Gilles Martin-Raget - Professional Snapper - Yachting Matters Ed 27
Posted Jan. 29, 2015, 12:09 p.m.
GILLES MARTIN-RAGET -PROFESSIONAL SNAPPER
One hand for the man, one hand for the photo.
Yachting Matters Edition 27
Sometimes photography represents an unwarranted onslaught on the senses, as it did through the roads of the slightly sleepy old town of Arles on the River Rhône, between the regions of Camargue and Provence, where I was fortunate enough to be born and where I grew up. It may have happened on a warm summer’s evening, which I spent in the courtyard of the archbishop’s palace, staring wide-eyed at the projections of the Rencontres Photographiques Internationales (the annual international photographic exhibition). Maybe the bug took hold more deeply on the beaches of the Camargue, where sky and wind truly show what they can be capable of, sculpting the driftwood brought ashore by the sea breeze. It was an ideal backdrop for me to experiment, using a first camera given to me as a birthday present. This was inevitably followed by more or less controlled chemical sessions messing around with film which I had poorly fixed in the family bathroom. Too late, the damage was done…
The second phase, this time brought about by professional photography and specifically directed at a maritime subject, hit a few years later in the sea off Newport, Rhode Island, during the 25th America’s Cup in 1983. It was a time when the 12-Metre sailboats still paraded their elegant silhouettes through the fog around the Brenton Reef Light Tower. The property of American sailors for the previous 132 years, the America’s Cup was the exclusive preserve of an army of inaccessible sailors, very sure of themselves, extremely well-funded and even better organised. But it was in 1983 that the great upheaval took place, with the sensational victory of the racing yacht Australia II, and its revolutionary winged keel. The whole affair ended with an incredible comeback, in the penultimate leg of the final race. Having lived through this momentous event, camera in hand, with the simple intention of supplying a few lines of copy for yachting magazines, was part and parcel of life’s chance events. It’s only later you realise how decisive such events are.
Until then I had only followed my teenage wishes: to sail, to race, all the while contributing to yachting magazines, between a few necessary visits to the faculty of Economic Science at Montpellier or Aix-en-Provence universities. I felt much more at home on a foredeck, handling a jib sheet, or perched 30m up a mast inspecting a racing yacht’s rigging.
It was impossible not to push the boundaries a little further. The Sea and See photo agency, founded by Daniel Allisy, sold my photo taken up the mast of France III for the cover of Sail, the top American sailing magazine of the time, in the issue which announced the Americans’ historic defeat. Besides the pleasure of being published so prominently, the cheque that followed made me think about photography in a different light: it should be possible to turn it, if not into your main job, then into a parallel activity which would allow you to carry on sailing – either racing, doing deliveries or cruising. Big mistake: in these inspirational jobs, it is the job which takes the upper hand and the inspiration which is relegated to a subsidiary activity. If there’s any time left…
The testing ground came two years later at sea off Fremantle, Western Australia, as the financial embarrassment of Challenge France I was working for created the opportunity for me to stay on site to cover the 26th edition of the America’s Cup. There, in the waves of The Fremantle Doctor, the local wind thus named because it causes the scorching temperature of Western Australia to drop, the heavy 12-Metre yachts provided the ideal subject for the daily lessons in photography provided by Daniel Forster, Kaoru Soehata, Christian Février, Philip Plisson and other luminaries of maritime photography at the time.
The never-ending editing sessions on communal light boxes, where we checked the colour slides we had had developed overnight in Sydney, enabled me to learn the tricks of the trade. That meant discovering that, when you are on the same boat photographing the same scene, some take better pictures than others; they see things better or in a different way, they snap a scene more quickly or more efficiently, and they do not miss their shots for whatever shameful technical reasons. It was a formative experience!
The ego, or a spirit of competition, comes into play at that point, forcing you to do better the next day. In addition, I learned that year to work for agencies and the major dailies, to differentiate between news and magazine work, to respect deadlines and become reliable for the editorial staff rather than pointlessly easy-going. I even managed eventually to earn enough money to pay for one of those jewels without which you cannot be a true pro: a 300mm Nikon f:2.8. A wonder, a gem, a dream machine which gives you the feeling of having finally grown up. It was an illusion, no doubt, but it came with another lesson: you must never scrimp on equipment, and if novice photographers imagine this kind of expenditure is a single, large investment at the start of their career, I’m sorry to say this is only the start of a continuous and long-term outlay.
Since I started my career Photography has moved from the era of slides and manual cameras to the era of digital files and automated cameras; it has seen the widespread use of ever longer and lighter telephoto lenses, the advent of autofocus and stabilised optics, increasingly small computer chips which allow cameras to process more and more data and produce finer and finer pictures, the inclusion of video in SLR cameras, of immediate visualisation and of instantaneous transmission. Not to mention post-production, a term which was of no concern to photographers until the beginning of this century.
There were times when we took pictures, sent them to the lab and then met up with the crews at the yacht club bar without worrying about anything else. Editing was for tomorrow or even later if it was a weekend or an exotic location trip, and it was the agencies’ job to distribute the photographs. Nowadays we do all three jobs ourselves on the same day, sometimes at sea on a press boat or from the sky in a helicopter: the photographer’s job (taking the shot itself), the lab’s (the post-production process, which consists of processing and captioning the images) and the agency’s (editing, putting the pictures online and distributing them via the Internet). We have become a hundred times more efficient and take up less room since abandoning the cubic metres of slides it is so difficult to get rid of, and we are certainly greener after the demise of those chemical baths which ended up God knows where. Nowadays, photographers work alone in a corner and are the last to leave the press room. You even find them sometimes the next morning with the shape of their computer’s keys imprinted on their forehead because they have fallen asleep on the job…
Sailing, both racing and cruising, has developed enormously in the past thirty years too. It has witnessed the birth of racing multihulls, hulls with foils, self-furling gear, the staggering progress of electronic equipment and deck fittings, the Vendée Globe race, the birth of the classic yacht restoration movement, as well as three more generations of sailors. The great ocean pioneers of Tabarly’s day have given way to ambitious young sailors who think in terms of their career and sponsorship and launch themselves into the Vendée Globe or the Volvo Ocean Race as though they were weekend outings. Weather forecasting and long-distance communications have improved massively, and the position-fixing of yachts even more so.
The sails of top racing yachts are not just made of sophisticated composite materials but of rigid wings, the crew wear helmets and it has become harder and harder to keep up with the boats in order to photograph them – so much so that photo shoots in helicopters have become the norm. Will still pictures in future be taken from high-de
finition videos filmed by satellite, from which we merely choose the best moments? Stay tuned!...
Words and photos are extracts from a coffee table book to be released at the beginning of October called:
THE LEGEND OF THE SEA - The Spectacular Marine photography of Gilles Martin-Raget
Published by Edition du Chêne / Bloomsburry Publishing
Contact : email@example.com / Tel:+33(0)607 55 45 85 / Web: www.martin-raget.com
Born April 9th, 1955, in Arles, known for the famous international photography festivals, some of the first photos taken as a teenager were of the beautiful landscaping around Arles.
Now lives in Marseille with his wife Magualonne (a sailing public relations professional), and three children.