Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Let's do this thing again.

The World Cup journey starts again. Both England Roller Derby and Team USA have commenced their first round of try-outs and momentum is gathering for the next World Cup.

In 2014 I had the privilege to shoot for England Roller Derby. Following the team out to Dallas and recording them take the silver medal, one place higher than the 2011 campaign in Toronto. In Dallas, England defeated the Canadian team in the semi-finals to reach the last two, a turn-around from 2011 when Canada relegated England to the 3rd/4th playoff against Australia. The final game against the mighty USA was a tall order. A victory was unlikely, however England scored more points against the USA than any other team had managed in the past, and breaking the 100 point barrier, throwing down a maker, the rest of the world is coming.

As 2016 wanes and 2017 beckons, so does the next World Cup. Once again I have been asked to support England Roller Derby in a photographic role, a request I was delighted to accept.
Working with like-minded people, striving to be the best is both exhilarating and humbling. The highs and lows, the dedication and hard work required to put together a squad to take on the best skaters in the world. It's a long journey, but one that is worthwhile.

As for the actual World Cup, the adrenalin rush carries one through the competition. Four days of unrelenting hard work, little sleep and a massive party at the end, that makes all the effort worthwhile.

There's only a year and four months (approximately) 'till the final of the 2017 World Cup. 

Let's do this thing again. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

So long…

I’m not proud of what I did, but it had to be done.

Inanimate objects feel no pain but I feel guilty. After providing sterling service over the past six years it was time to retire the trusty 1d mkiv. It accompanied me to three World Cups, been lugged all around the country and in all that time it never let me down.  Trading it in was hard, partly for sentimental reasons, partly because the camera shop had given me a ball-park figure for a ‘mint’ copy and when I pulled it out the bag I knew it didn’t merit that moniker.  You could see me wince as they checked the shutter count.

However I hope it goes to a good home and someone can make use of its capabilities. It may be getting old and the technology several generations behind the current crop of cameras but it is still capable of stunning images. Maybe it’ll be bought by an aspiring Derby photographer. Who knows.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Olympic dreams

With the Olympics upon us we can settle down to watch the best in the world compete on the world stage. Magnificent facilities set in gorgeous scenery in a city which many of us would love to visit. Meanwhile in the UK, Roller Derby continues apace in sports centres that are past their best, in locations which due to their familiarity hardly seem exotic. The Olympics seem to be in a very different league.

A few weeks ago I was chatting to a guy at my local life drawing class. He’s a keen sailor, having circumnavigated the world in the past. I enquired to see if he had any new sailing trips planned. Alas no, he was heading off to the Olympics as his wife, also a keen sailor, was heading out there as a medic for the Team GB sailing team. Wow, I thought, what an experience, I assumed that it was all funded. But no, apart from the top athletes in the glamour sports, sponsored by large multi-national companies, those in minority sports struggle to find funding and many in support roles have to clear out the penny jar to get themselves there.

Over the past few years I have forked out on several occasions for London Rollergirls t-shirts to help get them to the Championships. This year there is another UK team heading out to the States to compete at the highest level, Rainy City Roller Derby. Roller Derby like all minority sports, even those at the Olympics, struggle with funding as there bugger all money in the game, so lend them a fiver.  

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

I am boring

Antony Gormley's Another Place, being boring by the sea.

I am boring. I have few vices and those that I do are hardly spectacular, olives, garlic and chestnuts to name but three. On visiting the blood donors I dutifully answer ‘no’ to all questions. Sometimes I feel I should say yes to a few, go out, live a little.

Another vice which I am unable to get under control, but is hardly exciting, are books. I just can’t rid of any, always thinking I may need them in future, a reference for any quotes I may need. Why I may need to quote the Treatise of Theophilus, ‘On Divers Arts’ (maybe to make Spanish gold), or operate artillery for the Home Guard is anyone’s guess.

To compound my inner sense of ‘boring’ I’ve taken to print off maps and carry a compass when going hiking. It’s not really necessary in the UK. You are never that far from a road and the UK is hardly inhabited by a wide range of dangerous animals. You may be nibbled on by a donkey or hounded by a midge, but that’s about it. I’ve not yet succumbed to printing maps when going to bouts hosted in venues I’ve not visited before. I rely on good luck, wandering round until I find some sort of landmark and in extreme cases the pity of the locals.  My usual trick is to follow someone who looks like they know where they are going and follow them. This doesn’t always work and I have ended up in unexpected locations on a few occasions.

This weekend it’s a local game, three bouts to mark the final of the Tier 3 (, somewhere or other, British Championships. North Wales Roller Derby vs Wolverhampton Honour Rollers, Oxford Roller Derby vs Swansea City Roller Derby and Wirral Roller Derby vs Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, I really should pay more attention. At least getting lost on the way to the venue is not likely to happen. Leave house, turn right, turn right, turn left, turn right, straight on, turn left and I’m there. If you follow those directions backwards on Saturday you’ll find my place ripe to burgle, however anything I have of value I’ll be carrying.

Sheffield Steel Rollergirls at Ponds Forge International Venue

Being boring has one great advantage, one is ill-disposed to excitement, allowing one to keep the camera still, like the Waco Kid, ‘Steady as a rock’, eliminating camera shake and focussing on the task in hand. A boring photographer is the perfect foil for the action on track.

But enough of this fun, I have beetroot to harvest.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Shooting London vs Gotham

I like big games. They give me an adrenaline rush. A finite time to capture as best as one can the feel and excitement of the day. The Derby scene has changed dramatically over the past few years. When I first got involved there were far fewer teams and a lot less bouts. One a month if you were lucky, so everyone travelled to watch and to learn their craft. It allowed relationships to be forged amongst teams and new friends to be made. As the scene developed, more teams and more bouts meant skaters travelled less to see other teams.

Big American teams provide a gravitas which brings the Derby community in the UK together. Arguably, none come any bigger than Gotham and a rematch with London was a bout everyone wanted to see.

Travelling the length and breadth of the country I am lucky to know many from other teams. Bouts like this gives me the opportunity to see old friends all in one place. Skaters from Glasgow Roller Derby, Newcastle Rollergirls, Middlesbrough Milk Rollers, Leeds Roller Dolls, Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, Rainy City Roller Derby, Manchester Roller Derby, Hot Wheel Roller Derby, Lincolnshire Bombers Rollergirls, London Rockin’ Rollers and Surrey Roller Girls and probably many more I didn’t clock were all there.  As well as all the refs and NSOs that are constantly on the move to support the game.

As for the game itself I will leave others to re-cap. From behind the lens I don’t get to see much, let alone follow intricacies of game-play. Keeping an eye on the track and the ebb and flow of the emotions from both the crowd and players consumes my whole attention.

What I enjoy is the opportunity to meet new people, catch-up with old friends and see the whole community come together, united for the love of the game.

While big games give me an adrenaline rush, shooting the actual bout doesn’t represent any greater challenge than usual, In fact, in essence it’s easier, the old adage, ‘good athletes make for good images, great athletes make great images’, holds true.

I always say that if I can come away with just one image that sums up the day I am happy. Every now and again you get lucky. This time I feel I did. Job done.

Shortstop (Gotham Girls Roller Derby) and Shaolynn Scarlett (London Rollergirls) take a selfie.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

If you think Roller Derby is tiring, you should try photography.

Like all of us, it probably starts the night before. Packing the gear for the game day to come. Photographers, in this respect, have it reasonably easy. Making sure the batteries are charged, lenses are clean and memory cards have been wiped. Skaters I imagine have a different scenario to deal with, opening up their kit bag, stumbling, gagging for breath from the stench emanating from within. Then deciding to either wash their kit and hope it dries overnight, or just close the bag and apologise to their teammates about the smell.

The final day of the Roller Derby World Cup, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.
I spent four days glued to the tack.

Last weekend I covered Rainy City’s Euro weekender. Even though it’s just a short trip across the Pennines it was still an early start. First dropping off a vacuum cleaner at a friend’s house then back home to pick up the gear before heading out for the train. An 8am start to get the 9.11am train to Manchester. Having got off the tram at Victoria to change to the Rochdale line I was informed by a steward that Park Life was happening over at Heaton Park and the trams would soon be busy. I was planning to spend an hour in Manchester to grab a coffee but they suggested I head out of the city centre as soon as I could.

I like to get to the venue early, even those I’ve shot at before. It allows me to catch up with people and check out the light. A new light bulb or one that has recently blown can make all the difference as to where one shoots, especially when you are pushing the camera gear to its limits. On this occasion I headed in to Oldham to grab a coffee before heading to the venue. There were three bouts to cover, at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm. Unlike skaters who may have to play either one or two games in a single day, photographers tend to stay at their post all day. Firstly to capture all the action, and secondly, if one does stray it’s guaranteed you’ll miss the shot of the bout.  I’ve done that before. You just can risk moving.

Whilst the process isn’t physically tiring, except on the eyes, mentally it can be exhausting. Keeping alert, not only on the track but also on the periphery. You never know what may happen. 6 hours track-side concentrating. Of course the next phase of the operation, was purely self-induced. A trip in to Manchester to meet friends for a curry, a few beers, then some decent whisky. Luckily day two didn’t start until 3pm on the Sunday. One last bout then a dash for the tram. A couple of lucky connections and I was home by 7pm. Phase two could now commence.

Backing up the files and processing the images can be time consuming. I have my workflow down to fine art, but still, it can take a while. Multi-tasking, downloading the images whilst cooking saves time. The menu can help. Nothing too labour intensive, but also with convenient breaks, lasagne is good. Plenty of time when the tomato base is cooking down to organise the work, then make up the bechemal, and pop it in to the oven. This then gives twenty minutes or so to finish backing up. It also gives one a good excuse to open up a bottle of red wine.

The next two nights were spent processing the images, backing up the high-res files and uploading the low-res to Facebook. Having worked with the press I understand the need to be timely. People don’t demand, but like to see the images soon after the bout, to re-live the day whilst it’s still fresh in their memories.

Wednesday evening was spent tidying up, writing discs, printing some of the images out to check the quality and the last few pieces of admin. Memory cards wiped, lenses cleaned, batteries charged ready for an early morning train down to London on the Saturday, to do it all again.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

What’s your favourite number?

Sitting trackside and shooting a bout is just one aspect of Roller Derby photography. Building contacts and networking are equally important. Preparation and editing also come in to play. Editing is probably the longest process. Backing up files, selecting the shots, writing a recipe to process the images all takes time.  Important, to get the best out of the images shot. Music helps to make this process easier.

I have an eclectic taste in music, some friends just call it ‘shit’. From easy listening, classical, pop, punk, rap, through to thrash, I dip my toes in many genres. I don’t have a set music type to edit to. Spoken word however is a no go. David Sedaris makes me too lethargic, Bill Hicks, too angry. Usually, as I am very lazy, it will be whatever has been left on the stereo. According to Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman this will eventually end up being Queen.

Last Sunday however, the Beastie Boys had not yet metamorphosed in to Freddie Mercury. Certain songs remind me of certain people. Early Sunday morning, 'Sabotage' reminded me of one person in particular.

It’s the same with numbers. When I’m charged to do a task involving maths, most numbers mean nothing to me, others I alight on bring back other memories, other faces.

5, 6, 7, 11, 13, 17, 23, 49, 52, 55, 76, 77, 88, 101, 352, 888. Plus many more. Some indicate individuals, others a whole host of people. They are like Roller Derby prime numbers.

When I’ve been asked to attend a meeting in a room I’ve not been to before it’s good to know that even the simplest thing, such as room number, can easily distract. Making one’s mind wander back to more enjoyable days. Days when one is not at work.