“I remember lying in a ditch on a stiflingly hot day on the Kronplatz in the Giro. There was only a small crowd on some parts of the climb so there was often a weird silence – all you could hear was the riders breathing and the bikes squeaking, the tyres crunching on the road.”
“2008 Paris Roubaix. Things were very different at the time, it was a lot more relaxed and there wasn’t the media bombardment at the finish that there is now – it was just you and the riders, far more human and more respectful than of late.”
So for starters, where are you from?
I’m Irish, hence the slight madness and naturally finding life quite funny.
How did you become interested in photography?
I remember taking my first photograph and it really was definitely a buzz when I pressed the shutter. I was probably only about 9 but even at that age I couldn’t wait to see the picture. I didn’t know that it meant anything then but I still get this excitement in the same way. I ‘found out’ about B&W film and shot my first rolls in Dublin in the 90’s. I still have them and it’s bizarre how they are as identifiable as my work as anything I do now. I’m not sure what that says – perhaps I have learned nothing or perhaps you just see the world how you see it.
“This is Mark Cavendish winning at the Tour de France 2013. He hasn’t yet got off his bike but he pool photographers have all got their shot and are already waiting for the next thing, I like the fact that Cav’s hidden in the shadows.”
“Sticky bottle from DS Hendrik Redant for Mark de Maar. It was a great day to be in the team car as there was a lot of tension, excitement and uncertainty ending in Mark winning that day.”
“Wales when the Tour of Britain came to town and in the middle of all the excitement, a father leaves his kids to knock the crap out of one another, whilst he tries to tell his mates what’s going on.”
“Tour of Britain again and early morning on the team bus heading to the start – Chris Jones from United Healthcare shows his battle scars.”
Tell us about your photogaphy career, what was your first job?
My first published work was for Wallpaper magazine a very long time ago, I shot Giorgio Locatelli and he was loads of fun. My first assisting trip was to Stockholm – so it’s always had a special place in my heart. We shot 6 floors up in an abandoned warehouse which had no electricity so we had to cable this down broken lift shafts to the building next door. When we got to the top it was covered in pigeon poo. This may sound mad but I really loved being there and problem solving to make it all happen – I was definitely thrown in at the deep end.
How did you start working at Vice?
I had done a shoot at the Ace Cafe in London and was dropping off some prints for the characters I’d shot. The then editor saw them, took an interest and it went from there. It’s an interesting mag because it is so accessible to everyone. I met a homeless guy who had pinned up some of pages of my work where he slept, that was very touching because he didn’t have anything yet he wanted to keep these, it was very humbling. I sell a lot of prints but that meant more to me.
“Roger Theel, Fabian Cancellara’s personal mechanic (who he’d be lost without) is just being Roger – he’s such a dude!”
“Matthias Brändle riding in the 2010 Giro. It was a tough climb and half way up you just knew he didn’t fancy it.”
“Back on the Kronplatz – The Italians love their cycling, they wait all day to see their heroes and always have a lot of advice to shout – but the passion is unmistakable.”
“Tour de France 2013. You get to see some really funny things behind the scenes…”
What was your first encounter with cycling?
I remember seeing the Tour de France on TV in Ireland when I was a child, it was when Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche were huge. I couldn’t understand why if they were only a few seconds down that they didn’t just cycle a bit faster….I was very young!
When did you decide to start shooting cycling?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. Because of all the documentary work on peoples lives I did from tattoo artists to ex-prisoners, I was approached by Rouleur magazine. I went to a race and realised that there was so much more to this world than you see in through race coverage. I didn’t ever care who won, just what the experience of being in the centre of the circus felt like.
What are your favourite cycling settings to shoot?
I love decay, I don’t like sunflowers. I never want the backdrops to seem more important than what’s happening in them but a sense of place and the unexpected keeps me interested. It’s interesting to record places which will change too. I have curated some historic cycling photography books and am fascinated by what the images from the past show us. It’s not just about the race, we learn so much about the society, the culture and the economy at that moment. Overall I’m interested in how different worlds co exist. I think I’ve done my job well if I have managed to give a sense of atmosphere, shown something that someone hasn’t seen before or intrigued them to want to know more.
“Milan San Remo 2013 – The Vittoria Neutral Support car at the head of the race tries to help the breakaway group in awful conditions, it was emotional.”
Do you have a favorite shot?
That changes depending on the mood I’m in. It’s a bit like food or music (my other great passions). Sometimes roast duck is what you’d love, sometimes only a great burger will do.
What bike do you have yourself?
I have a 1970’s Colnago but I’m no great shakes on a bike. I did grow up in the countryside and so had to cycle to get anywhere interesting. As I’m based in London it has become a little tough to cycle in the city unless you’re pretty handy.
“Keirin racing in Tokyo and backstage at the Grand Prix Final – it’s always hard to watch somebody deal with defeat.”
“Paris Roubaix is always hard on the hands.”
What’s your best place to ride?
The boardwalk in Palma – it’s flat and by the sea! I’d be happy whizzing up and down there on a beach cruiser.
Do you have any tips for new photographers? What equipment should a novice go for?
I read a really funny expression recently in the Fotografiska bookshop. GAS – Gadget Acquisition Syndrome. It really made me laugh because there is a lot of pressure to have the ‘right’ equipment – and lots of it. For me, it’s much simpler than that once you decide what your equipment needs to do for you.
The best advice I got was too pick up any camera and see how it fits your hands. Does it feel right? Trust your own judgement, it’s instinct which you can’t teach or learn. You need to love your cameras because if you don’t feel fully comfortable with them, you won’t enjoy using them and will be distracted by them which is never good.
I have used work from everything from 10×8 cameras 110mm cameras – I think it’s more important not to get too bogged down in what you think you ‘should’ be using. I embrace the difference because I don’t think you can really get it wrong if you love what you use. Of course some are better than others for certain things but your sauces are never better because you had the ‘right’ wooden spoon.
Top three do’s and don’ts for new photographers?
– Try everything for the experience but don’t feel you need to do everything in the longterm.
– Be honest with yourself in the work that you do and don’t give in to pressure to do work you don’t enjoy.
– Enjoy the ride and don’t give up if it’s what you really want to do.
From where do you gather inspiration?
Music, books, film. I’m a film fanatic. I just enjoy the visual feast of great cinematography – it’s very satisfying to your senses. I love the work of David Lynch, Chan Wook-Park, Wim Wenders, Mike Leigh and the likes – they all teach us something about ourselves and make us question what’s around us. I like to read about strange lives and different perceptions of the same reality – enjoying writers like JG Ballard, Aldous Huxley, Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk probably won’t be any surprise to you. Anything ‘other’ or ‘odd’ suits me.
“Keirin is a very solitary form of racing and it feels like that on and off the track. The determination on the face of Toyoki Takeda warming up, the riders struggle to stay focused while waiting behind closed doors which suddenly open to the packed Tachikawa Velodrome in Tokyo. I love the sense of occasion and the formality as the riders respectfully bow…and then it just goes crazy on the track. Amazing experience and I can’t wait to get back.”
What are your plans and dreams for the future?
I am very fortunate to work with great people on interesting projects that are hard work but very satisfying. That’s when I’m happiest. I love being invited into peoples lives who’s existence is completely foreign to me but I leave with an understanding I would never have had otherwise. More of that please.
On a day which is completely free from work and duties, what do you do?
Crikey, is there such a thing? I’m less organised and disciplined than I should be so there always seems to be something to do. I guess I like to just immerse myself in places where things are going on, places that just have energy. I like to do that without a camera sometimes too because I think it’s important to appreciate the awareness of life as it’s happening and not always through a viewfinder.
“Alberto Contador on the podium in Sallanches at the Dauphiné in 2010. He throws his flowers into the crowd. Bernard Hinault is always there, it just feels like he’s everywhere on a race day.”