Joshua Paul gives mod­ern-day For­mula 1 a retro look by us­ing a 104-year-old cam­era

This is F1 as you’ve never seen it be­fore: through the lens of a 104-year-old cam­era…

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS JAMES ROBERTS PIC­TURES JOSHUA PAUL

IN THE PUR­SUIT OF PER­FEC­TION,

a pho­tog­ra­pher con­stantly strives for the crispest, sharpest image pos­si­ble. So it’s a touch ironic that US pho­tog­ra­pher Joshua Paul’s story be­gins with Blur. In May 2013, Paul trav­elled to Barcelona to pho­to­graph the band at a mu­sic fes­ti­val, but, as a long-time fan of For­mula 1, he learned that the gig was be­ing held on the same week­end as the Span­ish Grand Prix.

He ap­plied for ac­cred­i­ta­tion and, to his sur­prise, was granted an F1 press pass. Much of his pre­vi­ous work had in­volved land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy in ex­otic lo­ca­tions, such as Mozam­bique and the Ama­zon, for ad­ven­ture travel mag­a­zines. He chose to ap­ply those same tech­niques – wide an­gle, low to the hori­zon – to pho­to­graph F1 cars track­side.

Be­fore he knew it, the Cal­i­for­nian-born New Yorker was reg­u­larly at­tend­ing grands prix, and sub­se­quently launched a lav­ish, pic­ture-led F1 mag­a­zine called Lol­lipop. “I didn’t re­alise how close you could ac­tu­ally get when I started,”

“THERE ARE MANY GREAT PHO­TOG­RA­PHERS IN THE SPORT, BUT THEY ARE OF­TEN SHOOT­ING FOR THEIR CLIENTS AND SPON­SORS. THEY TAKE SHARP IMAGES SO THAT THE LO­GOS ARE CLEAR. I DIDN’T HAVE THAT PREREQUISITE, SO I WON­DERED WHAT I COULD DO DIF­FER­ENTLY”

says Paul. “I won­dered why par­tic­u­lar sorts of pic­tures were taken in F1 and now un­der­stand that there are many great pho­tog­ra­phers in the sport, but they are of­ten shoot­ing for their clients and spon­sors. They take sharp images so that the lo­gos are clear. I didn’t have that prerequisite, so I won­dered what I could do dif­fer­ently.”

In 2001, Paul shot the af­ter­math of 9/11 for The New York Times us­ing a vin­tage cam­era. His 1913 Graflex was a gift from a fine-art pho­tog­ra­pher who had taught him at art school.

“My teacher was shoot­ing the down­fall of Amer­ica – pic­tures of de­cline and de­cay in moody black and white – and he gave me this old Graflex cam­era,” says Paul. “He told me not to worry about shut­ter speed or fo­cus, but to find my own voice with this cam­era. So I trav­elled to the Czech Repub­lic and shot Prague in the snow. Sud­denly, fig­ures were black sil­hou­ettes and the cas­tles were out­lines in a haze. Things start to look dif­fer­ent, as the cam­era de­con­structs the world as we know it: colour­ful, mod­ern Prague looked like wartime.”

Paul de­cided to bring the same pe­riod ef­fect to F1, so he dusted down the old wood and leather cam­era and took it to Monaco. It at­tracted a few cu­ri­ous looks from fel­low pho­tog­ra­phers in the high-tech press room, as Paul hid him­self un­der an eight-inch black sheet at his desk, en­sur­ing no light would leak onto the film as he changed the old plates in the back of the 104-year-old cam­era.

A mod­ern dig­i­tal Canon EOS 1-DX can take 18 frames a sec­ond, and its mo­tor­drive se­quences en­able F1 pho­tog­ra­phers to take thou­sands of images ev­ery week­end. Paul has just ten plates avail­able for his Graflex, per­mit­ting two shots per plate. It means he’s re­stricted to tak­ing just 20 images a week­end. And he doesn’t know if the pic­ture will be any good un­til he re­turns home.

“THE WAY THE CAM­ERA PICKS UP THE SIL­HOU­ETTE SHAPE OF THE CAR IM­ME­DI­ATELY TAKES YOU BACK TO A BY­GONE AGE, WHICH I HOPE EVOKES SOME OF THE HER­ITAGE OF THE SPORT – AND THAT’S WHAT I PLAN TO CON­TINUE TO DO”

“When you shoot in dig­i­tal, you want to en­hance it by chang­ing the colours, bright­ness or con­trast,” ex­plains Paul. “But you can’t do that with this one. When you get the film de­vel­oped and sit at the light box, the an­tic­i­pa­tion is amaz­ing. Ev­ery­thing you see is gen­uine.”

Ear­lier this year, Paul took a shot of Valtteri Bottas leav­ing the pits in his Mercedes dur­ing FP2 in Mon­tréal. He used some old film he had stum­bled across in the Czech Repub­lic that was half the price of Ko­dak. The grain struc­ture was un­even, so it gave the pic­ture an even older feel than usual. Plus there is a blotch of white on the right edge where light had leaked into the film.

“If that was a commercial shot, it would have been thrown away, but, as it is, it’s one of my favourites,” says Paul. “The car’s rear wheel ap­pears as an oval be­cause of the brass lens, which dis­torts the per­spec­tive. It’s sharp at the cen­tre but the fo­cus falls off to­wards the edges. It skews the wheel in this case. The other dif­fi­cult thing when pan­ning is that when you look down the lens, ev­ery­thing is in re­verse. So you have to look at the car to pan, not through the cam­era. So tech­ni­cally, us­ing this twists my brain. With each shot I have to load the film hold­ers, re­move the slide and rewind the shut­ter to the right speed. It’s cum­ber­some and not de­signed to travel the world shoot­ing fast-paced F1.”

The re­ac­tion from teams and driv­ers has been pos­i­tive. Some me­chan­ics are par­tic­u­larly cu­ri­ous about the Graflex’s tech­ni­cal­i­ties – and they have been more than happy to help with re­pairs.

“The plan wasn’t to shoot rac­ing ac­tion, but the way this cam­era picks up the sil­hou­ette shape of the car im­me­di­ately takes you back to a by­gone age, which I hope evokes some of the her­itage of the sport – and that’s what I plan to con­tinue to do.

“And I never did get to see Blur…”

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