Photo of the Week: Winless

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Valentino Rossi is the most photographed rider in the MotoGP paddock (and probably the most photographed motorcycle racer in the world), someone who almost always has a crowd of cameras around him. He has the most traffic when trying to ride from the box onto pit lane, the thickest crowd around him on the grid, and when he’s out on track he generates more images than any other rider. All the photographers, regardless of which clients they have and which teams they work with, photograph Rossi.

So it has become quite a challenge to create images of him that many people have not seen many times already. Photographers still do the ‘classic’ Rossi shot of putting a wide angle on the ground, pointed upward as Rossi does his foot peg ceremony before climbing aboard. We still see Rossi superstitiously picking at his butt as he exits pit lane, and so on. Because of his elaborate routine of following the same behaviors over and over, we tend to get the same images of him over and over.

At each race I try to get an image of him that I’ve not seen before. Portraits are usually the best bet, because even though he follows the same routine in the box of chest protector in, ear plugs licked then inserted and held in place with a pistol grip, helmet on with fists to the forehead, and so on, he is still a human being and his expressions are occasionally unguarded and revealing. When you catch one of those, you probably have an interesting portrait of a very interesting subject.

Recently on my blog I posted a story about a day off in Barcelona, one element of which was seeing Rossi’s Oakley advertisement billboards in a city I expected to be at least slightly pro-Lorenzo. That memory came to mind as I photographed Rossi this weekend on the grid of the USGP at Laguna Seca. He was wearing the same Oakley shades and I thought I might try to use them as a graphic element to make a new image of him. I took five or six shots similar to the one shown here, making the yellow O on the glasses in sharp focus with everything else blurred out. My idea was the make the product the subject of the image, with Rossi a secondary element, as if the man had faded behind the product endorsements and ubiquitous yellow of his famous brand.

Then I added one more with his eye in focus and got the best image of the series. (I got a bit lucky with the reflection of the bike and his leathers highlighting the lower rim of the sunglasses.) The first one, with the Oakley O in focus, works just fine, but does not have the truth that this one does. With Rossi’s eye in focus, the story of the image is just the opposite: in spite of the endorsements and branding, Rossi the individual lurks in the shadow, a nine-time world champion facing his first grand prix season without winning a race.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer known for his great action shots and poignant candids when covering MotoGP and WSBK racing events. You may have already seen his work on MotoMatters (they still have more calendars available that feature Scott’s work by the way). Not only do we like Scott’s shots, but he fits right in with our all Nikon-totting office.

You can find him on his blog, Twitter, & Facebook. Scott is such a nice guy, he’ll even let you stay in his Lake Tahoe cabin. All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2011 Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved