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A little history first…

I spent many years following the big races: the Tour de France, Roubaix, Flanders, etc. I would be riding my motorbike and carrying a load of kit, generally way-overloaded. I never really did the whole ‘Pro-Tour’ thing properly. I never tagged my images in the pressroom or spent hours in a hotel room uploading for different clients. There were elements that fascinated me and I drank it all in – especially the hysteria, places and people before, during, and after the races passed through - which was my job as an artist. But I found the whole circus weirdly straight and ultimately a little dull. I was usually on a motorcycle and the racing was fast BUT it was chained to a route - deviation and adventure was only within a very thin bandwidth. The racing is corporate and formulaic. Routine killed my love of the sport.

I nearly left cycling for good. I felt I had shot what I needed and was moving away from the bicycle as a metaphor altogether, when, by chance, I spoke to Mike Hall. I was aware of the TCR, but had not really looked into it before. As soon as I had taken a look at the 2014 race on social media, I was interested and fancied a road trip from the back of a car so signed myself up for the third edition in 2015.

Preparation! What preparation? I was to meet Mike and the crew in a car park in Folkestone, and that was all I knew. Oh, and the fact that it finished in Turkey.

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That first year I followed the race with one small camera, fixed focal length (35mm) lens, 8 SD cards, a wi-fi hard-drive and an Android phone. It all fit in a small bag, all chargeable from a USB and I only shot JPEGS. This was not so much preparation as a reaction to my previous exploration; it was a pretty good fit. Everything comes down to weight and space on the TCR – it’s true for the racers, and it's true for us in the support cars following the race. The racers chop down their toothbrushes, I chop down camera kit sizes. Chop down my file size, chop down everything.

I’m attracted to the TCR because it has a purity that I like. It is simple by design, simple to ride. I like my pictures to be simple. The majority of my images come straight out of the camera, get the contrast adjusted a little and that’s it - no post-production on them. I’m some kind of puritan; the racers are some kind of puritans.

The more we journeyed that first year, the more I loved it. The pace, the stories and the characters. Mike’s vision for a race made total sense to me; it was what the Tour de France could have been. It was utterly contemporary and ideal for the dot-watching, social media age. This year is a crossroads for the TCR. This 2017 fifth edition is run in memory of Mike, keeping the flame alive and preserving Mike’s vision.

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As an artist, I need to change how I work. I always feel the need to change the way I work if it becomes too easy or predictable. For me, new cameras do this. This year I have kept the simplicity but decided upon more lenses. A state of the art camera body - the Panasonic GH5 – with four simple manual Voigtländer lenses, all f0.95: 10.5mm (21mm eq); 17.5 mm (35mm eq); 25mm (50mm eq); 42.5 mm (85 mm eq). It has a small sensor; I'm cutting my sensor in half, TCR style.

I will not go on about why I made the small sensor decision, that’s for a tech blog somewhere else. But, I will talk about colour as that’s part of my preparation. I made a colour balance decision the first year and carried it through to the next, with occasional black and white images. I feel this year all my work should be black and white; I need a simple way of showing that Mike is not at the race but that the race vision is still his, and it’s well and truly alive.

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So, my preparation for the TCR: the journey is complex to capture therefore keep the photography simple. Make a framework for colour, aspect ratio (typically 1:1 and 16:9) and workflow and stick to it. Everything else – the riders, the security barriers lining the roadsides, the fascinating landscapes and people en-route – will change and shift through the weeks. I can’t wait…

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