I’m in France with dear colleague John Tully, following the Tour de France. I'm doing tintypes and John is shooting digital and the plan is to collaborate on a series of images of all the stuff surrounding the tour it self, and stay clear of the actual riding.
But then you’re on a French mountain, waiting on the Peloton, and it’s hard not to try and capture a picture of all the craziness. Only thing is, I only brought my large format camera and a portable darkroom, so this could be a challenge.
This is roughly what’s involved and I do apologise for getting a little nerdy:
Before the riders get to you, around a billion motorcycles and cars passes by; police, press, vip’s and tour people. In one of these cars was a guy with a microphone screaming what sounded like names and times. What do I know; the only thing I can say in French is ‘baguette’. I somehow manage to have the friendly lady next to me explain that the breakaway group is 12 minutes ahead of the Peloton, coming up the mountain.
So when the breakaway riders fly past us, I set my timer to 12 minutes.
There’s two main challenges in this: first of all the metal plates I’m photographing on has to be in a silver bath for four minutes to become light sensitive. But also, they are not allowed to dry once they’re pulled out of the bath, and only the photo-Gods know, how long that will take. It depends on humanity and temperature.
All of this is not usually a big problem, but a slight challenge when there’s 150 riders coming cruising up a mountain. They most like will not stop and pose for a picture.
So when the clock gets down to five minutes, I pour the collodion, stick my head in the darkroom and put the plate in the silver. As I’m waiting for the four minutes to pass, helicopters start emerging behind the nearest ridge. When the clock goes off after four minutes, I get back in the dark, pull the plate out and put it in the plate holder.
Now I’m on the side of the road, waiting for the Peloton to arrive and hoping the plate won’t dry on me. All of a sudden the helicopters get closer and people start cheering and sure enough; the riders appear around the nearest corner.
I put the holder in the camera, pull the darkslide and start counting; ‘one case of beer, two cases of beer’ and ‘click’ - that’s it. A two second exposure of a whole lot of guys in very tight lycra flying by.
I’m just a few feet from the riders and the air pressure is so intense I have to hold on to my tripod. I don’ want to be the next guy who becomes Youtube-famous for crashing the Peloton.
As the remaining riders and cars are passing I get back in the darkroom and develop my plate.
I'll be posting more on my Instagram in the days to come.