ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Heidi Swift is a freelance writer and photographer, Editor at Large for peloton magazine, author of the monthly “Joy Ride” column for Bicycling magazine and frequent inGamba guest. This fall, she joined us in Lecchi to witness the spectacle of l’Eroica and though she originally planned to ride the route, she eventually opted to tag along as a passenger in the inGamba support van to make photos instead. At the time we couldn’t help but call her out for this conveniently comfortable decision, but we’re glad she made it as one of her l’Eroica images now graces the cover of the 2014 peloton magazine photo annual. Here she shares a bit of the backstory.
THE STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE
Matt Hughes is changing a tyre. It is a quintessential part of the experience of this ride; the sharp white stones of the strade bianche pressing through too-narrow tyres, emptying them of air, forcing riders to the side of the road. Matt Hughes is tired, but he has the lungs and legs and fortitude of an Olympic rower (he is one, after all) so he’s familiar with the pleasure of discomfort—with the idea of making things harder than they need to be for the simple satisfaction of the pain.
We make a few jokes while João works at stretching out the replacement tyre and Matt removes the spent one. I have been sitting in a van for the better part of 7 hours, so I take the opportunity to stretch my legs and point my camera at the riders who are trickling up the hill.
Minutes ago, before the rock and the hissing sound, Matt had been in a group of three, holding onto the wheels of his friends, Jay Liddell and Paul Daniels. The three men are part of a group referred to as “The Donkeys”. This crew is the stuff of inGamba legend and I have asked many times about the origin of this name, but have never received a straight answer. Having finally met them, I understood. I can tell you only this: If you ever get the chance to ride with them, bring an extra set of legs. And if they invite you out to drink, bring an extra liver and prepare yourself for the possibility of drinking out of a shoe. I’ll say no more, but next time you are around the dinner table in Lecchi you’d be wise to see if anyone has spent time with these animals. If they have, fill every wine glass on the table and then ask for stories.
BACK TO OUR FLAT TYRE
Jay and Paul don’t hear Matt yell, “Flat!” and so they continue up the grade, out of the saddle and standing over their oversized, vintage gears. This moment would become a point of great contention among the men and the topic of a heated debate later at the celebration dinner in Lecchi 1. Moments after I make the cover photo of Matt, a fourth donkey—the one they call Dunny—arrives on scene, hesitates for a moment before deciding to stop and then promptly falls over sideways, landing hard on his left arm. I do not make a picture of this, though all parties later agree that I definitely should have.
Matt and Dunny finish the ride together and I go on hanging out the passenger window of the inGamba support van. Later in Castelnuovo Berardenga I make a photo of them huddled under a blanket, eating ribollita. I’m sure they both hate it, but it’s one of my favorite images from the day.
TRIANGLES AND TENSION
When the photo annual was released, someone asked me what makes the cover photo of Matt “good”. That’s a fair question and one I won’t try to answer. I can’t say I understand what is in the mind of the photo editor when he looks at a set of images. My goal when I shoot is simply to make better photos than I made the last time I picked up my camera. I send an edit in and forget about them. I’m always curious and surprised to see what makes the cut. This time I was extra surprised to see what made the cover.
I like to think that you can read a little of the underlying tension in this image without knowing the backstory. Matt’s fingers: the white knuckles betraying the delicate effort of pulling the tubular. Then there are all the little details; the uneven socks, the quads slightly fired, the replacement tyre in the upper right corner disrupting the frame, the triangle formed from the line of his forearms to the point where the bidon bulges from under the back of the jersey.
Do those things make the photo good? I don’t know, but those are the things I saw and wanted to put onto the film (Rollei retro 100). Below are photos from the cutting room floor—those that didn’t make the annual at all. They fill in some of the gaps in the day’s story, reveal Dunny’s rock-pocked elbow, and prove that João actually can change a tyre (or at least help stretch one out).
If you’d like a copy of the photo annual, you can order a subscription to peloton or simply request a single copy. They can also be found at Barnes and Noble locations around the country and various stockists throughout the world. Visit the website to order or for more information. (The photo annual is Issue 27 and is just hitting newsstands now, so it may not be immediately available.)
1. For the record, the Donkeys have since worked through underlying dude-ride disagreement tension and are once again out terrorizing the world together, a force unlike any other. You’ve been warned.