The Monaco Grand Prix: Glitz, glamour, fashion and fast cars. No. Not for Jamey Price, it isn’t. Welcome to the world of the motorsport photographer, where risk and reward come together to capture beautiful images for our viewing pleasure…
Flip through my social media feed, or this blog, and look at the pictures. Each and every piece of every photo you see from either myself or my motorsport photographer colleagues has been carefully constructed and then created in an instant – a fraction of a second – using modern technology, glass and light.
Nothing is by accident in a racing photo. The angle of the car, I have chosen. The light and composition of the photo, I have carefully picked from all the corners available at a given track. A great motorsport photograph is one which draws you in; one which makes you feel the rush of wind from the aero, the roar of the engine, or the intensity in the driver’s eyes.
Monaco is one such place which provides the opportunity to produce amazing pictures, not least because of how close we are to the cars. It is special. I love going to Monaco. We all love going to Monaco.
During practice for the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix, one of the trackside video cameramen captured incredible slow motion footage of a car zipping past a barrier at the exit of the swimming pool chicane. The important part of that clip wasn’t how close the car was to the barrier, but how close a Japanese photographer had positioned himself to the car and barrier. The clip went viral on the internet, and people reacted in one of two ways: (1.) ‘WOW! Cool. That photographer has balls!’; or (2.) ‘This is unacceptable! These photographers have a death wish and they shouldn’t be allowed to be that close to the cars.’
Let me back up for a minute. Monaco just ran its 75th Grand Prix race. 75 years. That’s a long time by anyone’s calculation. It is truly a race like no other, on any racing calendar in any series.
By modern health and safety standards, it shouldn’t exist. In fact, if Monaco didn’t exist today, and someone came up with a crazy plan to run a street race with cars doing well north of 180mph, on streets narrower than most people’s kitchen, everyone would say, ‘that is a RIDICULOUS idea!’
But Monaco does exist! It may not produce the most exciting racing of the year, but it forces the drivers to be heroes. No other race gives fans and TV viewers alike the chance to take a step back and say, ‘WOW!’ in the way than Monaco does.
The drivers and cars are pushed to their most extreme. They have to summon levels of concentration closer to that of a Jedi than a racing driver. Unlike places like China, Malaysia and COTA – where there are massive expanses of tarmac and runoff – Monaco is a unique, intense circuit. At no other track will a racing driver have more influence on his success than the car does. Monaco is the great equalizer. That’s why some of F1’s most unlikely winners and greatest ever drives have happened at Monaco.
So when the internet went into overdrive over that clip of the photographer during free practice, the negative reactions made me a little angry.
Firstly, the photographer in question has been covering the sport for many, many decades. Some of his work is the most recognisable and iconic imagery that has ever been produced in the sport of F1. The point is, this is a guy who’s been around the block and knows what he is doing.
Secondly, in relative terms, Monaco is one of the safest places to work as a photographer. Yes, it is true that the cars are closer to us – more so than anywhere else we go, in fact – but the speeds are also slower. When cars hit the wall, it is often at a shallow angle and at a relatively slow speed.
Now, let’s compare the relatively low speeds of Monaco to the bomb-like explosions of carbon fibre and pieces of body work that shatter the air when an Indy car hits the wall or fence, or when a car goes off course at Le Mans at 220 miles per hour.
Trust me, F1 in Monaco isn’t scary. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s a place that pushes us to do our best and to be our best as photographers. But it isn’t scary.
Finally, F1 is at the very pinnacle of motorsport, arguably alongside WEC and MotoGP. Those of us lucky enough to make a living covering these series are experienced professionals. We do this for a living, week in and week out, all over the world. When I turn up at a corner, I know where the racing line is. I know where the most likely spot that a car could crash will be, and where my escape route is.
For 75 years, photographers have stood in the very same places around Monaco, taking photos of Formula cars zipping past, whilst standing mere inches away.
But for once, at this year’s race, a photographer was put in the spotlight and the world suddenly sees us as having a death wish, or that we are reckless. We don’t, and we aren’t. Sure, we push the boundaries. But we aren’t reckless. I’m doing my job, and I know how to do it as safely as I can whilst still getting the very best images that show my passion for the sports I cover.
Sadly, as a result of that clip, I’m sure some changes will be made to photographer access. Catch-fencing will be put up, and decisions will be made by people who – by and large – have never set foot trackside with us. Monaco will slowly be turned into every other track.
In one sense, it’s already happening. Each year when we turn up, there is something new that changes the way we shoot, and rarely in good ways.
So, again, next time you’re flipping through your favourite social media feed and see a beautiful photo of a race car, remember that someone was standing there, camera in hand, and created that photo for you to enjoy. But also remember that it was made by a professional, with experience doing a job. Pass judgment on the danger of where I’m standing, but until you’re standing trackside next to me in the pouring rain, I’m afraid that judgment will fall on deaf ears.
Long live Monaco.
Jamey Price is a Charlotte, NC based freelance motorsport photojournalist who has covered racing across the globe, including NASCAR, INDYCAR, MotoGP, IMSA Weathertech, World Endurance Championship, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Formula 1. You can see more of his work on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @jameypricephoto, and on the web at www.jameypricephoto.com.