the viewers' choice

Eric Gilbert

Story of a photo

I am obviously very happy that viewers have selected my photo of Sebastian Wheldon kissing the yard of brick during the traditional winner's photoshoot on the Monday following the Indy 500, as their choice for 'Big Picture of the year 2011'.

Immediately after wrapping up my photo editing work, on that afternoon, I remember posting the picture on Facebook and writing: "Like father, like son. This one has to be my picture of the day, when the son of 2011 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon decided on his own to go ahead and kiss the yard of brick at the winners photoshoot. Priceless."

2011 Indianapolis 500, Monday winner's photoshoot, 2011-05-30: Dan Wheldon's son Sebastian kisses the yard of brick
2011 Indianapolis 500, Monday winner's photoshoot, 2011-05-30: Dan Wheldon's son Sebastian kisses the yard of brick

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Historical perspective

Beyond the actual beauty of the photo, and its pure 'cuteness' and 'candidness', what fascinates me with it is the exact same thing that fascinates me with photography: how its meaning and relevancy can totally change throughout time. And how we emotionally relate to one image can dramatically evolve with the past, present and future events that surround it. My own historical perspective has shaped this photo in three different acts: joy, drama and hope.

Act 1: Joy

The Indy 500 winner's photoshoot, traditionally held on the Monday morning following the Indy 500, is mostly a team, sponsors and media event. Basically, it is a two-hour photoshoot during which dozens of photographers and videographers take a huge amount of photos and footage of the Indy 500 winner, his team and family, in different situations: driver by himself, driver and team, driver by the car, driver and team by the car, driver and sponsors, and the unavoidable (and never-ending) 'hat dance'.

It is an important process, due to the magnitude of the Indy 500 itself, but nevertheless, a long one too. This year was good, mostly because of the exuberant personality of Dan. But at the end of it, very few moments can be qualify as 'genuine' as the whole thing is planned, with the precision of a metronome.

And, as the whole thing was getting to a final wrap and shooters had stopped shooting, one of those absolutely genuine and unplanned moment happened. The magic of the moment was only comparable to the fact that it was unexpected and almost went totally unnoticed. Seeing this little kid walking and hopping around towards the yard of bricks to mimic what his dad had been doing for two hours, in a totally natural way was priceless. The kind of moves that only kids seem to be able to make; but watch them carefully when they make those moves, because they will only make them once. As matter of fact, those who missed the scene tried to recreate it afterwards, but in vain. Mr. Sebastian Wheldon does not give 'encores'.

At that precise moment, this photo definitely meant 'joy' to me.

Act 2: Drama

The events that occurred on this sinister day of October 16, 2011 radically changed the emotional meaning of this photo, from joy to drama. In the aftermath of the Las Vegas catastrophe, I could hardly look at this photo without feeling a deep sense of pain. Being a positive and upbeat guy by nature, I will go over this act real quickly. And besides, my own little emotion looking at this image is nothing compared to what family and friends must have felt after this terrible day.

Act 3: Hope

And then… After all the joy and then drama, I recently started looking at this image in a whole new and different way. This new perspective is driven by a distant but still vivid memory I have of another kid who lost his dad in racing. Simply put, this kid's dad was also flamboyant and fearless, and also dearly loved by racing fans. This kid came to deal with his lost by embracing what his dad loved the most to do, and went on to be a Formula One World Champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner. This is my sincere hope for Sebastian Wheldon.

This hope is now the emotion I feel, when I look a this photo.

Related links

The Best of: The Big Picture 2011

Photos of the 2011 Indy 500 winner's photoshoot

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About this article
Series General
Drivers Dan Wheldon , Eric Gilbert , Sebastian Wheldon
Tags dan wheldon, featured, indy 500, indycar, photos, sebastian wheldon