Here at It’s Nice That we love Emily Maye, and not just because the majority of us are cyclists. Her unbridled passion for cycling as a sport, a hobby, a pastime or a reason to live is present in nearly every single one of her stunning photography projects, as is the palpable excitement from other cycling enthusiasts who she never fails to recognise in these series.
Her most recent adventure has been to Belgium, where she has shot the Belgian Cyclocross — a muddy whirlwind of an annual, fortnight-long cycle race. “I want to give a sense of what it’s like to be at a race in person,” Emily says “rather than just the action of the competition. Cyclocross is so much about atmosphere and the conditions and the fan interaction. The race unfolds in front of the crowd lap after lap instead of a road race where the spectator has to chase the riders to see them for a split second.”
We caught up with Emily to ask her a bit more about the Cyclocross:
Anyone who knows your work will know that you’re a big fan of cycling, are you a cyclist yourself?
I own a road bike and I enjoy riding it but wouldn’t consider myself a cyclist. I’m interested in the sport of professional cycling and particularly the history of the sport. I very much fell in love with it by looking at old photographs and I hope to capture that timelessness as well. I would say that is more where my interest lies than in riding myself.
What is it about the atmosphere of the crowd watching the cyclists that you love?
I don’t think anyone would come out to watch a road race or a cyclocross race without having a tremendous affection for it. They watch the riders with such interest. There’s also a sense of community amongst the spectators and even a community between the spectators and the riders. Not a lot of sports allow you to get so close to the athletes. It’s really quite accessible to the fans. In cyclocross, the whole family comes out to watch and the riders lap so it’s much easier to see them multiple times. In a road race you have to chase the peloton down. I find that the fact that in cyclocross they come to you, the dynamic changes a bit and it feels much more crowded and there is a lot of interaction with the fans.
Your new series is in Belgium at the Holy Week Cyclocross racing. What exactly is Cyclocross?
Cyclocross is a winter cycling sport where the riders are on a closed circuit and they ride over pavement, grass, muddy run ups and even obstacles that require you to get on and off the bike. Once the riders start, it is full out for an hour. It’s very technical the way that they handle their bikes in those conditions and the weather can often times be an additional obstacle in itself. This was my first year photographing cyclocross and it’s quite different than photographing a road race.
What is it about the wet, muddy conditions of the Belgian Cyclocross that entices you?
There are several things about it. That community atmosphere of the fans is one thing that gives it a lot of energy and excitement. Also because it is a course where they lap and you can often times see what is happening off in the distance, as a photographer, I feel more connected to the action and the events unfolding. Sometimes in a road race it’s hard to get context for something and in cyclocross you are much more invested in the action. That makes photographing the actual race more interesting. If you have seen my other work you know that I am rarely interested in photographing the action of a race and much more interested in the tone of it and the behind the scenes moments and cyclocross has a lot of this as well. The weather certainly adds an element to it. Sometimes when they are so muddy, it’s hard to even make out who is who.
You mentioned before that the spectator has to chase the cyclist to get a glimpse, is there a connection between a crowd witnessing a high-speed sport and the split second nature of photography itself?
A great photo will make you want to look at it much longer than the event actually happened. I think that’s what makes photography so wonderful, that you get to keep that moment and really delve into it. Certainly the experience that a fan has waiting on the side of the road for the Peloton to pass will stay with them much longer than the number of seconds in which the riders quickly passed. They pass you so fast and yet you remember everything: the colors, the order they arrived in, the sound, the effort they were making… A photograph should accomplish all that as well.
It’s been a huge year for British cycling, particularly are there any cyclists or events that you’d love to photograph?
Yes, the British have had a wonderful year in cycling. I just photographed the Tour de France winning team, Team Sky, for the British clothing company Rapha for a lookbook introducing their partnership over the next four years. It’s wonderful to see the British support of the sport in this successful year. That was a job I very much enjoyed doing and I look forward to more work with Rapha in the future. Two riders I have never photographed and would really like to are Fabian Cancellara and Mark Cavendish. As far as events, the Giro d’Italia is the race I most want to photograph. That’s the dream race for me.
And finally, what do you plan to photograph in 2013?
I will be photographing the Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky next month and then heading back to Belgium for the Spring Classics road season. I am working on a project with the cycling journal Manual For Speed that is both written and photographic and will continue contributing stories to theCOLLARBONE in its second year. And perhaps some basketball if the schedule allows.