Motorsport photographer and masters student shares the inspiration behind "Endurance"

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Motorsport photographer and masters student shares the inspiration behind
Aug 22, 2018, 1:38 AM

A contributor to Motorsport.com’s race photography since 2009, Daniel-James Smith has covered everything from the World Endurance Championship to vintage racing in the UK.

This year, he has challenged himself to make racing event coverage the central focus of a photography MA degree at Falmouth University. His aim is to make a case for the interest factor of competitive racing as a whole, highlighting the sheer endeavour involved from the pit crews to the mechanics as well as those who take to the driver’s seat. The world of racing appears to him as thrilling and exultant as it is nerve-wracking and ferociously objective; with so much competition and focus on victory, it’s a rife hunting ground for a full range of emotion. As he prepares for his all-day exhibition of work in the Senna Suite at the Donington Grand Prix Collection (Sun 12th Aug 2018), Thomas Morley sat down with Smith for some insight into what it takes to be a motorsport photographer and to reflect on artwork captured during the British GT Championship and the Blancpain Endurance series.

 

Photo by: Daniel James Smith

Morley: You’ve been capturing shots at race events for a number of years now, how did the way you approach events change as you focused more on making art as well as journalism?

Smith: When I started working on the project it was just about capturing speed, taking pictures of the cars at speed, getting that emphasis on spectacle. That focus is impossible to avoid, with so much emphasis being on the cars. I was just so comfortable getting shots of the competition on track and the drivers that it was all I used to concentrate on to begin with. Everyone loves the machines, not just the way they look but how they sound, what they can do; that’s not something that one image alone can accomplish. I naturally found that as I pushed myself to develop technique and tell the story of a race weekend there was so much potential elsewhere in a race weekend. I took a chance to focus more intimately on the personalities behind the teams, what it feels like to compete with all the focus and desire and nerves involved. I wanted to show people the stress, exhaustion and tension the whole team goes through, maybe find an aspect which was more intimate, more candid, behind-the-scenes and not just the spotlight that drivers enjoy either.

 

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

Morley: Quite a lot of these images tend to pose a question; a mysterious expression or a driver waiting at an empty garage. Did you set out to exclude certain things on purpose?

Smith: It’s quite rare when something like that occurs naturally in front of you and it’s just a case of focusing in past other distractions, getting a scene or an individual in a particularly stark moment. Spending so much time in the pit lane and trying to show what’s there; what rubs off on you is a sense of excited unease. The crews are constantly wondering if they’ve done enough, if they’re prepared enough, if they’re competitive enough. Everyone in a team has to be prepared physically for the rigors of endurance racing but you have to have such a lot of mental focus too. These guys are literally going to war with each other after all. Until the end of the race nobody knows the answer to the most important question though, nobody really knows who is going to be first across the finish line, obviously. The whole sport is constantly asking questions of everyone competing, so I wanted to draw that out when I spotted it.

 

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

Morley: And why motorsport, as opposed to any other subject? Why did it have to be racing specifically?

Smith: When I set out to do the masters degree there was plenty I was interested in, street art photography for example; but my ideas were cluttered, I had the most direction when you got me on the subject of racing. I grew up inside racing. My father was a race mechanic in Formula Ford 1600, Historic Formula 3 and TVR Tuscan Challenge around the 1990’s and I went to a lot of events with him. I was just a child really, wandering around circuits and watching all the work being done in the background as well as the races themselves. So many of the mechanics were just tireless, they needed everything to be perfect for competition. It was part of my childhood and it was always something inspiring to me, just being at circuits and being a part of that atmosphere, seeing a work ethic like that really being put to the test. I was karting all through my teens and competing so I got a small taste of the pressure from a driver’s perspective on top of that. It just didn’t make sense to focus on anything else. Nearly everything that you can feel, it’s possible to find in motorsport somewhere. The sport has a big sense of passion, it’s big and iconic and otherworldly, but without the struggle of all the crews and the drivers personally committing themselves so fully it wouldn’t really mean anything, so that’s where I found my focus.

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

Smith: It had to be motorsport for another reason as well, because nobody I talked to had imagined that someone would do it for an art degree. Nothing can be contrived or staged over a race weekend, everything and everyone is busy, totally involved. It’s all about the struggle of capturing what’s there in the moment. Images of the cars themselves are kind of like wildlife photography where the wildlife is racing around at 160mph. It seemed like a really challenging subject, bringing out the human aspect when it’s all coveralls and racing helmets and machinery and tire walls. It’s not the natural or easy choice to take for a subject that’s “people-focused”, but that’s really the most defining aspect of it.

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

Morley: With all your work now completed for exhibition at Donington on Sunday, how close to capturing the spirit of “Endurance” do you think you’ve come? In terms of craft do you plan to do more or go further from here? What’s next?

Smith: I think I can go much further, though I really hope I’ve done my level best it’s my first exhibition and I feel like I’m still just scratching the surface of what there is to say about motorsport. I’m surrounded by world-class photographers making a living in the profession, in comparison my current equipment is certainly decent enough but ten-years old and I work full-time outside motorsport. If I found myself on a level playing field with them, I’d like to aspire to something with even more spectacle and flair myself. I’m already putting forward work that I’m very happy with and there’s every opportunity to continue honing my craft and chasing more thought-provoking images.

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

 

Photo by: Daniel-James Smith

Daniel-James Smith’s new exhibition of work “Endurance” will be displayed at Donington Grand Prix Collection’s Senna Suite on Sunday 12th August 2018.

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Series General
Event Daniel-James Smith special feature
Article type Interview