Capturing the spirit of Cycling Matt Randall and his Leica M9

Matt Randall is a UK photographer based in East Yorkshire, and without ever formally studying photography as a subject, he has always loved looking at photographs since he was a teenager. Through that passion for photographs, he now takes them. With a keen sensibility for sports and cycling, his work is almost a synonym of cycling photography, epitomized by his collaboration with Rapha, the world’s finest cycling clothing and accessory brand.

Please give us an overview of what this project entails, including its objectives, the brand your worked with, etc.

This aim of this project was to capture to spirit of cycling at both an amateur and professional level. My objective was to photograph different facets of the sport, drawing similarities within the different levels of road cycling from the intimacy of preparing to ride, the suffering and commitment, to the role of style and the pride of winning. I worked with the cycle clothing brand Rapha and also (through my A.S.O accreditation) Jochen Hoops of Creative Hub Paris (the agency which represents me).

Where were these images taken; were the conditions difficult to get proper shots of the cyclists?

These images were taken in Italy and the UK. Regarding photographing conditions, weather plays a large part in imagery as you can imagine but as I can’t control it, that’s something I try not to worry too much about if I’m honest. When it comes to getting proper shots of the riders, particularly action shots I find being a fan of cycle racing really helps me to predict where the riders are going to be positioned on the road, and from there what could be determined in my mind as being a good angle for a photograph. This is how I approach my work as I like to have a plan if possible. Of course, along the way there are wonderful moments of chance where I take photographs and sometimes I miss but it’s those moments in particular that make photography special because to certain degree you never know what’s going to happen.

Please share your personal relation with cycling, can you draw any comparisons between photography and cycling?

I always loved cycling from an early age and in particular in my teens after I saw the Tour de France for the first time. I used to go off on bike rides by myself then and mostly have the same approach still in my forties. I always enjoyed cycling by myself as it was something I could do on my own without having to rely on others I guess. Photography for me is similar in that I’m off on my own, working by myself so in that way I suppose there are similarities.

You used the Leica M9 to shoot these images, considering other types of equipment may be used for fast-paced action sports, why was this your selection?

An interesting question! I agree there are a lot of choices these days when it comes to cameras for fast-paced action sports but first and foremost I just love the M9 – just for photography, not with any particular genre in mind. It’s a camera that I really connect with so I never really thought too much about getting a DSLR after picking up the M. One could say it’s fairly impractical for the medium of fast-paced sports photography and I’d agree, I mean there’s no autofocus for one thing but I love the fact that it’s perhaps impractical. I’m not saying it that using the M9 makes me a better photographer than others but to me it’s this impracticality that could possibly lead the photos into having a different style to other sports photographs? When I stop for moment to think about how much photography there must be in the world, and I want to stand out from the crowd to hopefully make a career from it, a way to do that in my mind is to try and approach things differently. It’s my belief that limiting your resources can make you more creative. Plus the M9 takes gorgeous photographs!

Gathering from the images, you really immersed yourself in what one would consider as “a day in the life of a cyclist”. One can see the strength and endurance these athletes need for such a sport. How was the process of immersing yourself with these subjects?

Indeed they are immensely strong athletes, even at amateur level their commitment to the sport is impressive. It’s not always easy to immerse yourself within the sport as with a lot of events you need access and press accreditation. I’ve been very lucky in that the cycling clothing brand Rapha took an interest in my photographs and as I’ve worked with them on several occasions I believe it’s this relationship helped me to become an A.S.O. (Amaury Sport Organisation) accredited photographer so I’m very grateful for that. It’s enabled me to get close to some of the world’s best cyclists, in particular at the Tour de Yorkshire this year. It was an amazing experience having the privilege of photographing at such close range. Once you have access it’s a case of being patient until the right moment and being absolutely ready as the decisive moment is gone so fast especially in the action shots. Even the portraits can be tough as nothing is static for long in the world of cycling.

You mention Anton Corbijn as one of your photography influences. Can you point something in particular you like about his photography or that you try to employ in your own style?

I absolutely love Anton’s work and I think the main reason is that from my perspective he seems to create his own world, almost like another reality? He certainly has his own identity in his images and that’s something I strive for in my own work. Perhaps it’s a little hard for me to explain, but there seems to be a certain mood in his work that I find particularly appealing. I’ve always liked this about his photography but as I became a photographer myself I found it striking even more of a chord within me, in that it’s not ‘perfect’. I had the opportunity to meet Anton last year at a film screening for his movie ‘Life’ and while being interviewed he said the phrase ‘imperfection is my perfection’ and to hear him say that really made sense to me. So this is an aspect of his work that I try to employ within my own photography but I’m learning something new each time I head out with the camera. For me, it’s an approach that perhaps seems more suited more to black & white imagery.

You also mention Ben Ingham, more specifically, his work on black and white images and cycling. While very different styles (between Corbijn and Ingham), would you say your work derives from both of these influences?

A good question, I discovered Ben’s work at a pivotal time for me really. I was already in my mid thirties as I was slowly re-discovering cycling, something that I loved so much in my late teens yet had seemed to fall by the wayside in my twenties. I was already taking photographs of things that interested me with my little Leica C-Lux, not cycling though. Seeing Ben’s work for Rapha absolutely reaffirmed my passion for cycling and made me want to become a better photographer. At that time, I don’t remember seeing anyone else’s cycling photography where the cyclist was shown in grainy black and white within it’s landscape. Again there to me there is a certain mood or edginess within those images that resonated within me, far from the mostly polished world of commercial sports photography, it seemed more real. Again, it’s hard to explain but I find that some of them are like movie stills, cinematic. So I would say that yes my work (in my mind or vision) at times derives from both Anton and Ben’s work but how the world perceives my photography could be altogether different.

I’m guessing you watched some of the Rio Olympics, right? Did you follow the cycling and what are your thoughts regarding commercial sports photography?

I watched a little of the Rio Olympics although not as much as I would have liked as I found myself busy on other projects! I actually don’t spend too much time looking at commercial sports photography although some which I have seen is really impressive, often from a technical point of view but I usually find it a little too polished with often what seems to me a lot of retouching, for my taste if I am honest. I can totally appreciate it’s place in the market though, it’s just not my style as I wouldn’t really say that I’m a very technical photographer.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add for readers to know, or maybe other projects you might be working on?

My next photo project coming to fruition is a portrait piece for the French cycling magazine ‘Steel’ where myself and a writer colleague visited the Yorkshire based cycle frame builder Ricky Feather of Feather cycles. The bikes he makes are just beautiful so I’m really excited about seeing that in print and doing justice to the craft in which he is so skilled. As far as the future I just want to keep progressing, documenting the atmosphere of bike racing and trying to be more creative. I’d also like to do more portrait work for magazines, visiting interesting people and combining images with the written word to tell the story of the people we meet. It’s something I’m very excited about!

Thanks Matt!

To know more about Matt Randall’s work, please visit his official website and follow him on Instagram.

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