Series focus, day 13

Witnessing the dream The Dakar is an event that makes you dream thanks to its heroes, the dust covered faces and especially the breath-taking landscapes. It is a real joy for sports photographers and above all a unique adventure for these ...

Witnessing the dream

The Dakar is an event that makes you dream thanks to its heroes, the dust covered faces and especially the breath-taking landscapes. It is a real joy for sports photographers and above all a unique adventure for these hunters of striking images.

In the same way as the Olympic Games, the football World Cup or the Tour de France, covering a Dakar is one of the highpoints of a professional photographer's career. This year on the rally, in addition to magazines and the international daily press, six agencies are in attendance: AFP, AP, Reuters, DPPI, EFE and Presse Sport. Apart from the photographers who go from bivouac to bivouac, there are two possible means of covering a Dakar: by helicopter for 5 of them or by car for many others. Much of a photographer's work takes place before the rally. "We have discussions with the race directors who advise us on the best places to take photos," explains Bernard Papon, a photographer for French sports newspaper l'Equipe, for whom he has covered 5 Dakar rallies. "And after that, I go to the 'office' in a helicopter!" After an initial passage on the ground, the 'Ride of the Valkyries' can commence: "We put on the harness, the solders remove the doors, strap all the bags inside and off we go for a half hour to an hour's flight of non-stop photographs. There's not necessarily an overriding need for creativity since the landscape is just so imposing".

Meanwhile, below on the tracks, Eric Vargiolu is enjoying his 32nd Dakar. "In a car, you're more than just a witness to the event. You're obliged to be a player. What's more, the competitors respect you and your work, because there aren't many photographers on the tracks. You're not a paparazzi". The DPPI agency's photographer has been on all the Dakar rallies, even in 1985, somewhat in spite of himself: "I was part of the rapid response assistance crew for a team with drivers called Schlesser, Lartigue and Jabouille. Those three withdrew on the first evening because of faulty suspension on their Ladas. Since I had brought my camera equipment with me, I removed my race number and switched to a press car". Eric is on of the few to have experienced the era of the camera film: "We were really stressed out for loads of reasons. Firstly because we had to work 'blind', then because of the difficulty of getting the photos back to Paris. As soon as a plane flew back with a competitor who was injured or who had withdrawn, we gave them the films, so sometimes it took several days".

Since that time, the digital era has radically change things, enabling a veritable orgy of photos. "On a good day, sometimes you take more than 1000 shots," explains Papon. "I send 50 per day that are used by the newspaper, Equipe Mag and the Presse Sport agency". Despite technical or climatic setbacks, being a photographer on the Dakar is a real privilege. "The big difficulty is being able to do something different," admits Papon. "Otherwise, there aren't any. We're doing a rich kids' thing. Once you've done it, you don't want to give your place away".

"I always want to get out there," adds Eric Vargiolu, who is also in charge of the official Dakar book. "If you you're not motivated, there's no point coming because it's too difficult, too frustrating sometimes. In professional and human terms, it's a challenge, but it's also an opportunity to meet people, make discoveries and have adventures, in the real sense of the word". Being a photographer on the Dakar is beside more than just a professional experience, according to Vargiolu: "In these adventures, we come looking for that bit of liberty that we don't have in our day-to-day lives".

-source: aso

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Series Dakar