PhotographerSergio Villalba is describing a memory from childhood. Growing up by the sea, he conjures up images of a young boy – maybe five or six – playing in the surf near his family home on the island of Tenerife. A relationship with the outdoors – and the sea in particular – that he would later express through an obsessive desire to capture all those precious moments experienced out on the water.
“I was 14 years old and decided photography was the way to do this. But when I think about it now, I still find that a little strange. My parents had a Pentax point-and-shoot they used for snaps of Christmas and family holidays but that was it. I didn’t grow up in a particularly artistic environment and I wasn’t trying to be creative with my first photographs. I just wanted to document the waves my friends and I were surfing.”
Purchasing a couple of Kodacolor rolls whenever funds allowed, Sergio now recognises that despite not showing the resultant images to anyone, the seeds for his future professional path were sown.
“But then, when I was 18, my parents got divorced and the situation for myself and my sister was unbearable. Longing to escape, I sat down with my mum and told her I was planning on moving to Barcelona. A few months later I left the island where I’d grown up.”
Suddenly thrown into an urban environment and knowing no one, Sergio started to reach out and build a new set of friends. One of these acquaintances was a graphic designer who worked with several music venues in the city including the jazz club Jamboree. Sergio’s interest in photography led to a job offer shooting cover images for the club flyers. With digital photography in its infancy, he had to quickly master the art of capturing fast moving subjects in low light and smoky conditions—Sergio relishing the creative freedom until the appeal of city life began to wane and a return to the island of his birth.
“The ocean was still my passion and I got it into my head to build a career through surfing photography—setting myself the goal of making a living from photography within a year of returning to Tenerife. It was around 2005 and luckily a golden era for surfing with budgets big enough to make a photographer’s wildest dreams come true.”
Over the next few years until the 2009 recession began to bite, Sergio founded a creative agency with another two photographers and travelled the world. With two bags permanently packed – one for cold weather and a second for warmer climes – each year saw eight or nine months on the road. An enviable position for any photographer seeking to build a reputation but eventually costing Sergio his relationship.
“My girlfriend ended up admitting she was used to being alone at home and felt uncomfortable when I was around. By that time, the recession was killing off surfing brands with consumers not willing to pay 40 euros for a tee when fast fashion enabled you to only pay five and get a new one every two months. The dream was over.”
With the hard reset of a recession, Sergio’s photographic style evolved to embrace a more varied range of brands—selling rather than storytelling now the main focus for his strong and visually appealing imagery.
“Even though you’re shooting a product range, you can still be playful and enjoy the process of creating beautiful images. And like everyone else, I love sunrise and sunset. Who doesn’t? But I must admit that the harsh midday light is also very appealing. If you know how to use it, you can deliver some great results and I especially love it for portraits of sweaty athletes or for playing with architecture and projected shadows. With a little bit of imagination you can get the best out of any situation.”
“What I plan is not always what I get and one thing’s for certain: you learn from everything—even from your mistakes. And I’ve gradually grown to understand that I get attached to certain images not because of the photograph itself but the process of making it—how difficult it was to get it or the risk I took to achieve it. But that’s a mistake, I know. Whoever’s viewing your work takes what they’re seeing at face value. So a photograph must speak for itself and – in the best case scenario – tell a story.”
With a self-declared obsession with what he describes as believable images, Sergio is cryptically referencing the professional period that followed his surfing days. Working on tourism campaigns and shoots for luxury hotels, Sergio explains why none of this content was ever posted on social media or displayed on his website.
“Was it good money? Yes. Did it help me through a commercially slow period of my life? Yes. But I got this weird feeling of doing something wrong after every shoot. So I promised myself I wouldn’t do this type of job anymore and that I’d put all my efforts into getting back to what I like the most. And for me, that means documenting a life lived outdoors.”
Describing himself as the quiet guy behind the camera, on a shoot Sergio is happy to let the models do their own thing—an approach he believes pays dividends in the resulting images.
“If you over direct someone you´ll drive him or her crazy and kill any naturalness in their actions. Other times there’s no choice—you have to make it happen so you can get the shot. But as soon as everything is working, I take a step back and become the quiet guy again. But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the connection of working with other creatives. Photography can be a very lonely profession when you’re doing backups after the shoot and everyone else is drinking beers. So I enjoy working with my own team of trusty professionals who are first and foremost my friends. But it’s also good to maintain my freelance status. As we say in Spain, juntos pero no revueltos. Which in English translates as together but not in each other’s pocket.”
“Sometimes it’s a question of balance and work has been so intense in these post-Covid times that I need a rest from looking at everything through a viewfinder. I love documenting my own life but you need the freedom to touch more, see more, smell more. And though younger people may hate me for saying this, I think travelling is a little overrated nowadays. I’ve seen so many places go from having a stable, traditional life to being overdeveloped in a very short time span. People stop farming and fishing and try to get easier money from the tourists. And though we seek out places like modern day Robinson Crusoes, unless it’s completely frozen or full of malaria then it’s already swamped with digital nomads and content creators living their best life.”
Finding he now appreciates home more than ever and happy to travel less, Sergio recognises how the rise of mass tourism inevitably means it’s not the same place as where he grew up. A situation that prompts collaborations with organisations and individuals campaigning to protect the sensitive socioeconomic balance of the Canary Islands.
“I live a very simple life that I love. I’m the father of two boys and partner of the greatest woman I ever met. I have my gravel bike and live within walking distance of the sea. If you scroll through my Instagram feed you´ll recognize many places that I use over and over again. The little rocky harbour in my hometown, the waves that wrap around the shoreline where we surf, the Teide National Park. Together with my family, all these places are part of my daily life. I couldn’t be a fashion or architecture photographer because that’s not how I live. I have a peaceful, outdoorsy life and that’s what I try to project in my work.”
“I’m working out of my flat – editing from the couch – so there’s the challenge of getting in some steps. Basically, I’m a potato.”
Filmmaker Ryan Le Garrec is perhaps over emphasising this current period of inactivity. Working on the edit of his most recent film – a 1600 km bike packing journey into the Atlas Mountains of Northern Morocco – clearly he’s exercised enough to balance a few days stuck behind his laptop.
Dressed casually with a tousled head of hair and a beard traced with grey, Portugal is now home after a peripatetic life lived on the road. Growing up in Paris with a French father, a Tunisian mother and a British passport courtesy of his London birthplace, Ryan studied in Belgium before taking a job in Sweden where he met singer / songwriter Damien Rice.
“Someone once said that home is where they hadn’t been yet. And for years I was on tour with Damien as a kind of Swiss-Army-Knife video and pictures guy. I didn’t have anywhere permanent to live because it wasn’t necessary. You’re on the bus or maybe there’s a cab ride, but it’s mainly the venue and your hotel room that you see of the city you’re playing in. So I decided that when I was done, I would find a little apartment with a bakery down on the street which I would visit every fucking morning. And since then, I’ve become really hooked on routines. To such a degree that my wife despairs with me wanting to go to the same place to eat all the time. But that’s the point—it’s good, it doesn’t change and that’s reassuring. I didn’t need that before but now it’s increasingly important.”
With routines fixed and a bakery within easy walking distance, Ryan’s days are now filled pursuing his first love as a profession.
“I’ve always wanted to make films. Maybe because I was born into a family that worked in French television. My Dad was a war reporter, my Mum a news producer, my Uncle a news anchor and my cousins were journalists.”
Tasked with describing his style of filmmaking, Ryan recounts – with a wry smile – how his wife tells him that he’s terrible at telling stories. That he often misses the point.
“Maybe it sounds a little pretentious but the word poetry feels appropriate. That fits and doesn’t seem like a lie. Because what I try to do, rather than simply telling a story, is to convey the emotion of the moment. Most people can say how happy or sad they are, for this or that reason. But expressing that in a single shot and without words? That, for me, is where it gets interesting.”
With his current project, it’s this emotional intensity that leaves Ryan visibly upset in the final frames of the film. A powerful and unexpected conclusion balanced by dreamlike vignettes of everyday life – gas stations, city street corners, farmers tending fields – that intersperse the scenes of riding.
“I’d planned to work with three cameras and each had a different role to play. The DSLR in black and white was totally personal. A sort of image journal made up of random stuff that touched me somehow. Sequences that conveyed another layer of the story—my own personal state of mind. I wasn’t depressed before embarking on the trip but I had my own shit to deal with. And what’s interesting is how we process our feelings and the subconscious decisions we then make. Looking back at the Morocco edit, the scenes outside Casablanca speed up after I mention how much I was missing my kids. Something I did during the editing almost without thinking.”
Asked what metrics he uses to measure the success of a particular project and Ryan initially struggles to arrive at a succinct answer. After a momentary pause for thought, he suggests that even if the reaction is negative, it is a reaction.
“One of the first films I made with a long-distance cycling theme featured Josh Ibbett riding in the US. And a lot of people hated it. If you look on Amazon, the reviews are nasty—the film has maybe 2 stars. But there’s also the odd comment from someone who really loved it, so that’s okay. And someone once said to me that if no one hates your film, there’s something wrong with it. You’ve played it too safe. And do you really want everyone saying how nice they thought your film was? Do you want a viewing experience like when you’ve eaten a hamburger and a half hour later your body has forgotten the meal and you’re hungry again?”
Coupled with the vagaries of viewer feedback is the changing way we choose to consume media. The argument that the purposeful environment of a cinema screening allows more creative freedom compared to a project streamed over the internet where the focus is on holding someone’s attention before they swipe to the next video.
“But there’s two sides to every story and streaming perhaps offers an easier path to building an audience. We might not have everyone gathered in one room at the same time but we can release whatever we want, whenever we decide it’s ready. And a cinema release demands a production budget which, in turn, requires you to pitch an idea and have someone put their faith and funds in your hands. YouTube doesn’t give a shit what you’re doing.”
“I do hear complaints that attention spans are getting shorter but people still binge on a television series so if your content is engaging, they will watch. There’s nothing I’d rather do than share my work but if it didn’t find an audience, I’d still be doing it. Ultimately, you make films for myself, no?”
Looking back at his work for television, Ryan would be filming a Japanese chef on one day and a drummer from a rock band on the next. He couldn’t simply start by poking a camera into the subject’s face—he needed to invest some time in getting to know them a little. But with his cycling films, Ryan is literally passing through with a camera so there’s a need for more immediacy.
“Perhaps strangely, considering my job, I find it so difficult to film people. I guess it’s called shooting for a reason but that’s a harsh word with its own connotations. Which is why I’m such a big fan of smartphones and tiny cameras that are way less intrusive. For shy filmmakers like me, they’re such an advantage as they make you look harmless. And whenever people ask me what I do, I say it’s like when you go on holiday and take pictures or record a video—and I just do that for a living. But what do I really do? I have a bike that I ride and I make myself miserable and I try to meet people on the way and I take pictures and then I write some words to go with the pictures. But not about what is happening but how I feel about what is happening.”
Here Ryan is perhaps being a little playful—especially with reference to feeling miserable on the bike. Not owning a car, an electric cargo bike is his chosen mode of transport for picking up groceries and taking his children to school. A lifestyle decision that harks back to how happy a girlfriend looked whenever she rolled up on her bike.
“I was taking buses and subways—usually arriving late and in a nasty mood. But she would have this massive smile on her face as she climbed off her bike. So I got my own bike because I wanted some of that too. Later I became a bike messenger so the bike was also a job as well as my daily transport. And you experience so much more that is pleasurable about city life when you travel by bike—the little neighbourhoods that you’d never discover travelling underground from one metro stop to another.”
“I can’t say that it’s ever been a sport for me but at some point, I did fall in love with long-distance riding. Such an amazing experience the first time I crossed a border and the meditative state you get from passing through a landscape. This interest led to the Transcontinental where you push your limits and learn to deal with shit which in turn inspires you to switch things up in your life. If I can deal with saddle sores for three weeks, maybe I can question my boss about a particular decision. And it was these thoughts that gave me the impetus to quit working in television – where I was so comfortable – in favour of focusing on my filmmaking. So it’s fair to say the bike is my favourite object and if I couldn’t film or take pictures and just ride my bike, then I would do that. I’ve worked as a bartender, a bike messenger, a sailing instructor and I loved all of these roles. But working with stories just adds another level and I can’t not do what I do.”
From snow-capped mountains to desert sands, the past year has seen a plethora of professional projects for photographer and creative producer Sami Sauri. Based in Girona but rarely in repose, her full-gas approach to work and play brings with it a creative energy that enlivens each and every shoot. Open and honest in how she depicts the highs and lows of a life lived on the road, Sami’s innate sense of fun threads through a conversation that casts a humorous light on lost bikes, a rain soaked search for surf and her wishful desire for more hours in the day.
Sami Sorry I’m late.
cyclespeak No problem whatsoever.
Sami I was getting a new bike fitted and it took longer than expected. And then I got home and the bike wouldn’t fit.
cyclespeak Fit where?
Sami In the elevator [laughs]. I had to take the front wheel off and then I couldn’t find my keys.
cyclespeak What kind of bike is it?
Sami A YT Industries. They’re my new sponsor.
cyclespeak We all love a new bike day.
Sami I’ve got a big trip coming up and don’t want to fuck up my body which is why I arranged the bike fit.
cyclespeak Speaking of looking after yourself, did something happen yesterday when you were riding back to Girona from Andorra?
Sami My bag flew off on the second big downhill section. Very strange because I’d checked the straps and I’ve used the same setup on some pretty gnarly stuff. And the funny thing is, I didn’t even realise. I kept going and it turns out there was this car behind me, trying to attract my attention by peeping their horn. But I had my music on and a buff over my ears. Luckily, I had to stop at a red light. The car pulled up and the guy driving explained what had happened. I was like, ‘What!’
cyclespeak If it wasn’t for that stop light, who knows how far you would have ridden?
Sami Exactly. And the bag was holding my computer and hard drives. But another car had stopped and they’d picked it up from where it had fallen. Luckily, on a previous trip I’d been working with a sponsor called Urban Armour Wear that makes protective cases for phones and laptops. So at least my stuff was super well protected [laughs].
cyclespeak And you provided the perfect real-world test.
Sami In Spanish, to be lucky, we say we have a flower in the ass.
cyclespeak The past few days I’ve been busy working out what questions to ask you but there’s just so much to cover over the past year.
cyclespeak And I can’t start a call with four pages of questions. It’s ridiculous. So I’ve had to hone it down as you never sit still.
Sami So it’s the highlights?
cyclespeak That’s right. So starting with the tail end of last year and you were premiering the first episode of Into the Atlantic Islands. Towing a surfboard behind your bike up those Madeira climbs looked hard work?
Sami They were so steep and I did it wearing sneakers.
cyclespeak How was the response to the film?
Sami Looking back, maybe it was a mistake to split it up into little mini episodes rather than one full-length film. And I always find it difficult to edit myself. Hearing your own voice and seeing yourself on camera. And if you think about it in a marketing sense, we shot the film when it was sunny and warm but it had a wintertime release. So maybe a little out of context?
cyclespeak And the audience response?
Sami That was really good and we’re now taking those lessons learnt into our second chapter.
cyclespeak Shortly after your Madeira trip, you went off to Saudi Arabia to film the Dakar Rally.
Sami That was an experience which I would happily do again. But spending 20 back-to-back days filming in the desert, I did really miss my bike. Kind of my body asking what the fuck I was doing?
cyclespeak But shortly afterwards, you posted from Fuerteventura where you were taking a well-earned rest.
Sami It’s a special place for me. Somewhere I go to recharge and relax. I ride but usually spend more time surfing. They have waves all the time so why not [laughs].
cyclespeak And then quite a contrast in landscape when you visited your friend Gaby in the Alps to help celebrate her birthday. Is there a particular emotional connection you have with mountains?
Sami Ahhh. Now you’ve got me. Because I’m finding it more and more.
cyclespeak The call of the mountains?
Sami There was a time when I was seriously planning on moving to Fuerteventura. There’s endless gravel riding and of course the surfing. Two sports that merge really well and work all of my body. Surfing is so chill with no phones or anything and you get a sense of discovery with your bike.
cyclespeak But you decided not to move?
Sami It’s a pretty small island so I’m still happy to stay in Girona for the time being. But the mountains appeal in both a personal and professional way. So I’m not going to say when but I’m already considering a move there.
cyclespeak Andorra maybe or the Alps?
Sami No, definitely the Alps.
cyclespeak I can imagine you in a little cottage on the side of a mountain.
Sami It might not be a place, exactly. Maybe I’ll just get a car or van and move around. I’m in this limbo at the moment trying to sort stuff out.
cyclespeak After saying goodbye to Gaby, you’d planned to ride home but the weather was pretty awful so you decided to take a bus. And what happened next was pretty incredible?
Sami The rain was torrential so I stopped in this middle of nowhere town. There was a restaurant but it only had things with meat available. So I just sat down with a tea and watched the rain get even heavier. I asked them if there was a bus and they told me it was round the corner before helping me find an online timetable.
cyclespeak That sounds a better option than riding in the pouring rain.
Sami The bus was running late so I was waiting at the stop in the freezing cold, wearing every layer I was carrying. There was a girl driving and she helped me put my bike underneath in the luggage compartment. But when I came to pay I realised I’d left my wallet in my bags so, once more, out into the rain and cold.
cyclespeak You paid your fare and found a seat?
Sami 15 or 20 minutes later, the driver suddenly braked and brought the bus to a stop. She was shouting that the door was open but I didn’t immediately realise she was referring to the luggage compartment. And then it suddenly hit me and I raced down the steps and outside – not wearing any rain jacket – to discover my bike was missing.
cyclespeak That must have been devastating?
Sami My bike, my clothes, my computer, two hard drives containing recent projects. All missing.
cyclespeak I can only imagine how that feels.
Sami And then this car pulls up and explains that they’d been flashing us after they saw something fall out of the bus. I asked them to take me back along the road which they kindly agreed to do. And they were saying it was here, or maybe along here, or actually a little bit further. And all the time I was thinking, where the fuck is my bike!!
cyclespeak So you couldn’t find it?
Sami While all this was happening, thankfully the bus was waiting because my wallet and phone were still resting on my seat. So I thanked the car driver for trying to help and climbed back onto the bus to shelter from the rain. I called my friend who was putting me up for the night and I’ve never been so upset in my whole life—breathless, hardly able to speak and sobbing down the phone.
cyclespeak How do you explain to someone that your bike fell out of a moving vehicle?
Sami She offered to come and pick me up but I decided to stay on the bus and she’d meet me when we arrived in her town. An hour or two later – after a few more calls of me crying – we pulled up at the bus station. My friend and I were still hugging when I got a notification on my phone to say I’d received an email. This, it turned out, had been sent from a local police station to let me know they had my bike in detention [laughs].
cyclespeak They’d arrested your bike?
Sami Yes! And when my friend drove us over, there it was.
cyclespeak But how did they know it belonged to you?
Sami They’d opened the bags, powered up my laptop and saw my name on the log-in screen. Searching on Instagram, they’d found my profile and had sent me messages. But checking my Instagram feed was the last thing on my mind as I was panicking about my lost bike so I’d missed them. But from the profile they did manage to find my email and that finally worked.
cyclespeak That’s quite some detective work!
Sami And the funny thing is, the boyfriend of the girl I was staying with has this labelling machine and he made me name labels for everything I was carrying and my bike [laughs].
cyclespeak Not long afterwards, you spent some time in Paris shooting for Rose Bikes. How did you find working in an urban environment with its street culture undertones?
Sami That’s possibly one of my favourite shoots of the year. I love working with El Flamingo Films—the best times ever. And they always seem to use beautifully edgy models and locations that are random, remote and crazy places.
cyclespeak Random and remote in Paris?
Sami We went to this neighbourhood that definitely matched that description [laughs]. And I liked how Rose wanted to tell a different kind of story compared to the usual editorial content. We even featured an actual taxi driver in some of the scenes.
cyclespeak After a spell of surfing and skiing, you signed up for the Gravel Augusta; a 450km route from Barcelona to Valencia with 4000m of climbing. An enjoyable return to long distance racing?
Sami Looking back, my decision to sign up was crazy [laughs].
cyclespeak But you raced it nonstop—the first woman home. Pretty impressive.
Sami I’d been on a ride with some friends and then had lots of wine at a restaurant so I was completely shitfaced when I agreed to do it.
cyclespeak And then the reality sinks in the following morning.
Sami In my head, I had the best day ever on the bike. I hadn’t trained so I wasn’t focusing on my speed or where the other riders were. And then during the night section, I’d stopped for dinner – for an hour and a half [laughs] – when another girl arrived. That’s when I realised I was leading and when she asked if there was food available, I pointed the way inside before jumping on my bike.
cyclespeak And off you went.
Sami I was riding with this group of men but unfortunately they were too slow. It was 3:00am in the morning and I was feeling good. So I pushed on alone until about 6:00am when I thought I was going to die.
cyclespeak Time to refuel?
Sami A coffee and doughnut at a gas station. And that got me through to the end.
cyclespeak Without any focused preparation – only the basic fitness of your regular riding – you cover 450km in one go. Good for you!
Sami But people should not do this [laughs].
cyclespeak It’s a big ask, certainly.
Sami And I do know what riding long distances over gravel feels like. So I would suggest working up to an event like this.
cyclespeak You raced Unbound in 2019 – that’s 200 miles of gravel – and returned this year to photograph the event. Were you tempted to pin on a number and ride it again or happy to stay behind the camera?
Sami The day before the start, I was ready to race it again. I had my bike with me and rode some of the first sections. And whenever I’m not racing, it always feels like I’m missing something. But on the day of the race, I was sooo happy that I was there as a photographer.
cyclespeak Was it the weather?
Sami It was super nice in the morning but then it started to rain. So I was out on the course – wearing a poncho – and sheltering in the car when it got super heavy.
cyclespeak And you got your picture taken by Dominique Powers.
Sami Yes! My God, that girl is amazing.
cyclespeak You had a muscle injury after returning from the US and decided to take a break from Instagram to avoid the temptation of endless scrolling while you were resting up. Did you miss it?
Sami It can get to be a habit so it’s nice to have time away from the platform. But you also have obligations to your sponsors so I’m still searching for that balance. I do enjoy sharing my adventures and I’ve made some great connections and friendships that way. It’s become another tool for messaging and reaching out to people.
cyclespeak Another photoshoot – this time for Pas Normal Studios – took you to Iceland. I thought your photographs were particularly beautiful. A landscape you found inspiring?
Sami The first time I visited Iceland – back in 2019 – I came back with this amazing impression. And the more I work, the more I understand how the right location for a shoot is one of the most important aspects. For me, it works best when I first discover these places by bike, so some of the locations for the Pas Normal campaign were inspired by racing the Rift.
cyclespeak You returned to Iceland later this year for the next in your Atlantic Islands series. The riding didn’t go exactly to plan which you referenced very openly in a social media post. Do you feel it’s important to be honest about life’s highs and lows?
Sami I’m been thinking a lot about this since I came back. Because I do wonder whether there are people that assume I’m flying around the world, living my best life, and it’s all flowers and rainbows. But that’s definitely not always the case.
cyclespeak Is anyone’s life that perfect?
Sami Some people choose to only post about the good times but I’m working my ass off and sometimes things don’t go to plan. And going back to Iceland, it wasn’t the cycling aspect of the trip but the surfing. You depend so much on the weather, which you can’t control. I have a limited number of days and if you don’t have waves, you don’t surf. And that’s basically what happened. I pedalled for 270km towing a trailer with my surfboard. In the rain. And then there’s no waves. I was disappointed and upset and it’s like when you have a partner. You take these emotions out on them.
cyclespeak I think that happens to us all.
Sami Well, in Iceland it was two of my friends. And afterwards I was super sad because I didn’t handle it very well. So after thinking over how I’d behaved, I did post about it. Maybe I was being too honest? Too much drama? But when these things happen, that’s real life. The ups but also the downs.
cyclespeak The way you come across, it’s not contrived. You say how you feel and I believe people appreciate your honesty. Because everything isn’t curated.
Sami The photo that went with the post was taken after riding six hours in the rain, only to find no waves. And my expression says it all—what the hell am I doing here? [laughs]
cyclespeak In another post you mention wanting more hours in the day. Do you find it difficult to fit everything in?
Sami Every single day I think the same. When I’m out of the house – maybe it’s a shoot that starts at 5:00am – then you have a structure and things usually work out. But at home? Today I was an hour late for our call because there’s never enough time—I’m still wearing my kit from the bike fit. So I could definitely do with a few more hours each day [laughs].
cyclespeak Can I take you back to the start of the year when you made a post that mentioned how you were facing some life difficulties but looking forward to new decisions and experiences. And it ended with you reaffirming the joy and strength you get from riding your bike. Can I ask whether you’re enjoying life at the moment?
Sami I definitely feel it’s been a good year in the sense that I said yes to everything I wanted to do and had time for. So I went all in, again, and that’s after promising myself that I would ride more than work. But that didn’t happen [laughs].
cyclespeak Because there’s always the next project?
Sami Maybe now, I’m reaching the point where I don’t feel the need to say yes to everything? And there’s so many good memories from the rides I have done this year. We recently released the film of me and my friend Henna bikepacking above the Arctic Circle—such a fun trip. And I’m heading back to Iceland to pick up where we left off. This time, hopefully with some waves and a happy Sami [laughs].
Harvest hills of golden wheat. A below-table tangle of bare legs and bib shorts. Helmeted heads silhouetted by shadow. Themes that feature regularly in Saskia Martin’s carefully observed and playful photography.
Having spent the past decade documenting her rides in and around London, commissioned projects have followed as Saskia combines her passion for the medium with the professional requirements of delivering a brief.
Interspersing a photo essay of recent work, Saskia frames this creative journey with references to her own riding, the visual language she employs in capturing a moment, and her innate love of telling stories.
This time last year I’d boxed up my bike before travelling to southern Spain. I’d lost my cycling mojo and decided the best place to find it again was riding the Badlands route with my friend Kat.
My mojo proved elusive on the dry, dusty trails so I guess I’m still working through a mid-bike crisis. But treating myself to a new mountain bike has proved motivational in terms of wanting to use it. My first time out, riding up a hill, I had this sudden moment of clarity—like I was sitting in a favourite armchair.
One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make was leaving my role as Product Developer for Rapha after three and a half, happy years. As you can perhaps imagine, lots of tears.
I’ve left behind what feels like a family of colleagues but it just felt like it was time for a change. And as I’m now working for Apidura, cycling continues to play a huge part in my life.
We’re a fairly small team based in Camden and I just love it. There’s a real focus on functionality – solving design problems which is very much me – and as I ride to work each morning through the city streets I look forward to what each day brings.
Picking up the camera
My introduction to photography was through my iPhone. Taking pictures of friends out riding or at a coffee stop. It’s rather a cliché but I just love storytelling and this translates to certain rulesI have when posting multiple images on social media. They have to be in chronological order and not every photograph necessarily needs to include someone on a bike. I get a kick out of portraying the little details that inform the bigger picture.
I’ve since upgraded to a mirrorless camera system as I transition into commissioned projects. It’s been quite a creative journey since my first ever photographic gig shooting my best friend’s wedding. I felt like I was getting married with the amount of stress I was feeling.
I love making a brand’s vision come alive and delight in the outcome of the process—that first pass through the images and the editing that follows. But then you also have the occasional crisis in confidence which, talking to established photographers, isn’t that uncommon. Looking back and thinking how you would change this or that.
I get a lot of inspiration from how the cinema portrays light and colour. And I’m instinctively drawn to what some might consider to be imperfect images—if there’s a blur or the composition isn’t classically two thirds. I have a penchant for capturing parts of people rather than a full head-to-toe shot. Hands are so expressive and my friends are now accustomed to me photographing their legs and feet.
I’m not one for grandiose statements but, to me, my pictures feel like curated art and artists always title their work. So I do carefully consider the words I use to accompany a post. I’m not particularly comfortable in front of the camera but I’m happy to be seen through my work. And maybe this combination of words and images can engage or even inspire for a moment?
I eat a lot. A lot of pasta [laughs]. Is that the secret? Yes. The Italian secret!
I’m on a video call with photographer Chiara Redaschi but have to pause while she catches her breath. With her phone unable to connect, she’s just run across town to sit on the terrace of her boyfriend’s restaurant where the WiFi is better.
“I live near Milan but I’m spending the summer here in Tuscany. It’s a little town called La California not far from the sea and when I’m not taking photographs, I help out in the restaurant. Lots of seafood and Italian classics like spaghetti.”
With a body of work that combines dramatic vistas with emotionally charged images of faces that fill the frame, now that Chiara’s heart has stopped racing, I ask whether growing up with artistically inclined parents helped determine her own creative path.
“In many ways it was kind of normal for me. My Mom would paint outside on the terrace and my Dad and his brother were both interested in photography. My Uncle passed away when I was 11 but I do remember that he was very experimental—much like an artist. And this might sound a little silly but when I started making my own photographs, it felt like my Uncle was continuing to express himself through me. Like a book with chapters and I’m carrying on the writing.”
Growing up in Novara in the north of Italy, as a teenager Chiara would skip school to soak up the atmosphere of nearby Milan and Turin—the energy of these urban environments finding an outlet in her first runway images shot in the style of a street photographer.
“I was studying a degree in Artistic Management but an internship with a fashion brand made me decide not to go back. The designer told me they needed some pictures taking and then I spent the summer travelling across Europe following the fixed gear racing circuit with my camera. Before I knew what was happening, photography was my job [laughs].”
Hands rarely still as her movements punctuate each sentence, Chiara describes how these first formative years working for a fashion house still influence her current style of photography.
“Researching a shoot for a cycling brand, I’ll often include elements of fashion photography. I love their crazy viewpoints—how they position the models and sometimes add something into the frame to help tell a story or convey a particular emotion.”
Describing herself as instinctual and less of a planner, being present in the moment and getting in amongst the thick of the action is Chiara’s preferred style of shooting—an approach she recently adopted when she was following the Trans Balkan Race.
“You’re so remote – in the middle of nowhere – and then you spot a rider in the distance. And it’s so amazing to be out there, capturing these moments. To me, it feels…[Chiara checks her online translator]…like a magnet! A sense of attraction that’s particularly strong when I take a portrait. All that emotion etched on a face—when I see this, I have to take a picture. I can’t just stand and watch. It’s stronger than me.”
Travelling extensively for her work – Chiara can be packed and out of the door in 30 minutes – this sense of movement reminds her of childhood summers spent visiting Spain and Portugal with her parents. But time spent in Novara is also precious and acts as a counterpoint to the inevitable stresses of a life lived on the road.
“When you’re constantly on the move – something I love to do – you rarely have time to process everything that you’ve done. So home is where I take the time to stop and reset. I open the door and breathe out [Chiara sighs deeply]. I spend time with my parents and visit my grandma. She’s 103 years old and we do the usual Italian stuff—talk, eat and talk some more.”
Sandwiched between work trips and family time, riding her bike is another passion Chiara loves to indulge. So when she’s not at the restaurant, summer days in Tuscany often involve a gravel loop with time to stop and enjoy the view.
“I have my phone but rarely carry a camera. It’s good for me to not always be thinking about taking pictures. And I feel safe away from the cars when I’m riding off-road. In Tuscany we have our white roads so why not [laughs].”
Relishing time spent outdoors, Chiara illustrates this sensibility with a story from a recent photographic assignment in the mountains to the north of her birthplace. Standing by the roadside, taking pictures on the Gavia Pass, a butterfly passed so closely to her ear that she heard the flutter of its wings.
“It was such an amazing experience and it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.”
A description that leads me to ask whether, when pressing the shutter, Chiara ever has an inkling that the stars have aligned in one particular shot?
“I photographed Petra on this year’s Transcontinental as she arrived at a checkpoint. At first, the riders passing through were racing but later there was a switch to those that were simply fighting to keep on riding. And when I saw Petra – riding alone in the middle of the night – her raw emotions affected me so deeply. I’m crying now, thinking about it. I could feel the pain, the emotion, and I knew that shot was good.”
Pausing a moment – the birdsong of her terrace location a stark contrast to remembered times of mountain tops at midnight – Chiara gathers herself before explaining how she sometimes needs to stop and take a breath when she’s working. How it can be so emotional that her hands start to shake.
“But I know that I have to keep going because I want to capture all these moments—a record of what I see and feel. And I’m laughing when I think it’s my job because it never feels that way. It’s a part of me that was always there. I took my first photograph in Venice when I was five years old with a Barbie camera. And I wouldn’t be doing it as a profession if it was just a way of paying the bills. I want to enjoy what I’m doing—to make something that will last forever.”
After months of winter riding in his native Hamburg, creative producer Jochen Hoops headed south to ride the quiet back roads and climbs of Mallorca. Having documented this migratory escape with his camera, here Jochen muses on the seasonality of cycling; the discipline of dark winter days, the emotional release of springtime and the reasons he chooses to ride whatever the weather.
Am I a year-round cyclist? I don’t think it’s laziness but it’s not easy to ride in the depths of winter. You’re less likely to have company and cycling alone in bad weather has its challenges.
In winter months Hamburg is cold, wet and windy. And the landscape is not very pleasant to the eye—the light is flat and the sky a uniform grey. Maybe that isn’t important to some people but for me it is.
But still, I have to get out – for my physical and mental wellbeing – and usually I end up enjoying the ride. You just need the discipline to step out of the door.
I was fortunate to enjoy two trips to Mallorca—the first resulting from an off-the-cuff remark and a spontaneous decision. A friend from Paris mentioned that he was heading out to Mallorca for a week and had arranged to stay at this little, boutique hotel. Saying how nice that sounded and adding that I also needed to get away, my friend kindly suggested that I join him on the trip.
The hotel only had four guest rooms so it was very intimate and good riding was easy to find in any direction. It was still only February but we’d left a wintery Hamburg to discover signs of spring on the island. Passing through tiny villages – the clink of coffee cups and our freewheels resonating along the narrow streets – by the second day the rhythm of riding had transported me far away from any everyday concerns.
In winter you somehow feel stiff and you need the warmth of more southerly climes for your legs to push the pedals a little easier. So we were intent on catching the sun’s restorative rays, eating good lunches and discovering the island by bike. Simple pleasures.
A training camp comprised my second trip. Arranged every year by the same group of friends, I’d met some of them at a charity ride out of Paris and they’d asked me if I wanted to join them. A little different from my February visit to the island – more focus on effort – but we also found time for fun and laughter.
And it’s these differences – the contrasts between both trips – that make cycling so interesting. The meandering rides with time to stop and stare and the fast paced charges that leave your chest heaving and legs empty. A joy in movement that, irrespective of the season, means the motivation to ride doesn’t really change. Wherever or whenever I’m out on the bike, I clip in and move forward and immediately it just feels right.
In the late summer of 2021, Dominique Powers loaded up her hatchback with camera gear and camping equipment, attached her gravel bike to the rear rack and set off on a three week, 3000 mile road trip. Stopping off at parking lots, trail heads and open prairie, she set up a portable backdrop before awaiting the arrival of each next subject. The photographic series that resulted – The Leaders of Gravel – was subsequently published on The Radavist to great acclaim and set the pulses of commissioning editors and marketing directors racing.
Over a transatlantic call we discuss this breakthrough moment and Dominique’s passion for storytelling. How she fell in love with cycling during the pandemic and, with a life lived on the road, the simple joys of coming home.
Dominique is taking our call at the kitchen table of the house in Los Angeles she shares with her partner Ken. On the drainer sits a ceramic coffee dripper, sunlight is filtering through the windows and if I’m not mistaken I can hear the squawk of parrots. “Oh that’s just LA,” she confirms with a smile.
During the course of our conversation, Dominique mentions a time from her childhood when she left a library book out in the rain. The outcome of a meeting between her Mom and the librarian was deciding between paying for a replacement or volunteering in the library until she’d cancelled her debt. A voracious reader, Dominique chose the latter and it wasn’t until two years later that she found out her Mom had promptly paid the fine on her behalf.
An everyday story but one that illustrates how Dominique, even from an early age, understood the importance of owning the moment. An attitude she applied to her years as a digital technician working on high fashion and advertising campaigns.
“As with anything you do, your past experiences inform the way you approach new experiences. So all the time I was investing in being the best digital technician I could be, it taught me what working hard feels like.”
“But the longer I worked as a technician, the further away I felt from making that shift to being behind the camera. I was taking photographs the whole time but there were months on end when I wasn’t creating images with presence and purpose. And it took a sense of getting a little bit bored to prompt me to make the move.”
Continuing to work as a technician paid the bills and allowed Dominique the freedom to choose the stories she wanted to tell—in many cases the paycheck coming second as she set out to find her own voice and sense of authenticity. A process further guided by Dominique discovering cycling.
“I’m a very competitive person and grew up doing all these different endurance sports. And then during the pandemic, cycling quickly took over my life because what else do you do when you just want every day to pass? You spend hours and hours on the bike and it continues to provide motivation for the work I do now.”
These differing strands of interest and insight eventually coalesced in her Leaders of Gravel series—Dominique setting out from her home in Los Angeles on a circuitous route from one scouted location to the next. But before capturing a portrait with her medium format film camera, she took the time to converse with each subject to better understand their own experiences and stories.
“Trust takes time. You need to know, to a certain extent, the person holding the camera in order to feel comfortable lowering your guard. And I was very open about why I was doing the series and what I wanted from them. They didn’t necessarily need to smile or even be serious. It was all about who they were as a person so it was important to create a safe space where they could be a bit more vulnerable.”
With each subject’s eyes seemingly focusing through and beyond the camera to Dominique herself, she realised the profound impact the body of work had made on her own understanding of the creative process.
“On the road during the trip—even then, I knew this series would be with me forever. It was hard work – so many early mornings – but I felt this huge amount of gratitude that people agreed to do it and made the time. That they were willing to meet me at whatever deserted destination I had decided. And how this sense of magic found a place in the resulting portraits.”
“It came at a time when I really wanted – and needed – to reconnect with myself. An opportunity to explore my own sense of adventure and be present in the moment. I’d brought along my tent – fully expecting to be really roughing it – but the hospitality I experienced meant I only camped out the one time. People were so generous in opening up their homes to me that I just wanted to put that back out into the world. You can’t help but be changed by experiences like that.”
Hanging out at Sea Otter a few weeks after the story came out, every marketing director Dominique bumped into said they’d seen it—one notable outcome that followed involving another journey but one with a transatlantic flight.
“I’m very fortunate to be on a retainer with Giro and I’d mentioned this goal I had of shooting the Tour de France Femmes. They made a few phone calls and the project was given a green light. And then, knowing how establishing a relationship with my subjects is important to my work and that I’d never attended a World Tour race in Europe, we agreed that I’d spend a week with the Canyon-SRAM women’s team in the lead up to Paris-Roubaix.”
Landing in Paris, Dominique picked up her rental car and drove up to join the team on a course recon.
“It was such a blast and I’m so grateful – thank you, Mom – that I learnt to drive on a stick shift. And then once I was settled, every morning I’d show up an hour early to hang out with the soigneurs and mechanics so that on race day I really felt part of the team.”
Not having the same level of direction that she would usually enjoy shooting editorial content, Dominique quickly adapted to reacting to what was happening—building a level of trust with the riders such an integral part of the trip that Dominique was conscious of not getting in the way or asking too much.
“I went with the goal of meeting the athletes and team and to experience the culture of European World Tour racing. In effect, my pre-season training, so that when I return in the summer for the Le Tour Femme I can hit the ground running.”
Although a relative newcomer to cycling, Dominique is well placed to offer an opinion on how the sport is changing. And back home in the US, it’s gravel that is currently all the rage.
“Women want to exercise more and spend time outdoors. They want to create authentic experiences and cycling is the answer in so many ways. And because of the number of cars on the road, gravel is a perfect fit. That was how I discovered cycling and my own journey has taken me to the start line of Steamboat Gravel which was so much fun. Quite a challenge but I went into it wanting to test my metal. To see what I was made of.”
“I believe in ‘go big or go home’ so why not take a risk and roll the dice. I could have decided to line up some e-commerce photographic jobs and get well paid for my time. But I chose to do a photo series of the top women in gravel and then see what would happen.”
If Dominique does ‘go home’, right now that means LA and the house she shares with Ken. A place where she can feel emotionally open and where she disconnects from whatever outward pressures she might be feeling.
“I’m an early bird and generally wake up around 6:30am. I’ll have a cup of coffee with Ken and we’ll do the Wordle together before he starts his first morning meeting. Meanwhile I’ll have breakfast and write out a to-do list for the day. But even if I’m not working, having that early morning hour to greet the day and be reflective is really nice.”
As we wind up our conversation, I ask if she finds it easy to feel a sense of satisfaction in her work? Or whether, like some creatives, she’s always looking to the next project?
“You take the Leaders of Gravel series—that happened over a three week period and once I had all the images I needed and I’d written up the story, it was done. I don’t plan to ever go back and add to it. But I do feel this sense of forward momentum and there’s always something more that I want.”
And more stories to tell, I ask.
Dominique pauses for a second and smiles broadly before answering.
“I now live slower. More time with family. More time with my friends.”
Albert Gallego is a freelance photographer working under the pseudonym Brazo de Hierro [loosely translating as Iron Arm]. Based between Barcelona and Girona, his beautiful imagery depicts riders leaning into landscapes filtered through meteorological layers of cloud and dust with sharp shadows marking the progress of the sun. Sitting in his study – the walls covered by framed artworks and with a view of Montserrat from his window – Albert discusses his picture-taking beginnings, trips to the market and what it now means to be happy.
I started using the name Brazo de Hierro a long time ago after I’d broken my left humerus in an accident at work. A friend drew a picture of the broken bone and then added ‘Brazo de Hierro’ so I asked if I could use it as my graffiti nickname. Often we would paint in disused factories and because graffiti is very impermanent, I began using a camera to capture the artwork. The more pictures I took, the greater my interest and because graffiti has links with hip hop, I was doing portraits of singers and this led to editorial work for advertising companies. By that time I’d moved to Barcelona which was where I first saw the Red Hook Crit races.
I was already aware of the West Coast bike messenger scene but fixed-gear bikes were new to the city. And to me, they just seemed the purest way of riding a bike—one gear, no brakes and moving in and around the cars. I started riding fixed with my friends and over time they gradually got into road, gravel and mountain biking. So I was learning more about the different types of cycling and all the time taking photos. Since then, I haven’t stopped and it’s fair to say that photography is both passion and profession.
Spring and summer is when the weather is better but, for me, they’re not always the best seasons for shooting. Winter is cold with rain and snow and all these things can make an image more epic. But autumn is my favourite time with the colours of the trees and the ground covered with leaves.
Sometimes the most important thing is to scout where you will be shooting next. And riding is my way of doing this. When I have some free time, I go out on my bike to find new locations and the next time I have a shoot I can remember those places. And because I’ve been taking photos for 20 years, my eye is trained to read the light and to know how the sun will move and where the shadows will lie. This is the formula that I use which is why I talk about being in the right moment at the right time. The first prize I ever won for my photography was for an image taken on an iPhone. For another prize – in the Mark Gunter awards – I was using a borrowed camera remotely over video calls during the strict Spanish lockdown. It’s your eye that takes the photograph—the camera is just the tool that you use.
My dog Atlas is a really nice assistant. Every morning we go for a walk together and sometimes he rides with me in my backpack. Whenever I can, he comes along on the shoot and if I’m ever away travelling for work, when I get home he goes crazy. I love that moment.
I still enjoy using film cameras and have a large collection. I like how you have to think the photo and we’ve all come from film so maybe it helps to know the history and to understand how the process works. For my digital shooting, I’m thinking it’s time to move to mirrorless. It’s the future and I predict that in a few years DSLR cameras will be obsolete. But if I take this step, I will also have to change my computer because the file sizes are bigger and you need more power to process the images.
Many people ask if I also do video but I say, no, I’m a photographer. I’ll post videos on social media because my phone makes it so easy but if you want professional video, then I think you should go and ask a professional videographer. I have a lot of filmmaker friends and I’m always happy to connect them with a client. In English they say ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’ and it took me more than ten years before I was happy to call myself a photographer.
When it comes to social media, I don’t really show that much of my life. My Instagram is mainly pictures of Atlas, my riding and the photos I’ve taken. When I go to dinner with friends or visit my parents, I don’t need to show this because it’s my moment and I have the memories in my head. Last month I posted a video that showed my face and it felt strange because I’ve always enjoyed being anonymous. It’s nice to go to a place and not have anyone recognise you.
Before lockdown, cooking for me was a chore. It was difficult to find the time and I would buy things to make a quick meal. But when we were told to stay at home, I really got into cooking and now it’s my zen moment. I wake up in the morning and take my time making my filter coffee. And when I want to eat lunch or dinner, I don’t go to a supermarket. I prefer the street market because all the produce is from the local area. It costs a little more but I have the feeling that I’m helping the farming community. I ride to the market on my Brompton – sometimes with Atlas – and carry cloth bags so I don’t have to use plastic. The people know me as ‘the guy with the bike’ and it’s something that I really enjoy. All my life, the fruit and vegetables that we ate as a family we grew ourselves. So it feels good to buy what I need locally.
Back in 2015 I had a really bad crash on my fixed-gear bike. I was hit by a bus in Barcelona [Albert pulls a bike frame down off the wall and points to a deep indent on the top tube] and this is where my knee hit the frame. I flew over the bars and broke four ribs and my collar bone. And because I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I had a large contusion on my head and the bleeding on my brain forced the doctors to induce a coma for 24 hours. All this trauma had a massive impact on my life at that time. I’d been working in a shared office space with many creative people – a full gas lifestyle – and in a matter of a few moments, this all changed. But the bones healed, the bleeding stopped and I decided to live my life in another way. So now, if you want to be angry with me, you need to understand that I won’t be angry in return. I haven’t got room in my life for any negativity. I say okay, goodbye!
Which brings me to what Sundays are for. This series of photos on my Instagram feed started when I was riding my gravel bike and didn’t want to spend precious time positioning my bike carefully up against a wall or a tree. I would just leave the bike on the path or trail and take a picture. A friend of mine suggested I make a hashtag and every Sunday I posted one of these images. Even during lockdown, when we couldn’t ride outside, I took a shot of my bike on the floor next to my rollers. So it grew from there and now I have professional cyclists giving me their bikes so I can photograph them on the ground. And it’s funny because when I first started this, my custom Belle Cycle was really new and I had people asking why I was leaving such a nice bike on the floor. They wanted to know if Enrico [Bellé] knew how I was treating his bike. And I’d tell them, yes, he knows and I’m always careful to have the drive side up. Now people from all over the world are using the hashtag. It’s crazy!
All these different threads have combined with the lessons I learnt in lockdown to make me appreciate the need to find balance in my life. Rather than just sitting in front of a screen – work, work, work – I now understand the importance of taking time out for me. To go for a walk, to play with Atlas, to meet friends for a coffee and a chat. And I feel very fortunate – like a rich person – when I go out on my gravel bike. Even if it’s only for an hour; riding without a route and getting lost acts as my therapy and I always come home happy.
I’m on a transatlantic call with Photo Pace photographer Richard James Agcamaran. RJ to family and friends and cutting a youthful figure in a simple plain t-shirt, despite the early hour he’s relaxed and smiling.
With a beautifully realised body of work that sets monochrome shots of San Francisco streets against the sharp shadows and golden hues of West Coast sunlight, it’s perhaps surprising that he chooses to first reference a teaching career in his Instagram bio.
But over the course of our conversation, it’s this passion for education that best exemplifies his thoughtful and conscientious character—RJ talking candidly on a range of topics from commuting by bike, telling stories with Photo Pace and the lessons we can learn from the young.
cyclespeak I can see the morning light shining through your window. Living south of Manchester in the UK, that’s one of the reasons the Photo Pace imagery appeals so much. Those wonderful California colours and strong shadows.
RJ San Francisco is this special, weird place. People paint their houses all kinds of crazy colours but it kind of works.
cyclespeak So what colour is your house?
RJ It’s normal [laughs]. But we did live in a neighbourhood where this house had a giant painting of a lion across its front. So, naturally, everyone just referred to it as the ‘Lion House’.
cyclespeak Is there a particular pattern to your week? How does a typical working day contrast with the weekend?
RJ I consider myself a full-time bike commuter so most weekdays start with a 5:30 alarm. I have a 14 mile ride to the school where I teach and I don’t start until eight so that gives me a little cushion if I get a flat tyre. But this extra time is also useful because I love to shoot photographs. And especially this time of year when the light can be pretty amazing.
cyclespeak I guess it’s dark when you first set off?
RJ Absolutely. But as I get closer to the city, the sun is rising and you get these awesome shadows.
cyclespeak Do you vary your route?
RJ Going in, I usually keep it straight but coming home I have more freedom.
cyclespeak So quite an urban commute?
RJ We recently moved outside of San Francisco proper so my ride takes in quiet neighbourhoods but there’s also a few main streets which can be a little scary. Four lanes of traffic with cars parked along the side of the road. You do have to watch out for doors opening and Ubers dropping off and picking up.
cyclespeak How does this compare to the weekend?
RJ If I have a really hard week – it can be a grind getting up so early – then I’ll sleep in maybe more than I should. But if there’s something planned with the Photo Pace guys, I’ll be up early so I can get into the city. We usually spend an hour or two talking at a coffee shop before we get moving.
cyclespeak So coffee first?
RJ I actually don’t drink coffee [laughs].
cyclespeak But you’re a cyclist?
RJ My friends tease me about it all the time. I’m a matcha fan.
cyclespeak How often do you meet?
RJ Every couple of weeks or so. But we talk to each other all the time over a DM thread.
cyclespeak Are you all based out of San Francisco?
RJ We live in different regions of the Bay Area so usually meet up across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin.
cyclespeak What’s your own neighbourhood like?
RJ I’m not exactly sure whether I’ve been lucky or unlucky but I’ve moved seven times in seven years [laughs].
cyclespeak That’s quite a lot.
RJ I guess so. But it does mean I get to explore lots of different parts of the Bay Area.
cyclespeak And do you always carry a camera when riding?
RJ There was a point when I was carrying it every single day—even on my commute. I never wanted to miss an opportunity so I’d have my little point and shoot Ricoh GR to hand. But I’ve started to intentionally leave the camera at home every once in a while. It’s nice to simply enjoy the ride and not get drawn into this social media world where you feel you have to post a picture and tell people what you’ve been doing. Sometimes I don’t even upload my ride onto Strava.
cyclespeak You know what they say? If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen [smiles].
RJ Exactly. We joke about it but I know that some people treat that pretty religiously.
cyclespeak In your Instagram bio, you describe yourself as an educator / cyclist. Was that a conscious decision to state those terms in that particular order?
RJ It was absolutely intentional. I love being a teacher—it’s one of the many joys in my life. The interactions that I get to have with my students and seeing their emotional growth over time is a real privilege.
cyclespeak I’ve read that you first got into photography through skateboarding—creating videos on an old camcorder. What’s your take on the ease in which smartphones can capture amazing digital content?
RJ Maybe I’m biased as a teacher but I’m a big supporter of people creating. Kids are the future and the quality of content they’re putting out is just awesome. When I was at school, the only people that had access to content creating equipment were the adults who could afford the fancy cameras. So with the advent of smartphones and social media platforms, I’m rooting for the younger generation to go out and give the world a refresh.
cyclespeak Patrick [Lee] told me that Photo Pace evolved from a group of friends that messaged over Instagram but initially hadn’t ever met in person.
RJ Photo Pace started as an Instagram DM. At the time I was living in Los Angeles and when I moved to the Bay Area, we arranged to go out on a ride. We wanted to share the photos we’d taken so we started a group chat and then Chris Corona came up with the name Photo Pace. We wanted to distance ourselves from the mentality of riding at a certain speed.
cyclespeak Life doesn’t have to be full gas?
RJ That’s right. We were a group of guys tired at following the norms. We wanted to ride at our own pace, have fun and shoot photos. Photo Pace.
cyclespeak This all started over Instagram and I’ve heard it said recently that the platform has had its day.
RJ With Instagram – as with life in general – you either adapt or get left behind. When it was first launched, you took a photo of what you were doing at that instance which you then posted. Maybe now the content is a little more curated which is why I like stories because they retain a sense of immediacy.
cyclespeak I look at the Photo Pace feed and see this amazing body of work. What are the most enjoyable aspects of your involvement with the group?
RJ All of us are so different from one another. So we tend to feed off each other’s energies and inspirations. And we joke about it but we probably have the longest standing Instagram DM. I’m sure if I looked at my phone now, I’d see a hundred or so messages.
cyclespeak Are these diverse viewpoints important?
RJ We’re a bunch of x-ray technicians, air traffic controllers, emergency room medical staff, teachers. We have cycling in common but we also have these other areas of our lives that we can bring into the fold. It’s always different—never the same old.
cyclespeak Do you ride out with a rough idea of the shots you want or is the process more intuitive?
RJ Most are unplanned. And I feel there’s a finite amount of photographers who can create something truly original. Whatever image someone has shot, it’s either coming from something they’ve seen before or inspired by another photograph. To shoot something that nobody has ever seen before is incredibly difficult. So subconsciously I might have this idea but I’ll go about capturing my own version. And when I’m riding with Photo Pace, we like to share the experience and shoot on the go. People sometimes think it’s this point A to point B thing and that’s the end of the ride. But there’s so much that can get missed and that’s where I like to shoot—the moments in between. The coffee stop, fixing a flat tyre, the signs on the side of the road. To me, the parts of the ride that are the most important.
cyclespeak The moments between point A and point B. I like that.
RJ Some days are different than others. The time you ride, maybe the weather. And then later, when you look at a photograph, it takes you back to that particular time. You remember the sunlight, you remember the shadows.
cyclespeak I see what you mean about capturing a moment in time.
RJ Instagram gives you the option of sharing 10 slides but I feel that’s kind of a lot? So lately – and by that I mean two weeks ago [laughs] – I’ve been trying to limit the number of photographs I use to tell a story to no more than three.
cyclespeak Is there a pattern to your posts?
RJ I usually go off the feel and momentum of the other Photo Pace photographers. Kyle, for example, will post a photo. Then maybe five minutes later Patrick will post one of his. And they’re like really good photographs so I want to jump in too [laughs].
cyclespeak I couldn’t help but smile when I read in one of your posts, ‘Nothing like a good black and white photo on a Wednesday.’ Any other days?
RJ I tend to avoid posting on a weekend. Because you should be out having fun [smiles].
cyclespeak You mention the weekends and I was wondering whether your bike building is just a hobby or a part-time job?
RJ I grew up without that much money so I couldn’t afford to take my bike into a shop. The one time when I did – my tyre had flatted – this guy charged me $20 to change the tube! So I was determined to learn how to do this basic servicing myself and that grew to trying to fix more complex problems before I resorted to paying someone to do it for me.
cyclespeak A case of necessity being the mother of invention?
RJ The more I worked on my own bikes, the more I realised that I was getting pretty good and it was something I enjoyed. And as a teacher, I don’t make that much money, so I reached out over Instagram to see if anybody wanted their bikes working on.
cyclespeak What bike would you most like to build for yourself? Or have you already built it?
RJ For a dream bike, I wouldn’t particularly want something from one of the major players. I’d much rather have something different—something unique.
cyclespeak And your perfect day on the bike?
RJ That’s kind of an easy question to answer but also very loaded. For me, it’s not so much the weather or the location—it’s more the people I get to enjoy the bike ride with. Wherever I am, if I can have some really wonderful conversations and make a good experience out of a bicycle ride—then that’s more meaningful to me.
“A couple of years ago I was riding my track bike down the street from my house. I had my hands off the bars adjusting my helmet and my feet were locked in the toe-clips. All of a sudden the seat post broke in two and I cartwheeled off the bike. Landing on my ass, it took me a moment to realise what had happened before I dusted myself down and walked back home—the frame in one hand and the saddle in the other.”
For someone with such a relaxed approach to cycling, photographer and videographer Jean-Baptiste Delorme’s introduction to riding was anything but. After being presented with a new mountain bike at the age of 12, he was sent off to take lessons at a local cycling club. Already skateboarding and relishing the freedom of practising whenever he wanted, Jean-Baptiste (or JB as he’s more familiarly known) disliked the rigid routine of the bicycle training to such a degree that he stopped riding altogether.
“I hated it and still have bad memories of that time. But a few years later, my Uncle invited us for a week’s vacation in Morzine in the Alps. You could rent downhill bikes and this I loved!”
Having discovered how much fun cycling could be, JB took to riding the hills around Auvergne where he lived at that time. A year later saw a move to Montpellier to study architecture and a switch to riding a track bike following a chance encounter with another student from his school.
“I tried his bike, really enjoyed the feel of it and like everyone else was doing, I got my own road-bike conversion. And then one night I saw a group of young people out riding on the street. I mentioned this to my friend and he told me it was a crew called La Nuit Noire* that met up after work. Making contact, I started to ride with them and soon discovered how much I loved being part of a group of friends rather than a traditional cycling club. In a sense, it took me back to when I used to skate—just hanging out and pushing ourselves to see what we could do.”
*The Dark Night
Having previously studied photography before architecture school, JB lost motivation without a defined purpose for the imagery he was creating. But now, with his friends from La Nuit Noire, he discovered a newfound desire to document what they were doing as a crew.
“It was creating images for social media and to make some prints that pushed me to pick up my camera again. And then after graduation, I chose to work in photography and video. My Mum still asks me why I did the studies but never worked as an architect. But I tell her I regret nothing because there were aspects of the course that I’ve since found very useful. Studying architecture, you’re encouraged to ask yourself questions with regard to the process and the endpoint—if I do this, for this purpose, what will be the outcome? So maybe it’s provided me with a way of thinking that I still subconsciously make use of in my work?”
Mentioning the stereotypical cycling imagery of roadsides lined with fans and riders’ jerseys covered in the brand names of sponsors, JB conjures up this visualisation to illustrate why he instinctively prefers a simpler aesthetic and a more minimalistic approach to representing movement—a pureness in sport that he finds particularly beautiful.
“I grew up watching skate videos and they’ve always been a big influence on my work. You see things differently because they use the space in a certain way and there’s a rhythm to the movement. So I try to create a tension in my pictures—a graphic approach that’s pure and free. Much in the same way that a track bike is stripped back, it’s about removing what disturbs the eye from a composition and taking away any unnecessary noise.”
Working in both photography and film, JB believes that both mediums can be used to convey an emotion but expressing this in video is more challenging as it requires a bigger team of people to create a quality product. That unlike photography – where it’s easier to control all the different variables – with film it’s harder to get exactly what you want. An analysis of method that JB extends to how he shoots from two opposing perspectives.
“Static viewpoints are good for more composed images. When I have a specific idea and I say we’re going to do this and this and this. But I really like shooting from a bike because it feels more spontaneous. Like you’re floating with the other rider – a sense of a shared experience – and you can move around to see how the light works from a certain angle. And sometimes you get lost and the photos have an element of surprise. A combination of luck and locality that can add that magical ingredient.”
Preferring to shoot with a mirrorless camera, much of JB’s recent work was captured with a Sony A7iii—the tilt screen proving invaluable in allowing him to position the camera away from his eye when riding.
“What makes a huge difference when you’re shooting on the go – it can get a little sketchy – is knowing your camera is up to the job. It’s important to have really good autofocus but there’s still a certain amount of praying that the images turn out how you want. So if I’m shooting from the bike, I’ll move around from spot to spot, just following the rider wherever they decide to go. When I have the feeling that the light and the environment is interesting, then I’ll shoot hundreds of photos in a short period of time knowing that maybe only one or two will express what I want. Fixing in a fraction of a second a mix of light and attitude that gives context to the moment—a little like casting your fishing line in the hope that you’ll catch something interesting.”
Without my bikes, I wouldn’t get done half of what I do each day. I’d be stuck in traffic.
With an All City track bike for short rides around his home city of Montpellier – rides that JB says put a smile on his face – his main bike is a Bombtrack Hook EXT equipped with a frame bag and flat pedals that he uses for commuting, riding gravel or the bike packing trips he loves to take.
“For me, riding is a lot like skateboarding. A good excuse to create something, to have fun, to meet people and explore what’s around you. But even though my whole world has been built around cycling, it’s not an end in itself. I would rather have a 10km ride to reach a cool spot and the rest of the day hanging out with my friends, than spend the whole day riding but not talking to anyone.”
“It’s funny,” concludes JB, “that some French people watch the Tour de France just to see the countryside. What I want to do in my work, is to give people the inspiration and confidence to ride their bikes for all sorts of reasons and not just for sport. A bike is the perfect tool to live your life and I want to communicate that sense of opportunity and freedom.”