Emily Maye is a freelance photographer, specialising in cycling photography she has built up a strong reputation in a short space of time with an eye for the less captured aspects of cycling. Her photography presents a compelling insight into different facets of cycling not just the in-race, typically photogenic shots but shots from behind the scenes on race day that peel away the Lycra and get under the skin of the sport. These shots are beautifully balanced with enduring images of spectators young and old that convey the wide-eyed anticipation and excitement of bike racing.
Q. How did you get into photography professionally and subsequently cycling photography?
I took photographs casually for a long time and I think a style emerged unconsciously over time. I studied cinema in school and spent time writing screenplays and so a sense of story and cinematography has had a tremendous influence on the photography I like. I have a perfectionist personality and photography has been one of the things in my life that I’ve allowed myself to grow into without over judging it and I think that was a positive way to develop as a photographer. I had started to feel like it was something I wanted to take more seriously two years ago. I was writing at the time and the idea of telling stories with photographs became more and more what I wanted to do. I liked cycling a lot but once I photographed it, I had found my subject.
Q. Photographing the professional peloton, quite a few of your shots are quite up close and personal, does it take you time to develop a rapport with riders before they let you get close enough to take those sorts of shots?
It’s a tricky thing for my objectives really. On the one hand, you want them to know you so that they feel comfortable with you getting close and trust that you will represent them well and on the other hand, the more they know you the more that relationship can be evident in the photograph. I don’t want them to play to the camera or stop what they are doing and pose. The types of photos I want are ones that feel like the photographer isn’t even there, just a moment captured in time. So that tension is tricky. I think that’s the beautiful challenge in photographing people you don’t know and more than anything you get better at being unseen in what you are doing rather than accepted by the subject.
Q. Races seem like they can be quite a highly-strung atmosphere, ‘backstage’ before and after a race are there moments when people have reacted angrily to the prospect of you taking their picture after they’ve spent six hours in the saddle?
Of course. It has happened on a few occasions. Sometimes it’s a judgement call but I don’t think I’m ever overly aggressive about getting a shot. There are times when you know you are going to get an unpleasant look but I try to work as quickly as possible to avoid that. I have respect for the riders and what they do and for the most part they understand that that’s your job as well. It’s often the staff around them or officials that get more frustrated with your presence in those moments.
Q. You take quite a few shots of the crowd at races, what is it about bike racing that makes the fans, particularly men of a certain age in Europe, go so bananas?
When you’re waiting on the side of the road ALL day it is quite exciting to have the riders come through. But it’s not just the riders even, the appearance of the whole caravan of cars is a special moment. You have to remember many times the fans don’t even know what is going on in the race before the riders arrive in front of them. That is exciting as well. I also photograph a lot of children fans at the races and I feel like there is something in their intensity that is really innocent and beautiful.
Q. What are your favourite races to cover?
The Spring Classics are my favourite. One day races are a complete surprise.
Q. What would you say is the focus/goal when you’re taking a photo? Do you approach every shot as your last or do you try and generate a continuous thread that documents events in a broader way and isn’t too ambitious with what you want from a single shot?
I want a photo to stand alone as something you would want to look at for longer than the moment happened. It should have a story within the photo. But the larger story is equally as important to me. The best photos fill some gap in what I am trying to show about cycling and a truly great photo works both on its own and as part of that larger narrative. I also look for shots with movement. Even an internal movement, like emotion. That gives the photos an energy. I think the most important thing I have had to learn is to go with my instincts about what is a good shot and almost not think.
Q. Do you aim to bring as much of a focus on before and after a race as during so you can present the whole picture? (excuse the pun)
I think in race photos are fairly boring. I get my favourite stuff before and after for sure. Being on the bike is such a repetitive thing. I think the life of being a pro cyclist happens as much in all of the other moments. But between preparation and aftermath, I prefer preparation photos.
Q. When covering a race do you get given a brief, are there certain shots you have to get, or is there total artistic freedom?
I have worked with briefs and it really directs your focus and takes away a lot of options of what else you could shoot which can be sad but I understand why they are necessary. I have been very lucky to work with people who want to work with me based on the style I have and so I’ve been given tremendous amounts of freedom. It goes much better if I can shoot my way. I’m the worst client in my own head though.
Q. What about the pressure aspect? Presumably if you’re not in the right place at the right time you don’t get the shot you want.
You have to be ready to take a photograph wherever you are. You can plan a bit but something always seems to get in the way of that plan. I never plan for a type of shot but a location maybe. It’s always a race within the race to get to those places.
Q. How much emphasis do you place on technology? Do you make sure you have the latest and greatest equipment or is that of secondary importance?
It’s a secondary importance. The eye is the thing.
Q. Is the competition amongst the photographers relatively friendly or pretty fierce?
Physically it is fairly friendly, I don’t feel like there’s a lot of bumping people out of the way for the shot but I’m not generally taking the standard “news” shots. Everyone pretty much does their own thing and has their own objectives. It is annoying when someone sees you take a shot and takes the same one over your shoulder but that doesn’t happen too often and certainly not with the top level photographers. It is mentally very competitive. There is a lot of coverage of the sport. That said, I have made some wonderful friends amongst the other photographers and I think many of us are supportive of one another and excited to see each other’s work. I enjoy seeing the different perspectives in the way we photograph the same sport.
Q. Do you enjoy the globetrotting lifestyle in terms of the travel and in general?
For the most part I love it and I think you have to in order to do this job. Right now I’m in the middle of the busiest travel time I’ve ever done and will be by myself working for the holidays in Europe and so it has its downsides. I wish I had more time to explore when I am in a new place, sometimes it sounds really exotic to travel around but I don’t actually get to see that much. In 2013 I really plan to get my packing strategy down. I’m really not on my game in that department.