Behind The Lights – Michael Blann
The interview with the refined English photographer, capable of capturing the maximum expression of the two wheels and of what surrounds them.
Put the effort into the context, put the context into the effort. In order to understand Michael Blann’s photographic work, it is necessary to reflect on the ability of a natural glimpse to ennoble the temporary sports effort, and the eternal human effort, and vice versa.
In the English photographer’s shots, nothing is messy, nothing is condensed or claustrophobic, nothing is out of place. The present extends itself into a hypothetical, infinite period, where everything is suspended, where everything is portrayed by the refined eye of what instantly takes on the connotations of a contemporary landscape painter.
Scenario after scenario, peak after peak, Blann immortalizes the maximum expression of cycling, appealing to his sporting and graphic sensibility: a sensibility he has developed over the years on the pedals.
“Cycling is in my veins, it’s a constant in my life. I grew up cycling on the south coast of England, overlooking the sea. At 19 I tried the big leap, going to Australia to pursue the dream of professionalism. After some time, I simply realised I wasn’t good enough to reach certain levels, so I came back home and enrolled at Art College”
During the academic career, Blann develops a passion for printing, becomes fascinated by lithographs and images on paper, begins to process photos and creations of others. Then he decides to take the camera in hand.
“My first reportage became part of my university dissertation. I went to Bulgaria for a week and came back with a series of black and white images. I think my love for photography can be summed up in the over 500 books that are part of my home library”
Entire shelves of printed paper define the multiform influences of Blann’s photography. His vision draws from parallel worlds, even very distant from each other: such as the design one or the advertising universe. So here are tongues of asphalt respectfully cutting through mountain giants, here are tortuous climbs elevated to an epic dimension, here is changing the meaning of an entire cycling race.
The athlete in Blann’s photos doesn’t challenge his colleagues, but instead attacks the unshakeable natural element, he populates it with dignity, he suffers its majestic sensory power. Concepts that are summarised by the snapshots of two masters of photography who have particularly inspired the artistic canon of Blann.
On the one hand, the parallel contexts portrayed by Andreas Gursky: undulating passageways, small buildings full of human ants, streets that paint a desert canvas. On the other hand, the culture of suffering, exalted by definition by the two wheels and honoured by the impactful details of Timm Kolln.
Andreas Gursky – Tour de France, 2007
Andreas Gursky – Bahrain, 2005
Andreas Gursky – Klitschko, 1999
“My photography doesn’t explore the simple sporting gesture, it focuses on the human impact on the world, on the footprint we leave on it, on how we populate and interact with a certain space. I don’t like to be inside the action, I prefer to act as an outside eye. This is why so many of my works in other fields see me photographing squares or streets from above, contexts in which the human flow is constant. The mountain sums up this concept perfectly: the roads that cut the peaks embody the idea of the human element grafting itself into the primordial one. My book ‘Mountains’ is obviously dedicated to this element: I wanted to focus on these ‘natural cathedrals’ because, when they’re in contact with man, I believe they reveal a very powerful metaphor. The cyclist who faces a climb is ideally equivalent to the man who overcomes an obstacle that is impossible to deal with”.
Timm Kolln – Mark Cavendish, 2007
Timm Kolln – Alejandro Valverde, 2017
Timm Kolln – Andy Schleck
Although Blann’s commitment was also divided into other sports disciplines, such as football (with some works for the English national team and for the FA) or boxing, the pedals remained the catalyst for his photographic work. A work that, according to him, shares many aspects with the two wheels themselves.
“I think there is a very strong link between photography and cycling: you go out and explore, you map the area, you record details, you feel a great sense of freedom. They are solitary: deeply introspective actions that take you away from external distractions. I could venture into the mountains with my camera for hours and days. The same goes for my bike rides. A wonderful aspect of cycling is that it lets you discover huge areas. I always say that if you are a runner you can discover your city, if you are a cyclist you can discover your region. The toughness of cycling is another aspect that particularly fascinates me: the suffering implicitly forces cyclists to be real people, down to earth, to have more interesting personalities than many other sports people“.
Pont Thibault, Roubaix
PH Michael Blann
TEXT Gianmarco Pacione
PH Timm Kölln
PH Andreas Gursky
February 1, 2021
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