Photographer's Blog: MotoGP Story--Bradl's Angst
The San Francisco Dainese D-Store welcomed me and Jensen Beeler last week to share some of our thoughts and experiences in MotoGP. For my part of the presentation, I showed some photographs on a projector and told the stories that went along with them. A few folks asked if I could video the show, but that turned out to be a non-starter for various reasons. So instead I thought I'd write up the stories to share here for anyone who is interested. So here is the story behind...
In 2011 I went to Assen for the first time, and while I knew from the photos I'd seen and from other photographers' advice that it's a great place for pictures, I didn't know my way around when I arrived. In that situation I sometimes rely on other shooters to tip me off about the rewarding spots. By race day I usually have all the track shots I need for the weekend, and my goal is to get shots that tell the story of the race itself. So I decided to follow David Goldman of Gold and Goose to the outside of the track at the final chicane. He has been to Assen before, many many times, so I figured if he's going to that spot, there must be a point to doing so.
At Assen this is a risk, however, because the area from which this shot was taken is completely isolated. (This location is just in front of the final chicane that leads onto the start/finish straight. Bradl has crashed in the right hander, and the second half of the chicane is off camera to the left.) There is no way to get there other than to cross the track when the marshals allow you to do so between sessions. Once you're there, you are stuck until that session is over. Even Bradl spent the rest of the Moto2 race with us, because he had no way to get back to the paddock. So a spot like this is a gamble because if nothing interesting happens, you've wasted the entire session. But enough has happened at this spot to make spending the race there a reasonable risk.
Once there, the first thing I liked was that this spot led to a new perspective on the starting grid. It's not often you can get a low shot of the grid because you're usually looking over a wall. But this spot is protected by some armco in front of where we stand, and then is just open to the track.
There are probably ten other photographers standing there with me, moving around for position behind enough Armco to safely protect three or four people. As the first lap approaches, as a group we move farther out from behind the Armco to get a shot that doesn't have another photographer's shoulder in it until the marshal gestures at us to scoot back in. It's was very cozy when I got this one:
Looking forward instead of backward at the grid has a great view of the chicane with a nice full grand stand behind it.
Another nice view was looking from a lower perspective than you can normally get over Armco or a row of tires as the bikes entered the start finish and got on the gas. So I was able to make a small selection of different images from that one spot. Not as good as being able to wander for 40 minutes, but not too bad given the strength of the shot with the full grandstand in the background.
Now back to Bradl. At the time, he was leading the points and on his way, everyone thought, to a decisive world title as the second Moto 2 champion. But things started to go wrong and play into Marquez' hands right here, when Bradl crashed out at the chicane. In terms of telling a story with one image, this one says a lot about the 2011 Moto 2 season, and later I was really glad I took the risk of standing in this spot for this race.
We all got photos of the crash, or I assume we did. And most of the other shooters started chimping as soon as the gravel stopped flying. But chimping in a situation like this can be a very bad idea because the emotions caused by a crash are often much more compelling when exposed in the rider's behavior than the crash itself.
That said, I thought you might like to see the entire sequence of his crash.
Notice how Bradl has just come to a stop and is already tracking his bike, wanting to get to it and see if he can continue. In the sequence there is a small gap here as my camera catches up by writing files to the memory card. We resume a moment later when Bradl has reached the broken Kalex.
Which is actually pretty darned heavy, even when you're in a rage about a crash. Once the marshals help him get the bike up, he examines the parts he needs to coninue and discovers that the right side of the handlbar is no longer functioning.
Disappointment, frustration, and everything else he's feeling start to kick in for real and the emotions come to the surface in the next sequence of images.
His walk away from the bike, oblivious of what's going on around him, tells the story of someone who can only think about what at this moment is an enormous failure. But photographically, he is lost in a confusion of marshals wearing orange very similar to his leathers. As his emotions follow their inevitable path toward a peak of anger, he emerges into the clear and Bang, I have my image:
At the time I could feel that this was it, the one I'd be posting here at MotoMatters, and that the story for the moment was over. I looked up from the camera and saw several of the other photographers still looking at the backs of their cameras to see what they'd captured of the crash itself. I don't think I've shown any of the crash photos until now, but for me this is the shot that really tells the story of this crucial moment.
As it turned out months later, the story had a triumphant ending for Bradl in spite of this crash. But at the time he had no idea how the season would end, of course. As the race went on, I managed somehow to remember and follow some very good advice I recieved long ago: turn around and look behind you once in a while.
Because he was stuck there with us, Bradl had no choice but to wait out the rest of his race before crossing the track to return to the paddock. He closed his visor and sat there behind a wire fence, alone with his thoughts.
These are the two images for which I am most grateful I decided to risk being stranded that day. They would be heartbreaking if Marquez had managed to win the title. But because of how things turned out, the drama of Bradl's angst in this moment is easier to remember.