Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spaceships, guns, dynamite, bank robbing and breakdancing. An interview with photographer Daniel Wakefield Pasley.

Daniel has a chat with Chris Horner at a stop light in California (Photo: Emiliano Granado for Yonder Journal)

The only way to get to San Valentino Alla Muta is by driving on the winding SS40, a road that rises slowly toward to point where Italy, Switzerland and Austria all meet. Though this popular road doesn't have the kind of tight switchbacks you might expect from a climb at a grand tour, the turns are indeed sharp, particularly when the vehicle you are traveling in is going fast, and has a high center of gravity. Like a team bus, for example. This is something that Daniel Wakefield Pasley (Wakefield is his middle name) and I came to learn while at the Giro, on the day that would have been stage 19. That stage, however, was canceled and we were trying to make the most of our day by doing a long transfer with Team Colombia on their bus. 

Through the long transfer, we talked to riders about any and all topics. Cars, bikes, weather, dance clubs in Bergamo, Mormons, Jackson Heights, Colombian snacks, bachata, and the connectivity that iPhones provide. An hour and a half in, I was getting sick from the endless turns and soft suspension on the bus, which prompted one of the team's riders to kindly (but sternly) tell me that if I was going to throw up, to go down the steps and do it there. "That's where you throw up" he said, leading me to believe that this wasn't the first time that an inexperienced fool was having problems with a lengthy transfer through northern Italy while on their bus.

Eventually, we were all tired and the talking slowed down. The riders started to fall asleep one by one. They nap like babies, and this being the third week of a grand tour, I figured I better shut up and let them rest. Daniel was exhausted too. Many, many long days had piled up on top of one another, and this offered a rare opportunity to sleep. So Daniel picked a bench by the small kitchen on the bus, opposite to where Leonardo Duque was sleeping, and closed his eyes. In seconds, he was asleep, camera in hand. I wanted to sleep too, but couldn't...because I knew that if I closed my eyes, I'd be throwing up in the designated spot.

In one particularly tight switchback, the bus shifted quickly, and Daniel went flying off the bench, did a full turn mid-air, and landed face first on the floor of the bus, where one of the team's riders had left his rolling suitcase and shoes. The riders all woke up from the loud thump. They laughed, but then asked if he was okay. Daniel brushed this off with a smile. He laughed along with the riders, gave them an internationally recognized shrug, as if to say, "ah, what can you do", and got his camera. He then started shooting the riders, who were now awake, smiling, and suddenly had a connection with him. I sat back and watched, as he worked with the newly energized and interested riders. Talk about making the most out of a potentially awkward situation.

It's because of this type of ability, as well as the overall quality of his work that I wanted to talk to Daniel as part of my ongoing series about cycling photography (to see other entries in this series go here, here and here). 

Daniel's past clients include: Castelli, Peloton, Paved, Rapha, Poler as well as ongoing projects like Manual For Speed, and Yonder Journal

Thanks to Daniel for his time and patience. And for not killing me for telling you the story about him falling off the bench while he was asleep.




How and when did you both first encounter cycling?
I started riding a bike when I was three. It was all various miscellaneous POS BMX bikes for years  nothing memorable, until I turned 15. That year I got a brand-new, pink GT Eddie Fiola Pro Word Tour, with fold-down axel pegs—the first generation pegs that looked like old-school motorcycle handle-bar grips. Nothing memorable again for years, then skateboarding until I turned 21, that year I bought a purple Gary Fisher Ho Koo E Koo with elevated chainstays. That eventually turned into a Cannondale CAAD 4 and closet spandexing. And bikes and bikes ever since.




When did you first encounter photography as something other than casual birthday cake snapshots?
Polariods. When I was 26 I started taking polaroids of everything. They cost 50 cents a peice. I have something like 3000 polaroids, that's a rough estimate. Twelve years later I bought a Hassleblad, and literally went bankrupt shooting film.


Your collective work seems to turn the camera away from the action, namely key—but somewhat expected— moments in a race, and toward a more human side of the sport. Do you see this a conscious deviation away from Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment", or simply a different but equally "decisive" way of photographing.
I think the best way to answer this question is a list of things that compel me, and inform my process, and straight-up excite me:

The Truth & Reality of American Cycling
Anthropology
Sport as a metaphor for the human condition

These dudes, they get paid (sometimes nothing and sometimes a lot) to build themselves into something super human. They pay unwavering attention to the smallest, most tiny incremental percentages in terms of everything (calories, wattage, friction, etc.). They eat right. Stretch right. Learn to think right. They visualize. They are focused and trained and honed and dialed-in into this very specific pursuit. They are exemplary. They are the fastest most technologically advanced humans on the planet. And on race day they destroy themselves, they turn themselves inside out. They undo everything in less than five hours, and sometimes they do it multiple days in a row. That's fascinating.




How did Manual For Speed begin, and is that when you and Emiliano Granado started collaborating?
Emiliano answers this better. Basically we started working together after my time at Rapha, during which we got to know each other. We did some stuff, we liked working together, we talked a lot about domestic cycling. We talked a lot about how interesting domestic cycling is and how different it is from European finish lines. We built a project outline of sorts, and shopped it. After a near miss with Jelly Belly at the ToC we met with Castelli. They got it, right away. At the time they were sponsoring Garmin and Exergy which was perfect because each team represented a same-but-different perspective to to the pursuit of speed.



You traveled throughout Colombia recently, photographing different aspects of cycling there, from development academies, to the professional ranks. Without giving away some of the awesomeness that will surely make its way into Manual For Speed, what surprised you most about Colombia, and the way cycling occurs there?
The mountains in Colombia surprised me. I knew they existed. But the quality and character of the mountains are unimaginable. Everything there, at least where we were (Medellin, Urrao, Bogota, Manizalles, Tulua etc.) is built onto, or into a mountain. The altitudes are disorienting. Whole cities and entire universes casually exist at 8000 feet— and  you're only half way up the mountain, the top is still another five or six or seven thousand feet up. What feels like sea level here (like our baseline) is, in Colombia, 8000 feet. I now know why Magical Realism was invented in Colombia.

What surprised me most about cycling in Colombia is how ingrained into the culture it is, for some. Like if you're eight, and you want to ride bikes and become a professional cyclist, there are whole institutions and communities to support you in that endeavor. It's fucking heartwarming, wonderful and amazing. They do the It Takes A Village thing there for real, like teachers, bus drivers, regular folks as well as rich folks are all involved, they're all driving the kids to races, training them, teaching them, encouraging them, loving them, etc.




Do you think people in general focus too much on photo equipment, which is tangible and easier to understand, instead of the idea behind a shot and its execution?
Yes, yes they do. People focus way too much on equipment. But dude, if you're not curious and you don't push yourself to try new things in new ways, then you never get any better, so it makes some, if not a lot of sense, to nerd-out on equipment and technique.




The idea of the Rapha Continental is now well known, and has spawned (I think) a different way for some people to look at their bikes and cycling, as well as several copycats, regardless of what people make of the whole thing. You were behind the idea, how did that come about?
I presented the Continental to Rapha like seven years ago. I sent an unsolicited, and sufficiently random email to "info@rapha.com" or something like that, and Simon Mottram, the owner/founder, responded. We talked here and there for the better part of a year about exactly what the Continental should be. The original concept changed and morphed during those talks, but basically the general idea was to apply the skateboard road-trip model to road cycling. Add hardman themes like epic distances and mixed road surfaces. Add an Americana focus—people, place, iconic landscapes, etc. And present it as a guidebook. And that's essentially what we did. I rode, wrote and produced the whole thing for the first two years. I shot most of the third year while continuing to produce it and write to it. And then it out grew me, and that's that.





If you'll excuse me for asking—particularly with my previous question about people who obsess about equipment in mind—you use a Mamiya 7 [medium format film camera, also used by Emiliano Granado], though I'm sure you use other cameras as well. A slightly unusual choice today, particularly for action, compared to what others use. What aspect of that camera do you love, and is there anything you wish you could change about it?
I love the way that camera works and feels. I feel so good about it. I like it. I like the way it works. I like its weight, it's height, its action. I feel so good when I use it. It's like the way people talk about cars and bikes and sailboats and women and spaceships and guns and dynamite and bank robbing and breakdancing—that camera just moves right, that camera is the zone and flow incarnate. But. To be fair: the shutter release sucks, it feels so unsatisfactory, and the camera build sucks, it's kind of a pile of shit, like shit falls off of it all the time. But that's just details. Details are boring.




Is there anything you purposefully avoid in your work? (situations, style of shooting, lighting, types of lenses, cliches)
I don't take pictures of my shadows anymore. I think I'm through the trash phase. I promise not to cross process slide film. I promise not to shoot men and women bathing in the Ganges. But still I shoot stupid shit all the time. I wish I didn't but I do. Like backlit sun flair shit, I still do that. I still take too many pretty postcard photos. Plus, sometimes I take photos just to remember shit, to like record shit, those are often very cliche.



 

What do you love about being a photographer, and what do you hate about it?
I love communicating, and photography is a really effective communication tool but writing is better. Writing is harder and nobody reads, and photography is easier to sell, and quicker, and more streamlined.



Whose photography work do you admire in or outside the realm of cycling?
I like Nadav Kander and Alec Soth. If I could be David Foster Wallace + Alec Soth x Lewis and Clark, I'd be happy.




Whose work, photography aside, inspires you?
Right this minute: Alferd Lasings' Endurance: Shackelton's Incredible Voyage

If you could craft your own photo assignment, and get all the necessary funding for it, what would it be?
Yonderjournal.com—I'm not fucking around, that's it, that's what it would look like. ■



www.danielwakefieldpasley.net
www.manualforspeed.com
yonderjournal.com
twitter.com/manualforspeed
instagram.com/manualforspeed#



_______________________________________________________________
Assorted Marginalia


(Photo: El Espectador)

1.
The Colombian newspaper El Espectador reports that Sebastian Henao (Sergio's cousin) is in talks with Sky about a contract for next year. Sebastian says, "The idea is to go to Sky next year. It's not finalized, but it's very likely. I hope everything can be sorted out." Similarly, Mundo Ciclistico reports that 22 year old Daniel Jaramillo is in talks with Orica Green Edge. Even if these two deals don't go through, the amount of interest that top-tier teams have in Colombian riders right now is remarkable. I had heard about Vacansoleil making offers to a couple of riders as well, though these appear to be off the table for the time being (as that team will likely come to an end). Still, it's obvious that Colombia has made an impression as of late when you start hearing consistent rumors about young riders getting interest from major teams.


2.
Convicts of the road. Really.
Corsica allows prisoners to join the Tour de France, as they ride the route ahead of the race.





3.
I'm again taking a week-long break from the blog due to travel. I should be back during the first week of July.


3 comments:

  1. Medium format! wow! Nice photos, really like the rapha contineltal videos!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Loved this interview, looking forward to the Columbiana stuff. Thanks. Jc.

    ReplyDelete
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