There are a number of truly talented photographers who devote their considerable abilities to cycling. Some full-time, some less-so. Mike Powell cut his teeth as a shooter for what is now Getty Images. When he got started, the agency, founded by one of his brothers, was known as Allsport and it was the premiere sports photography agency. They employed only the best of the best. To see a raw take from one of their shooters was to see 36 images, 34 of which would be tack sharp, the industry’s term for images so perfectly in focus you could blow them up into posters.
Mike is best known for his work in track and field. You’ve seen his work in Sports Illustrated, in Kodak ads and anywhere an evocative image of an American track and field athlete was required. But he’s got a serious soft spot for cycling in general and the Tour de France in specific. He is the author of “A Game to Love” (PQ Blackwell), a celebration of the sport of tennis.
“The Greatest Race” is Mike’s take on the Tour de France. With text written by friend and collaborator Lewis Blackwell (no relation to the publisher), Mike describes the gift book as “an indulgence.”
“We both love bike racing. I wanted to go back to the Tour, but with a different (mission). (It was) the opportunity to get to the Tour and work on it less as a sports event and more as an art book and look at what the Tour means to us all, and less who won and lost.”
“When you have pressures on you to produce a daily accounting of what happened on the road, you tend to fall back on what you’re best at. It’s also dictated by what happened and who your business is.
“I’ve been put in a position … working with Sports Illustrated and this book. They don’t need me to do what the agencies do. Technically I could put my mom on the side of the road and she could get a usable shot (with the cameras that are out there). I’m more interested in, ‘How does this picture tell the story of the Tour de France?'”
Mike says he’s been given the freedom to explore and let go.
“The more I let go of my expectations, the more I surprise myself and take picture that please me. I’m not trying to tell the story of that day, I’m telling the story of the Tour de France.
“The question I keep asking myself is, ‘Is this bigger than that day?'”
What I find remarkable in this brief sampling of his work is the way he reinvents the cycling photograph with each new shot. It’s no small feat. But Mike is a man hungry still to do his best work.
“It’s the pinnacle of their career, why shouldn’t it be the pinnacle of my photography?”
Expect to see “The Greatest Race” from PQ Blackwell in bookstores near you late this winter or early next spring. You might suggest gift cards to your favorite bookstore at Christmas. In the meantime, you can check out the Facebook page featuring Mike’s updates.