycling in general or individual riders in particular?
In a way, the repetitive nature of it. I am always looking for each day to have a different feel to it but the truth is that many are the same in many respects. It makes it challenging to get photographs that feel different sometimes. 


Photo: Emily Maye

Whose photography work do you admire in or outside the realm of cycling?
Robert Frank, Frank Capa, Henri Cartier Bresson, Richard Avedon, William Klein


Photo: Emily Maye
Do you think that Henri Cartier-Bresson's concept of "the decisive moment" still holds true today, particularly to cycling photography that doesn't strictly happen from the back of a moto during a race?
It does still hold true. I think people have a hard time recognizing it with digital because they don't place as much value on getting the right frame. It doesn't happen at the finish line in cycling, that's for sure. But the event of the race and the subject of professional cycling are two different things. 


Photo: Emily Maye
Photo: Emily Maye

If you could craft your own cycling dream assignment what would it be?
I would love to be embedded with a team during a grand tour. I would really like to document how that unfolds over three weeks. I would also like to follow a specific rider for a year. 


Photo: Emily Maye

Photo: Emily Maye

What races will you be shooting this year, and what other projects do you have in the near future?

I am shooting the Spring Classics right now in Belgium and then I will head to Tour of California. I am continuing to do work for Rapha, Specialized and the Bontrager Pro Cycling Team and I will be with the RadioShack Leopard Trek team during Flanders. I am also working on a development story with Manual For Speed and a few personal projects that will end up as exhibits towards the end of the year. It should be a pretty exciting Spring and Summer!



Emily's site
On Twitter
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OVERHEARD: TEAM CAMP WITH EMILY MAYE, PART 1 from Specialized on Vimeo.

OVERHEARD: TEAM CAMP WITH EMILY MAYE, PART 2 from Specialized on Vimeo.



_______________________________________________________
Marginalia

Reader email of the week:


"Can’t seem to read your articles as of late. Ads keep coming up where I suspect there should be wit, introspection, and insight. Do I need to join something, log into something, or float some cash your way?"


7 comments:

  1. I agree with the e-mail you received. Your articles lately have been "fluff" ....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Em. Remember we met at the cyclocross worlds in Kentucky. I never got an answer on my invitation. You made some hot pictures there. :-) Hit me up with a tweet. raceradio

    ReplyDelete
  3. As always, great post Klaus! Liking these photography-themed interviews

    On a totally different subject, how awesome was today's stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco?!?!? The Battle of the Adult-Braced climbers!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Christian,
    It was a battle for orthodontic dominance! Simply amazing. Consider that back in the 80s, both of them, plus Quintana would have been on the same team. Amazing, and all very, very young.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Speaking of the 80s, now I have this damn song stuck in my head:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9ae2EZ18dU

      I blame the english commentator's constant mentions of this "Serjeeo Hey-Now" character...

      Delete
    2. Hey now! It drives me crazy. But what I think about is this, excuse the poor video quality:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D89eOYo0kpw

      Delete