Thursday, 1 December 2016

2016: A round up

London Rollergirls versus Gotham Girls Roller Derby

It’s not the end of the year, but the start of winter and the end of the Derby season for myself. The cameras packed away (scattered over the floor of the spare room). That’s until I decide to head in to the Peak District early one morning, for what at the time seems like a good idea, only to realise it’s cold, really, really, cold, and I can’t press the shutter.

Every year I promise myself to shoot less Derby. I need more weekends at home to do mundane stuff, get the roof fixed, stop the boiler leaking, ironing a shirt once in a while for work. There’s only so much squinting in near darkness one can do to convince yourself that a shirt doesn’t need ironing. I hate ironing.

This year I’ve been more successful in fulfilling my promise. Taking off events such as London Rollergirls 10th Anniversary party and Rules 56’s Derby Stance coaching summit, I’ve cut down. I’m not a totally reformed smoker, more of an e-cigarette smoker nowadays.

Numerous trips to London, Leeds, Oldham and places in between including a couple of bouts in Sheffield

I was going to recount the highs and lows of the year, but to be honest, there are no lows. 2016, for all its faults wasn’t bad for Derby. 2016 saw London Rollergirls celebrate their 10th anniversary, which also marked ten years of Roller Derby in the UK, affording me the opportunity to stay in a rather odd hotel in the docklands. The community then came together in Newark later in the year to see LRG take on Gotham once more, a chance for fans to see two of the top teams go head to head. As for myself, the Derby year kicked off in Telford for the aptly named Tattoo Freeze. Always a cold event, but in my mind milder than in past years. Then numerous trips up and down the country and sideways jaunts across the Pennines for various bouts at Rainy City Roller Derby’s Thunderdome. A few trips to Leeds, London and finally Newcastle for the Men’s European Championship. In between I was asked to be England Roller Derby’s official photographer once again, a role that is always a pleasure. Letting me work with some of the best skaters in the country and document their journey to the next World Cup.

A trip to Newcastle for the Men's European Championship

My final trip of the year was up to Leeds for Rule 56’s coaching summit. A gathering of like-minded people, eager to hone their coaching skills and to inspire and train the next generation of skaters. It was good to see so many leagues represented from across the country.

Now it’s time to rest, stuff my face with chestnuts, drink port and hunker down to await the start of next season.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Ice Cold in Alex

The final bout, Southern Discomfort Roller Derby versus Tyne and Fear, hour 23 trackside.

I work a day job, nothing exciting, your bog standard 5 days a week, 37 hours. This weekend 28 hours. Okay it wasn’t exactly work, but sitting trackside does take it out of you. The first shift, 9 ‘till 7pm on the Saturday (I skipped the first and last bouts) and then 8 ‘till gone 9 on the Sunday at the Men’s European Cup. Unlike skaters, who, once their games are finished are able to retire and relax for the day, as a photographer the next step begins. Like NSOs and helpers there is more work to do after a day has finished. Backing up files, clearing cards and charging batteries to make sure the gear is good to go for another day. Last weekend at the MEC I was trackside for 23 hours, shooting around 200gb of files, plus several more on the admin side. A lot will be blurred or dross, but it all needs to be backed up so that I can go through the final edit when I get back home. An edit that will take another 8 or so hours.

I understand that organisers of such events want to maximise the use of the venues they hire and costs aren’t cheap, coupled with the fact that many people, especially those teams flying in from overseas will need to take several days off, but by compressing so much in such a short space of time does take its toll on those involved.

No-one want to miss the action, but sometimes we need to take a break.

Photographers can be their own worst enemy, not wishing to take a break between games in case they miss a great piece of action or an event that ‘makes’ the competition, but I feel organisers could help manage their workload, much like those of announcers, refs and NSOs whose crews work specific games. Allocating specific bouts, sharing the work load and allowing all to shoot whatever they want if they so choose would bring more structure, coupled with freedom. At the World Cup in 2014 my priority, as their photographer, was shooting England, however while I was there to cover their bouts I was also free to dip in and out of others if I so wished. This allowed me to cover the rest of the event as I saw fit without feeling as though I should cover everything. Three tracks also helped as one couldn’t be everywhere. This meant I could organise my time to reduce burn-out over the four days, even then it was still gruelling and I spent most of the day after the competition in bed, although that could have been more down to the amount of alcohol consumed at the after-party.

So for organisers I would say, think about why you want photographers there, what do you want covered and why, and try and structure the days so everyone gets an opportunity and a break.

For photographers, here’s my advice for covering tournaments.

  1. Get to the event early, a day before if possible to check out the venue if it’s unfamiliar and have a relaxing night before the start.
  2. Have enough memory cards to last the day.
  3. Have enough batteries to last as well.
  4. If you are staying in a hotel, don’t skimp on costs, book a breakfast and eat hearty to help get you through most of the day.
  5. Know when to take a break, grab a coffee and some food.
  6. Try and get back to your hotel/abode as early as possible to back up files (possibly over a beer to relax) and get the gear ready for the following day.
  7. On the final day just have a blast, you can sleep the day after and those cards and batteries can wait to be dealt with. 

Tournaments can be gruelling but they are also great fun, just be focussed on what needs to be done and the beer waiting for you at the end. Ice cold in Alex.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Heading North

Packing for the Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas back in 2014 was relatively simple, airline constraints limiting the amount of gear one could pack. The Men’s European Cup is a different matter, just a short trip up to Newcastle. Arguably I could pack everything, my back however may have a different idea. One thing I will take is a decent coat. Winter in Dallas wasn’t as severe as I imagined, certainly not warranting the cold weather clothing I packed. Newcastle is whole different prospect.

Having limited choice can focus the mind on the task in hand with the constraints you’ve been given. Free choice gives you more options to be creative and keep warm, but the potential to side-track you, looking for that one shot you can see in your minds-eye but can never achieve, well certainly not at a live event. I think I’ve come up with a compromise and still with the possibility of being able to pack some spare clothes and a toothbrush.

Southern Discomfort Roller Derby versus Lincolnshire Rolling Thunder, who I believe will both be competing at the Men’s European Cup.

Multi-day events, running from 9 in the morning to 9 at night require a lot more gear than a simple single or double header. Laptop, chargers, spare batteries, and card readers are all needed to back-up the photos from the day and to get the gear ready for the following one. One also tends to pack a couple of extra lenses, just in case, plus the spare body I always carry. The advance in technology is one area which has improved the experience of covering longer events.  The upgrade from USB 2 to USB 3 has been a godsend. No longer do I need to stay awake until the early hours to transfer all the files over from the memory cards to the laptop, now it can be achieved over dinner and a pint, leaving me more time to ponder why I didn’t pack a toothbrush or any spare clothes.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Blood and gore.

I wanted blood and gore, but I didn’t think it’d be mine.

Sitting in the suicide seats there is always a possibility of being hit by a skater. I’ve never been hit, the camera has been pranged a couple of times and I’ve had some close shaves but that is about it.

I thought the London Rockin’ Rollers Wreck league’s Halloween bout would get me some good images, a throwback to the time when skaters dressed up and the whole scene was more theatrical. It reminded me of my very first bout, Leeds Roller Dolls against Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, Summer Horror Day, where the Leeds team donned zombie face-paint and skated out, to how I’d imagine dead people would skate. The only corpse I’ve ever heard of roller skating is that of Elmer McCurdy, and I image he wasn’t too athletic. Just rolling up and down the high street as the local kids pushed him along.  I believe that past-times such as taking a corpse for a stroll around your local park is now frowned upon for some reason.

I had never been hit by a skater until last weekend. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later, I’d grown to feel impervious, that for some reason they’d always miss me. I was wrong. Luckily my cat-like reflexes kicked in and my brain sought to protect my most valuable assets, my cameras, as the skater slid ever closer. The impact pushed me backwards in to the wall where my trailing arm cracked against the wall, shattering bone and spraying those close by in a shower of blood. The arm nearly severed, hanging limp and useless. Okay, that may be a lie, but it was a Halloween bout so a little exaggeration shouldn’t go amiss. Luckily both I and the skater was fine. I did crack my elbow on the wall during the impact but I didn’t even bruise, no evidence of my only Derby injury!

Next time I see a skater come flying in my direction I may consider moving, but then again, I’m just too lazy, I will just hope they miss me. And if they don’t, well it’ll be another good story to tell.  

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

What the butler saw

I wasn’t there. I don’t know the circumstances, but I’ve seen the film footage and seen the commentators faces, and their look says it all, ‘what the f**k’ is going on?’

I can’t comment on the day in question, you know, the one everyone is talking about at present, however I’ve seen fists fly at other bouts, spectators/team members shouting obscene things and the booing of refs.

As a photographer I am an outsider. I don’t skate, ref or NSO and have no affiliation to any team. The circumstances I have mentioned above are thankfully few and it’s shocking to audiences as it is so rare. Rarer as it isn’t documented. On occasion I have tried to intervene, a few words have checked someone’s behaviour, but more often if try the indirect route to avoid confrontation and discuss the issue with a fellow team member of the perpetrator, I am brushed off with, ‘oh well, they are an arse, they always behave that way’.

On the odd occasion (and they are ‘odd’) when I have caught issues on camera I have often been approached and asked to not publish the images. I say, asked, it’s more of ‘told’ and I am uncomfortable with that. I am uncomfortable with censorship in general.

I am guessing the reason why this incident is causing such a furore is that it was captured, before the feed was cut, and it’s good that it’s opening up discussions. But there are other incidents that aren’t discussed further afield than the teams involved or not discussed at all. Derby tries to maintain its positive image but in doing so censors, censors issues it could learn from.

There are many positive things in Roller Derby, but it is the censorship that I struggle with. Perhaps if you are involved deeper with the sport you don’t see it, or don’t see the issues. But as an observer I struggle with it.

While this incident does not reflect too well on Derby, perhaps opening up the discussion and the realisation that these events happen will have a positive effect.  

I take pictures. On rare occasions those images aren’t pretty. But I’m guessing, that’s life.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Rule 56: Summit at the Ramps

There’s more to Derby than just skating. Rule 56 is bringing you a two day conference to support Roller Derby coaches and coach development. But enough if my wittering, it’s best said in their own words.

Rule 56 is hosting a full two day conference to support roller derby coaches and coach development, bringing the latest in roller derby coaching philosophy, tips, and support to our community.

Not only will there be presentations and discussions about the practicalities of coaching but this is also our opportunity to discuss the future of UK roller derby coaching, certifications, and how we build a better coaching community.

On the Saturday evening Rule 56, Roller Girl Gang, and The Works Skatepark are joining forces to bring together skates and ramps and derby all under one roof! 

Bring your skates and have a go on the ramps. Whether you're experienced, a novice, or somewhere in between, coaches will be on hand to help you develop skills or teach you something new, including lending you a BMX to try.

If you just fancy a night off wheels, just chill in the cafe space with us.  Have a nosh and a natter and a tipple. 

We're opening this event to local leagues, so this is a proper good opportunity to see those faces you've not caught up with in a while.

In addition to all the coaching brain food, we've also got our Summit at the Ramps (Saturday night) and Rocket Yoga (Sunday morning).

See their website for a full list of activities and speaker for the weekend:

Ignore me, I just take the photos …

Monday, 5 September 2016

How many megapixels!?

My first digital camera, it was great, image resolution was less than 1/2 a megapixel.

Shooting Derby at the Thunderdome is always a challenge. The lighting pushes even the latest cameras to their limits. It is amazing how far camera technology has come in a relatively short period of time.

I got my hands on a digital camera way back in 1997. A Casio QV10. It was a revelation. You could take and view an image instantaneously, well, as instantaneous as technology was back in 1997. No longer did you have to wait to use up a film and either take it down to the local lab to get it processed, or roll your sleeves up and do it yourself to see your images. The resolution wasn't up to much, just 320x240 pixels. But apart from its shortcomings it was magical. After a weekend of wonderment it was returned to its rightful owner and I went back to film.

It was a few years later until I purchased my first digital camera, a Yashica KC600 a massive step up from the Casio, 800x600 pixels. At last images would cover a complete monitor screen. It also came with a 1MB Compact Flash card. Film still ruled and it was only when affordable DSLRs became available did the balance begin to shift in favour of digital. Since then I have owned many different brands of digital camera, Pentax, Nikon, Fuji and Canon, settling on my latest system due to the fact that I could borrow lenses off mates.

Technology has made capturing images, which a decade ago would have been impossible, possible. If it wasn’t for technology, I’d just be a spectator.