After all, they say a picture paints a thousand words.

04 December 2015

Being a writer at Rapha can be tricky. After all, they say a picture paints a thousand words. So consider that Ben Ingham has taken something like 50,000 images (that’s before an edit) and has had at least 50 per year published online and in print since 2004. It’s hard to compete. The first Rapha brochure, with a grainy shot of a rider carrying his bike down a stairwell on the cover, contained merely a list of products at the back. The pictures did all the talking. And since then images of this ‘kind’ have had a huge impact on the way the cycling world looks at the sport. These days you can’t move for cycling photographers wrestling over the best angle of a BMC icebox or jockeying to frame Peter Sagan’s rear end.

There has been plenty said about Rapha’s reinterpretation of what cycling products can and should be, and the brand’s approach to design. But a major difference is how these Rapha products and the act of cycling in them have been represented online and in print; through a level of editorial that did not exist for sports brands ten years ago. Road cycling, both today and historically, is a very aesthetic sport, and therefore there should be no question about documenting it with a healthy dose of artistic license. Photography, the ‘democratic art’ no less, and road racing have a long and winding relationship. It’s no coincidence that some of the most renowned reportage photographers of the twentieth century – i.e. Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa – documented cycle racing between shooting civil wars and the streets of Europe.

“The decision of how to photograph Rapha products was easy: we had to get them out of the studio and into the landscape, connecting them to the experience and moments that road cyclists crave. Over the past ten years we have travelled to dramatic, challenging, romantic and beguiling landscapes across the world: from the volcanic uplands of the Cévennes to the heat of the Californian desert.” – Simon Mottram

Thanks to smart phones and the ability to instantaneously share photos with the rest of the world, the planet is awash with digital photography. And the number of photos taken per second continues to rise. According to some calculations, there were more photos taken in the last twelve months than between 1838 (the year of the first existing daguerreotype image) and the year 2004. Everyone is a photographer these days… But before 2004, Graham Watson was just about the only person (in the modern era at least) bothering to photograph road racing.

Along with his work for early editions of Rouleur magazine, Ben Ingham’s contribution to Rapha’s growth, not just as a clothing company, but as a viewing platform for cycle sport and culture, should not be underestimated. Let’s just say there are some great photographers out there that should thank the influence of Ben and Rapha’s vision. But less of the smoke blowing, let’s talk about the book.

“It has been edited and re-edited more times than I can remember. Inside there are pictures you’ll know but many only I have seen before now. There’s also an intro story by Herbie Sykes, about love and realisation, which is apposite because the pictures are about love and recognition, recognition that given a little time and a little effort, a bicycle can take you on a journey of discovery and adventure.” – Ben Ingham

If you’ve followed Rapha for the last decade closely you will have seen a good number of the pictures in the book before, but also many never seen before now, even images art directors and photo editors at Rapha have never laid eyes on. It says a lot about both the design of the book and the pictures themselves that, when looking or reading through Journey, every image still feels fresh, thought provoking and beautiful to see. Like the act of cycling itself, these images will give you moments of escape.A journey refers broadly to an act of travelling from one point to another. It can also relate to a process of change and development. Both definitions ring true when reflecting on over a decade of Ben Ingham’s Rapha photography. It has to be said (without giving too much away) certain photo shoots have mythical status. They’ve been arduous, chaotic, freezing, boiling, life changing and often hilarious.

Broken down into seasonal sections, the pictures you’ll find in Journey are also testament to all the people involved in making these shoots possible. And for someone who has seen almost every edit and worked with a lot of the folk featured in Journey, I can say it’s a fitting tribute and a beautiful reminder of what a great company Rapha is to be a part of.

There are a number of short written pieces (tip ins) on various topics chosen and allocated by Ben himself: There’s Rapha CEO Simon Mottram ruminating on the topic of Geography, a dedication to the art of Escape written by photo shoot stalwart Ben Lieberson, an endorsement of Suffering by Rapha’s Head of Brand and shoot producer James Fairbank, and a concluding tract on the notion of Glory by none other than Tom Southam.

There is no other sport like this, yet the feeling of being on a bike and where it can take you is not so easy to capture. To delve into this book really is a trip in itself; travel photography of the best kind (for a cyclist at least). This book might just remind you of the power of two wheels to take you beyond your troubles, and to amazing places both physically and mentally. Words of course can’t say what makes a great photographic image; yet from moments where the picture is a blur of noise and light, to perfectly composed landscapes where you could hear a pin drop, Ben Ingham has it.