We were first introduced to Karen M. Edward‘s work after this year’s Tour de France. As you too will soon see, it’s her different point-of-view that really struck a cord with us. For Karen, photographing cycling is not just about the riders or the bikes, but about the entire experience of cycling, whether on or off of the bike.
Karen has a background in art, design and fashion. It’s this unique blend that we believe helps her to look at cycling in a fresh way.
When seeing a race through Karen’s eyes, it’s a holistic experience. As we have had the good fortune of experiencing a Grand Tour first-hand, we appreciate her take on a race that brings together spectators from around the world, of all ages, and offers a mutual bond over something where many individuals have dedicated their entire lives to hone their craft.
Karen is also the official photographer of the Emerald Fund, which works to support the next generation of cyclists.
Now, onto the interview…
MalenDyer: Although you specialize in cycling photography now, you have quite a creative background. Share with us more about that part of your background.
Karen M. Edwards: I studied art, fashion and design at college in Cork, Ireland. I loved the process of illustration, pattern layout and assembly of the design. I worked for most of my life in the fashion industry. My mum was always glamorous, and she taught me that the way you dress and portray yourself to people was really important, and they remember you for this.
KME: I was always individual in my sense of dress and still love it when I get time to wander the fashion aisles or sit to watch street style. When I’m at [cycling] races, it’s not glamorous because you can be on the road/ground lying down, running through a muddy field, on a motorbike for hours or caught up in brutal weather conditions – it snowed this year in Liège-Bastogne-Liège while I photographed from the motorbike. When I’m not at races, I still love putting on my best shade of red MAC lipstick and heels.
“When I’m not at races, I still love putting on my best shade of red MAC lipstick and heels.”
MD: With this said, cycling isn’t new to you. Share with us more about your family history with cycling.
KME: My uncle Mick raced here in Ireland, a great and well-respected athlete. My family would follow him around the country supporting him at races. The colors of the jerseys always fascinated me – these hero-like characters and the racing bikes. It must have stemmed from this that my love of cycling started. I helped Mick in the bike shop just off of his house. He was a character, and I miss him a lot.
MD: And, you also cycled?
KME: Coming from a very rural village, my only way of freedom was a bike. I would cycle everywhere. When I cycled to school to the town nearby, my main objective was always to beat the school bus back to my village in the evenings. It was the best feeling that your legs could win over a machine.
MD: How did the camera come about?
KME: The camera happened by accident. I had been training with the idea of starting to race in the coming season. I had this skin condition that was not going away at the time, and the doctor had advised me to stop for awhile until they could get to the reason behind it. So, still wanting to be involved in the sport, I bought a Nikon 3000. I stood on this steep climb where I knew the action would happen. It was freezing cold, snowed and hailed, but I wanted to capture what these riders go through physically. I wanted to go deeper than just a rider on a bike.
MD: You have photographed at least portions of all Grand Tours. Share with us memories from your first or most memorable Grand Tour.
KME: Definitely most memorable for me was the Giro d’Italia 2014 [Nairo Quintana of Movistar ultimately won]. [Although] I did not do all of this tour, it impacted my whole outlook of entering into the journey of shooting the pro scene. It was the starting point of making me think of pro shooting. I had received my accreditation for the four days in Belfast. I was incredibly new to it and very naive with eyes wide open like a child. I did not know what to expect really. Within a few hours of displaying my images on social media, the response was huge.
KME: The support from the public and my peers truly humbled me. I was not confident and found it hard to comprehend at the time. I was just portraying what I felt and saw through my eyes. You asked of mistakes, I made so many, and I still do. You cannot time what happens in a race, but preparation is something that’s essential. I’m learning every time I shoot a race. Most memorable from that particular tour was standing alongside one of my favorite riders and being in awe in my own head, but keeping it together to get the shots I wanted.
“I wanted to capture what these riders go through physically. I wanted to go deeper than just a rider on a bike.”
MD: Speaking of Grand Tours, which one has been your favorite to photograph so far? Or, do you prefer to capture one-day races or shorter races?
KME: Out of all of this year, the [one-day] Paris-Roubaix cycling race on the motorbike was my favorite. I cannot explain to you the whole series of emotions that filled me when shooting this. The history behind it alone – it’s iconic in cycling, and the images from years gone had always inspired me.
KME: And, the cobbles just lend to a different kind of racing. To see a peloton of riders race at speeds in the gutters on these roads leaves you with a whole new respect for these men. Fans of all ages line the roads for miles. I loved watching them while speeding by on the moto with my pilot; we have total trust together. He looks after me in every sense. The fans are there out of passion for the sport, just like me. I always feel I owe it to those who cannot be there, to document the race through my eyes.
MD: You’ve shared that you prefer to photograph cycling before and during the event – not necessarily at the finish. What is it about these earlier moments that draws you?
KME: There is a whole team and workload that goes on behind-the-scenes before a race even takes place. Some amazing individuals that work so hard to get everything just right so the riders go onto that start line confident and well-prepared. Soigneurs, managers, mechanics and chefs are all essential on making it work. I love shooting the racing truly, love watching a tactic or attack being played out, but there is so much more to racing that the public needs to know. I suppose in ways, it’s what I hope to do through my images – show there’s so much more to road racing.
“I always feel I owe it to those who cannot be there, to document the race through my eyes.”
MD: When photographing sports, it’s all about capturing the moment. How do you prepare for a day where anything can happen – either with mother nature or with the cyclists?
KME: You can be prepared all you want, but you can’t time “the shot”. Sometimes it’s luck, other times it’s just seeing what others have missed. The riders are usually great, but you know when your not wanted around, and I try to respect that. Hopefully they see what I am trying to do through my work.
MD: What photographer or other person has inspired you?
KME: Photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro truly have inspired me through their passion for their work and each other. The images [they captured] of war move me every time I look at them. For me, you have to love your subject and that shows in your work, no matter what it is. Passion is key.
MD: What drew us to your work was the varying points-of-view. When covering a cycling event, what are you looking for? What draws you to click on your camera button to take that photograph?
KME: I don’t plan. I go with a clean canvas. I want to create new. I want to push myself to see things others don’t. My eye is drawn to human emotion, to the mechanism of a bike and just the [act of] real bike racing.
MD: Do you prefer shooting in black and white or color?
KME: Black and white is so beautiful, simple and elegant, but color works great with the color in the peloton – depends really too on mood, weather and surroundings.
“You have to love your subject and that shows in your work, no matter what it is. Passion is key.”
MD: As it relates to cycling, you have photographed a variety of riders, and in some cases, captured them in “raw” moments. How up close and personal do you get to your “objects/athletes”?
KME: If it’s at a race, you don’t get time to interact with them. The shot is usually of the moment. I personally try and get as close as I can to them. You can get pushed around, but this doesn’t bother me, as it’s part of what to expect in the job. It’s always great when they give you feedback or a thank you, of course.
KME: When it comes to more personal portrait work, I like the riders to feel as if I am not there. This takes a degree of trust in your work and in how you will portray them. Usually the riders are great. I know a few very personally, and they know what I’m about.
MD: If you had to choose one photo, which would you feel highlights your sports photography career so far?
KME: That’s so hard to do! But from this year, it would be of Peter Sagan in Paris-Roubaix. It was the day before the start of the race, and the presentation of the teams was in Compiégne, France. I was waiting inside the media fold for the riders, and I saw Peter. I immediately made my way towards him. The media and television crews swarmed him, and I knelt down right in front of him. As the interviewers pushed their way towards him, I held my place. I looked up, and I took the shot of “The Rockstar of Cycling”.
MD: You have a book – “Chasing Races” – what inspired you to publish this book?
KME: It was self-published. I wanted to lay out the portfolio of work I had produced over the years for the public to see. I made so many mistakes, now looking back, but I learned a lot more from working on it. People were asking me for awhile to do one, but I just never had confidence, I guess, in myself to do it.
MD: What advice can you offer the amateurs out there who want to capture that special moment?
KME: Look at things you love and look at them another way – it’s in the details. Be it your mobile phone camera, Canon, Nikon or whatever you like to shoot with, don’t fear it and show why you love it.
MD: What camera or camera equipment is a must for you?
KME: Photography is expensive. The lenses are really the essential components for me. You get a different feel, depth and emotion with each particular lens.
“Coming from a very rural village, my only way of freedom was a bike.”
MD: What would we always find in your camera bag?
KME: Lip gloss! I’m a woman [she shares while smiling]. Honestly though, usually a back up [camera] in case something goes wrong, extra memory cards, money and covers for my lenses.
MD: When you aren’t following a Grand Tour or another cycling event, what would we find you doing?
KME: Listening to music, enjoying a good coffee, going for miles on my bike while lost in thoughts or going for some retail therapy in my beautiful city of Cork.
MD: And, what’s next for Karen M. Edwards Photography?
KME: My mind is open to anything that comes my way. I have an exhibition coming up in the Titanic, Belfast soon and a book project with Bora, sponsors of Bora-Argon 18.