Col Du Peyresourde, L’Alpe D’Huez, Sa Calobra, Stelvio can only mean one thing to some: Le Tour de France — the famed cycle race established in 1903.
Michael Blann (a keen cyclist himself) has a passion for Le Tour, so much so that he’s set himself the challenge of documenting the stunning course.
Printing Michael’s work has been a real pleasure, so I recently asked him to talk me through the series:
“The idea for doing a project based on European mountains and their roads has been simmering for some time and I guess is rooted in my formative years riding a bicycle and watching the Grand Tours (of cycling). For me, there’s always been something very mythical about mountains and when I’m there I always feel a sense of excitement mixed with serenity. The challenge they present to cyclists adds a very primeval dimension of man overcoming mountain. They are always painful experiences but equally rewarding.
“So I guess I came to the project wanting to portray these mountains as something more than just rocks. I wanted to show their character, the way they are defined by their roads and man-made structures, the vegetation, the way they change through the seasons. But I also wanted to put this into the context of cycling, after all, many of these mountains have been given mythical status through cycling. L’Alpe D’Huez wouldn’t have the same notoriety if Le Tour hadn’t passed over it in 1986 when Bernhard Hinault and Greg Lemond resolved their differences and rode the climb together with a clear lead over the rest of the peloton.
“For me, I wanted to capture the permanence of mountains, their scale and sheer presence. It was important to shoot them through all times of the day and seasons. The contrast from winter when just a faint impression in the snow shows the line of the road set against the spectacle of a race in mid summer was very appealing. I also kept coming back to the idea that a cycle race is no more than a travelling circus that visits for the day and is then gone again, leaving the mountain behind. There’s the notion that the mountains are the constant that provide the platform for these dramas to play out.
“This line of thought dictated my approach as I wanted the work to have a quietness about it that showed a certain homage towards mountains. Pulling back from any human elements whether it is the roads or fans lining the race route was important, as it showed everything in context. People became insignificant in the grand scheme of things and scale became a strong thread throughout.
“This also dictated the equipment I chose to shoot on — a Hasselblad H4D-50. Like the old 10×8 cameras, I wanted to capture all the detail and fidelity to ensure nothing was lost when the images were enlarged. Great care is needed at the size as all the faults and imperfections become more apparent and it offers less leeway for error. For this reason I teamed up with Jack Lowe to help ensure a great result through the printing process.
“With the initial phase of shooting completed I am now embarking on the winter shots, much of which will be shot from a helicopter. The project will culminate in an exhibition and coffee table book in the autumn of 2014.”
On a Technical Note…
I’m not generally one to have ‘camera conversations’ but you can imagine that I’m often asked about the best camera files from which to make the finest prints.
For years, in partial answer to that question, I’ve banged on about the fact that more pixels don’t necessarily result in a better file — pixel size plays a huge part in the signal-to-noise ratio battle, for instance.
In addition, any photographer will tell you that the following statement is high on the list of insults:
That’s a great photograph — you must have an amazing camera!
(I have some great replies but more on that another time…)
That said, I thought you might be interested to know that Michael’s files from his Hasselblad H4D-50 were among the best I’ve ever seen (and please note that I’m by no means associating that with his great photographic skills!).
I loved poring over the details lurking in just about every corner.
A quick conversation on Twitter confirmed a general consensus that this camera is fast-becoming a modern classic…
Finally, here’s an example to illustrate my point — first a full-frame image and then a crop showing the file at 75% (not 100% as it then became so close that it was hard to see where the crop had come from!):
It’s always a treat when I can be involved in a body of work over a long period of time, seeing its progression and printing the resulting exhibition.
I’ve worked with Damien Wootten for many years now — nine, in fact. During that time, he’s visited several North East locations repeatedly for the last eight years to form the series, Coastal Retreats.
Mainly working in and around Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Damien’s immersion in the area really shines through.
As he describes:
“At times everyone needs somewhere to retreat to, and I’m sure — like many — my destination seems to be the coast, and being a photographer it seems inevitable that I take my camera with me. I’m very familiar with the North East coast of England and parts of it are deserted, wild and beautiful — but it is the more ordinary, everyday and less attractive areas that interest me more photographically.”
“I have never questioned too deeply why I have chosen these locations to work in and accepted it as an impulse and a need. Hopefully these images have something more to give than just to show the surface of things and offer something worthwhile and contemplative to say about our place within our landscape. These coastal areas seem to symbolise that – where the man-made reaches the edge of things. This is where the natural environment takes over, restraining human encroachment.”
I love the Northernness of ‘Coastal Retreats’, a feeling that I’m sure prevails as a result of Damien living in the area along with his seemingly unconditional persistence!
Anyone who lives in the wild and woolly North East will know exactly what it feels like to stand in many of the scenes Damien’s captured, not least a biting one such as this:
Printing this series has been a true pleasure — I hope all those who manage to see the show between 12th October and 2nd February at the Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland enjoy it as much as I have.
The photographs are all 40x40cm Archival Pigment Prints on 60x60cm Museo Silver Rag 300gsm using HP Vivera Pigment Ink.
In January 2011, one of our finest actors passed on to The Great Mystery.
Pete Postlethwaite commanded the screen and stage with his formidable presence, his film career punctuated with startling roles in Brassed Off, Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet, The Usual Suspects and let’s not forget Jurassic Park…
Paul described to me how he made such a gentle portrait:
“Pete Postlethwaite lived with his family in south Shropshire. Close by is a local beauty spot and National Trust area called the Long Mynd. As Pete was himself a lover of the natural beauty of the south Shropshire hills, he wrote the foreword to a book written about the area.
“I covered the event for a society magazine. During a quiet moment I asked him if I may take his portrait to which he agreed. Totally unassuming and down to earth, he stared straight into the lens with those soulful eyes.
“The impromptu shoot was over in less than five minutes. Actually, I had photographed him on other occasions, but this image captured his integrity and for me reflected more faithfully my feelings of who he was.”
Although brief, it sounds like a wonderful moment for Paul with such a beautiful outcome.
Following some canvassing on Twitter and in ‘real life’, I’d like to leave you with a clip of one of Pete’s performances.
There are so many to choose from but this tear-jerking scene in Brassed Off came up consistently — as a friend of mine described it, “The most poetic piece of swearing ever filmed.”
Hankies at the ready…
If you’d like me to make prints for you, please feel free to contact me.
My latest list of services and prices can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking here.
Well, we’re now firmly in the saddle of 2013 — I hope it’s started well for you…
Following on from the Platinum printing successes of last year, I have also been making Digital Negatives in preparation for Richard Freestone of 139 Printroom to work his magic.
Towards the end of last week, you may like to know that I revised and updated my Price List…
It contains new pages dedicated to specific areas of printing:
- Photographers’ Portfolios
- One-off Printing, Editions & Exhibitions
- Awards, Competitions & Degree Shows
The latter includes specific information on the upcoming Association of Photographers Annual Awards and the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize.
Please feel free to download your Jack Lowe Studio 2013 Price List and familiarise yourself with the range of services I can offer you.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with imagery from three photographers’ portfolios I’m delighted to have printed over the years.
Originally, I was going to choose just one from each photographer but I couldn’t do it! So, here’s two from each for your delectation:
— Julian Germain
— Jonathan Knowles
— Simon Winnall
It has been a great pleasure to make three huge prints for Chris Harrison’s latest show, I Belong Jarrow, which opens this evening in Norway.
Chris grew up in Jarrow (very near to my studio here in Newcastle upon Tyne) and now, as he writes on his About page, lives in a little yellow house on the edge of a wood near Oslo.
Although he’s settled abroad, Chris is obviously still very attached to the town he recognises as home:
“I was born and brought up in Jarrow, a tough industrial town on the south bank of the river Tyne. It’s where I call home.
“I have lived abroad for more years than I care to admit. My Mother and Father are getting old and moving out of Jarrow, cutting me adrift with no way back. Finally, I have been forced to think about who I am and where I belong.
“I never wanted to leave Jarrow. I always imagined that one day I would make it my home. I realise now that I can never return. Somehow I traded knowledge of the outside world for some vital piece of me.
“With this realisation, I have returned home in order to try to establish how much of where I am from determines who I am, and to begin to understand why I can’t seem to let go.”