It is estimated that there are now more photos taken in a single year than the collective total number of humans to ever walk the earth. I don't know about you, but I find that a pretty mind-blowing thought.
Whatever those photos’ ambitions or reason for existence, however deep or trivial the story they capture, no matter whether taken in selfless documentary or from the depths of narcissism, wherever, however and why-ever they were taken they all have one thing in common: that they were taken through a lens (pinhole camera obscura aficionados excused).
We pro photographers live our lives through a lens —quite literally. Our cameras pay the bills, but they also tick our creative boxes and chance us the excuse to travel and document life as it plays out around us, on bikes or off them. We live what we shoot, and vice-versa. But over the last two years, that lens has been distorted by… well, you know what. The once predictability of 1/1000th of a second to dictate my own timeline and movements replaced by viral variants and Plan-Bs.
The lessons of this pandemic are hard learnt for everyone. Having spent the last 3 decades manipulating dials, apertures and shutter speeds to the nth degree to finitely shape the story I want to tell, getting through the chaos of the pandemic as a photographer so far has re-taught me patience and to trust in what comes.
But despite the chaos and insecurities of trips shelved and shoots cancelled, I still consider myself lucky: I have my health and I still got to ride bikes and shoot pictures, albeit with my work schedule characterised by deluge and drought —the new normal in so many aspects of our lives.
So here are a few of the visual chapter markers of my year as a mountain bike photographer: just another handful of some 1200 billion photos snapped in 2021.(Note: as with much of my work, many of the images I shoot in any one year are destined to be revealed months later by the brands or the media commissioning the shoot or story; stay tuned for the reveals in 2022)
Chamonix, January 2021
With a mix of passionate locals, powder-addicted trustafarians, excited seasonaires and dizzy tourists, ski resorts represent one of the more surreal demographics at the best of times; but close their lifts for a whole winter season and they take on an even more unique dynamic: one painted in a thousand hues of frustration. France closed its ski stations for the entire 2021 winter season, and while folk fidgeted with new-found time on their hands and donned ski and splitboard touring gear in search of sanity, I focussed on my bike instead, setting myself the challenge of trying to ride snowy descents through the whole winter, and all without a fat-bike.
I picked descents that could be accessed by south facing, warm, sunny road climbs to succeed in my challenge, and alone or with my friend Jez Wilson, rode every week, except two when conditions rendered the trails the preserve of the fatbike, with the impossible combination of too deep and too heavy for my 2.5” tyres.
Finale Ligure, Italy, February 2021
I’ve been shooting in Finale for more than 13 years, and for a place that so dreamily alluring to ride, it always strikes me how tricky a place to shoot it actually is —at least if you want to capture context and that dreamy alluring coastal feel, rather than close-ups of intense EWS style tracks hemmed in by tight brush; it’s why this undulating section of the ‘women’s DH’ is so well documented by almost every photographer, me included.
Shooting for local guiding outfit MTBguideXP
meant being treated to trails that I’d never ridden before, despite having spent weeks in Finale over the years. Francesco’s treats included one trail that snaked through magnificently gnarled cork oak forest — a creative goldmine for a tree-hugging photographer like me.
Tarn Gorge, France, May 2021
They say ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and so it is for adventure-travel photographers whose wanderlust wings have been clipped. With travel curtailed I turned closer to home for the kind of bike adventure that is normally associated with far-flung wilds of Mongolia or the Yukon: packrafting.
Joined by the two Julbo/Mavic riders Jerome Clementz and Fred Horny, we descended the stunningly beautiful Tarn gorge in south-central France for three days, paddling each morning and putting to shore to ride trails along the gorge each afternoon. This simple endeavour, played out on ‘home soil’, without the long haul hassle of expeditions, proved to be one of the most entertaining and rewarding adventures any of us had done.
Chamonix, June 2021
Think global, act local: it’s a slogan that can easily be applied to finding a slice of adventure, and one we applied when Shimano rolled into town to film a piece about me and my perverted willingness to carry bikes under the excuse of adventure. But even with my own bed just a few Kilometres away, it seemed appropriate to have at least one pyjama party out under the stars, our bivvi bags unfurled in front of the biggest widescreen in Europe. The Shimano episode will be out this spring.
Dolomites, Italy, July 2021
The pandemic manifested in myriad ways, but the one thing we all share from it is an absence of socialising, pre, during, or post ride. Sharing laughs on the trail and anecdotes afterwards is all part of our amazing sport —usually. Come July, restrictions on crossing borders finally eased to allow several of us to spend a week together in the spiky Italian Dolomites. The mini-gathering came under the guise of a Pro bike gear
testing session and photo and video shoot, taking place on some of the most challenging trails you can imagine —but we all knew it was really just about ‘getting the band back together’ and rekindling friendships, and for that we were thankful.
Engelberg, Switzerland, August 2021
Originally organised in 2019, a small project to explore the curious farm lifts around the Swiss town of Engelberg finally came to fruition in 2021. After 18 months of waiting, followed by a three hour train ride, our patience was rewarded; five days spent mixing valley loops with overnight mini adventures that reached way back into the beyond, all on amazing trails. Keep an eye out for the full story this spring in the mags.
Pila, Italy, September 2021
I’ve been shooting for Endura
clothing for over a decade, documenting the green hues of Scotland to the trail dust of Mallorca, but with movements hard to predict in 2021, I opted to keep the shoot local and headed to Pila, Italy, an hour from my Alps base. Of course, the bluebird days that led up to the shoot faded to Scottish-like murk on our arrival, with cloud billowing across the mountainsides and smothering our trails in mist (and repeat for the road shoot a few days later) —but this is a familiar challenge at least, unlike the uncertainty of the pandemic. Patience, bants, lots of espressos and opportunistic dramatic silhouettes tied us over until the hallowed light finally, and luckily, re-emerged to do the spring-summer catalogue justice.
Rwanda, Africa, September 2021
Legacies can be hard to shake off, especially in a place that few people visit to help change their view. The small central African country of Rwanda has a troubled history culminating in genocide in 1994, but the country today is a different place. It still has political problems, but being safe and welcoming, Rwanda's stability has seen the return of tourism, mostly to indulge wildlife safaris; in contrast, mountain bike tourism is still a fledgling operation —which puts this kind of place firmly on my map to explore: I jumped on the only flights I've taken in over 22 months.
Accompanied by Mitas riders Ludo May and Fed Horny, and helped by local MTB guide Tyisenge and ex-pat Bhutanese guide Pelden (it’s a long story), we spent 9 days exploring Rwanda’s incredible, but little ridden singletrack, as well as enjoying some of the most enthusiastic welcomes we’ve ever had on bikes. Full story in the mags from March onwards. Thanks to Yeti Cycles, Shimano, Fox, Mavic, Maxxis, WTB, Crank Brothers, DMR, Giro, Alpkit, Lumix UK and F-stop packs for their ongoing support in keeping me rolling —and shooting— out there.