Close up and personal
The Grand Départ of this year’s Tour de France in Düsseldorf (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany) at the end of June was a very special happening. It’s been 30 years (1987) since the last event took place in Berlin, which back then was a city still parted by the Berlin wall. Finally, the world’s biggest bicycle race got started in Germany again. Our Friend with Vision – Marcus Schwier, a professional photographer based in Düsseldorf, had the chance to take a look behind the scenes. Being an artist, he paid tribute to the special atmosphere by choosing a unique way of photographing it.
Reminiscent of the old masters of photography and on contrary to the typical use of long telephoto lenses usually used for sports photography, Marcus picked a wide-angle lens on purpose. Like Robert Capa, co-founder of Magnum once said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you weren’t close enough.“
And close enough he was. Marcus was able to take photos of preparations, mounting and paddock. He was able to move around freely behind the scenes. Being around with his 50mm lens unpretentiously, he wanted to be able to capture the racing atmosphere of Tour de France in a way so that anybody would be able to see and experience it – his focus was on capturing what’s “normal”.
For his intuitive way of photography he used a rangefinder camera. For his images nothing was previously set-up, nothing was repeated and nobody gave instructions. Instead, he was right in the middle of things, waiting for the perfect moment. Using this kind of camera offers the advantage of having a frame for the viewfinder. This way the photographer is able to see what’s happening around him while framing the scene, which allows for anticipation of what will be happening next.
Because of this technique, Marcus Schwier allows us to take a look at Tour de France in a way that you wouldn’t normally get to see. His photographs were taken in black and white right from the beginning. “Black & White Photography is democratizing”, says Marcus. “This way you’re not looking at the yellow jersey immediately, but are open to letting form, image layout and the overall atmosphere sink in.” Image crops, brightness and contrasts as well as the decision to go for black & white images were determined before taking the image and were not chosen during the process of editing the images afterwards. Fine-tuning is the only thing happening in the darkroom, just the way it used to be done.
The results offer several images we’d like to show you as they convey the feeling of being right in the middle of things. First, Marcus paid attention to the mechanics of the bicycles in front of all the first-class hotels the cyclists stayed at all over Düsseldorf, from the city center right to the airport. This resulted in lots of mileage for Marcus. He’s pretty entangled with cycling anyway, as he bought his first racing bike at the age of 16, paying for it with everything he earned during a summer job while he was still in school. Today, his basement is full of bikes and he likes working on them in his spare time – this might well be the reason for his affinity to the mechanics of Tour de France.
Then Marcus worked on the topic of time trials. The cyclists, most of the time equipped with headsets, were highly focused and self-absorbed while listening to music.
The images Marcus created are a mixture of overviews and details, much like the following images from the starting point. The side-view of the cyclists’ leg gives an impression of the power they contain. Marcus was able to witness their impulse as the wet streets caused an incredible back wheel spin.
These images also show a reduction to the essentials that are typical for Marcus, no matter the subject he works on. His photography is a documentary, but at the same time leaves the impression everything has been set-up and pre-arranged.
He chooses his material up front in accordance with his idea of the image. For images like these it’s extremely important to act unobtrusively and not to disturb the course of the race. Low-noise photo equipment is very helpful. His 50mm lens was mounted from the beginning to the end, but just for his own peace of mind he had two other lenses with him, as well as a backup camera. You just need a plan B in case your original ideas of taking the images wouldn’t work out for numerous reasons. One has to be able to react, in case you notice on location that wide angle shots don’t work out. Overall, Marcus was carrying only some extra equipment, which turned out to be the right choice as there were loads of people wanting to view the Tour de France as spectators. Luckily he was able to realize his idea of wide-angle images, so his extra equipment remained untouched.
Marcus then focused on the race towards finish line. The other photographers were using long telephoto lenses, stood where they were told to stand and took the obvious sports images. That’s when Marcus decided to frame the cyclists in between the pack of photographers and the spectators. The vibe in Düsseldorf was something very special due to the public attendance from all over the world.
Last but not least, Marcus captured the mass start of the 202 km long race to Liège, Belgium. Again, he chose an unusual perspective right in between the cyclists.
When the cyclists had left Düsseldorf as well as all the French security members, there was no friendly “Bonjour” to be heard in the city anymore, no more “touch of France” to be felt, which the Tour de France had brought to Düsseldorf temporarily.
Being asked where he still sees challenging topics in regard to the Tour de France he replies: “Portraits are tempting to me. Other images seem to be replaceable and already well processed by the media. Spectators are interesting and also portraits of cyclists crossing the finish line, with the latter being particularly hard to organize.” Who knows?! Marcus loves a challenge and might thrill us with unconventional portrait images from the tour in future.
If you’re enchanted by Tour de France, inspired by Marcus Schwier’s images or just love uncommon perspectives of cycling, you still have the chance to visit the exhibition “MYTHOS TOUR DE FRANCE” at NRW Forum in Düsseldorf until July 30th: https://www.nrw-forum.de/en/exhibitions/mythos-tour-de-france
About Marcus Schwier:
Marcus Schwier is a renowned architectural photographer. Next to architecture he focuses on other photographic genres as well. His work is being published in national and international exhibitions, his architecture images are constantly being published in magazines. This year he already exhibited his images during the Duesseldorf Photo Weekend and at Schloss Benrath. His work was also displayed at the Museum of Art in Singen and at the Ludwig gallery at Oberhausen Castle (in an exhibition with images of Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol and others). We’ll make sure to keep you posted about other upcoming exhibitions.