Among other things, Swiss photographer Jean-Jacques Ruchti works for the Sauber Formula 1 Racing Team. He photographs with a Leica M8 and a Leica S2. In the above video, which was produced for Leica for photokina, you can see him working at the race track.
Q: What made you decide to become a professional photographer?
A: I got my first camera when I was twelve and, since then, hardly a day has gone by when I didn’t take pictures. When I first finished school (not quite voluntarily), I worked as a car mechanic. It was only at the end of my twenties that I decided to train as a photographer. By the time I finished there were no more employee jobs; you had to become independent and work as a, so-called, freelance photographer. The first story I managed to sell to a magazine dealt with an uprising in the Mexican jungle. In the province of Chiapas the legendary sub-commander Marcos was leading the Mayans to battle. Later on, I also got into commercial photography. I’ve been taking pictures for the Sauber Car Racing Team since 2002, and as their in-house photographer since 2010.
Q: What does the work of an in-house photographer for a Formula 1 team entail?
A: Most of the work takes place before the season begins. There’s a small window of opportunity during which 60 percent of the racing season’s pictures and films have to be taken. And, of course, the initial press material has to be ready before the season begins. Immediately after the new racing car’s final certification, the F1 is available for 24 hours so that my assistants and I can photograph it non-stop. A further 30 percent of the pictures are taken during the Formula 1 Testing Days in Barcelona, where one day is designated for photography and filming. In accordance with FIA regulations, that one day for on track shots can only take place at that time. The material is then used by all the team’s partners – in the case of Sauber that’s Certina, Claro, NEC and many others.
Q: What particular photographic challenges does all this involve?
A: The challenges in this job are quite similar to any other type of challenge on this particular set: you have a tool that you know and master. Or you blow it: the mechanic doesn’t hit the lug nut during the wheel change at a box stop, or the photographer misses capturing the decisive moment.
Q: What is specific to car racing photography?
A: Car racing photography is unique because of the many rules and obstacles. There are very many hurdles you have to overcome just to have the possibility of taking pictures.
Q: In the video we see you photographing speeding cars from an accompanying car. It looks pretty dangerous.
A: After BMW took over the majority share in Sauber in 2006, the F1 was photographed on the race track standing still, then put “in motion” with Photoshop; but I’d already been trying out some ideas to do things very differently back in 2004, and in 2010 everything was in place. For on track images, you need a fast camera, car driven by a racing driver, and a flexible camera position that will give you good pictures. You lean out over the edge of the trunk with a camera ready to take pictures. In this case, the racing engineer’s announcement is explicit: “with less than 160 kilometres per hour it gets hot”. However, at up to 200 kilometres per hour, I can hold the Leica S2 in such a way that it takes good pictures; it’s only above that things get bad. The first year, when I was photographing with the M8, we were unlucky: it was raining and after a few metres the camera’s 50 mm lens was very, very dirty. We slid together around the curves at low temperatures with cold brakes. It looked like a disaster. The following year, with good weather and at 190km/h, I had an S2 available for 23 seconds net – but that was a breakthrough. The following year I equipped the car with a stable car rig, to which I attached two additional S2s that the assistants in the camera car triggered by cable.
Q: Why did you decide on the Leica S-System for these assignments?
A: In my opinion, the S is the only medium format camera that can be used in this manner.
Q: Which lens do you prefer to use when you’re on the race track?
A: The Summarit-S 35 mm f/2.5 ASPH. has the appropriate focal length needed: calculated in small format that’s like a moderate 28 mm wide-angle lens; it’s as though it was designed specifically for this purpose.
Thank you for your time, Jean-Jacques!
– Leica Internet Team