Blood, Guts, and Mountain Biking: Photographing a World-Class Red Bull Event

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You think I like adventure? You believe that I love traveling to remote lands and photographing native tribes? You assume I love exploring foreign cities, living like a local, and reporting on daily life, food, culture, and more? Naw. I love talking about nails, makeup, hair, purses, and shoes. That’s what matters in life, I say.

Which is precisely why I was pumped when I heard I’d be photographing the Red Bull UCI Mountain Bike World Cup over the weekend. Held at Windham Mountain in the Catskill Mountains of New York, this exciting event—held in the USA for the first time in years—was little more than an hour’s drive away. Though I love biking and was given free reign to shoot as a press photographer, the most exciting event was Saturday’s Downhill event. The best bikers competed in the junior’s, women’s, and men’s divisions, and it proved to be quite an exciting day.

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Minus the beginning, that is. Less than 10 minutes into being there, I was photographing the cross-country race. While this might not sound exciting, it’s actually full of folks from around the world who go careening down hills, biking on roads, pedaling hard uphill, speeding through steep curves, and “small” jumping over rocks and little hurdles. It’s only for those well-versed in mountain biking. While photographing a section where bikers emerge from a rocky forest section, two bikers were battling it out, and one hit a rock (or perhaps the other biker?). His eyes widened, his bike careened, and he went flying over the course markers and onto the hard rocks just a foot in front of me. I yelled for a medic and kept asking if he was okay (despite blood coming out from his mouth, ear, and various visible body parts), but he was squealing and grunting. The sounds were not pleasant, but his friends rushed over and helped him on his way. Hopefully he’s all right!

Luckily that was the worst scare of the day, though upon seeing the professional’s downhill course, my heart skipped a beat for non-romantic reasons. One section careened blindly off a rock and over a brook, with only a narrow wooden bridge (and no corner bumpers or protectors) to land on. One wrong move at 45 m.p.h. and you are, pardon my English, dead meat.

You can get a sense of the action from the Red Bull recap below, or you can watch an even better video on their site. Naturally, there’s no way to tell just how fast these bikers are going–or how impossibly steep this mountain really is.

The juniors were fun to watch, but the women were quite impressive. Along with other special-access visual media press, I would lie on my stomach around a steep bend in order to get just the right shots. Drunkards around us—otherwise known as spectators—were luckily not on the course too much, and photographers/videographers were given special sections on either sides of the course. Up the mountain, the view of the green Catskills were just lovely, making for quite the nice jump backdrop.

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To say we were close to the action is an understatement; I was, in fact, under it at times. Positioning myself for just the right sky shot, I would kneel between jumps around a curve. That, my friends, is how I managed the shot below. Safe? Maybe not so much. But awesome, yes. Come to think of it, a few people gasped as one of the men rode over me…

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One of my favorite perspectives was taken from the chairlift and getting the timing right as a biker came down. But the best moment of all, besides seeing American Aaron Gwin zoom into first place with just one racer to go, was seeing the last racer come down the hill as the whole crowd held their breath. Brit Josh Bryceland—otherwise known as Rat Boy—came charging down the hill as the audience started shouting at the splits. I darted near the finish line and snapped a few photos just as he came into view on the bumpy home stretch. The crowd went wild as he zoomed under the finish line and first place by a whopping 1.5 seconds. The media stormed him, and Red Bull captured it all on film.

Just to be obnoxious, you can see the digital stills from Red Bull’s footage. I’m standing near the finish line in my issued green photo vest.

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And here’s the shot I got from the top photo at that exact moment–just so you understand what I do all day as a photojournalist:

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If I have any advice to give, it’s this: Wear a helmet, kids. I saw several people who weren’t, and there’s simply no excuse–though it’s your life, I suppose. And second, don’t go into mountain biking as a professional. Everyone–competitors and spectators alike–were in casts, bandages, and slings, and all were talking about their latest wipe-outs. Oy vey.

‘Twas quite the exciting day, and I barely got sunburned! Believe it or not, it was a long-time dream to photograph a downhill mountain biking affair, and I cannot wait to up the ante for the next Red Bull event. Or X-Games. Or the Olympics. I’m open to whatever adventure comes next!

Bigger Ain’t Always Better

If you were to win either (a) a 2-carat diamond, or (b) a 50-pound slab of granite, which would you choose? The answer is obviously (a), although granite is quite nice once polished and installed in your kitchen. Also, that 50-pound slab could (theoretically) contain a 2.5-carat diamond, in which case you REALLY chose wrong…but I’m getting behind myself! The point is, whether in travel, photography, gifts, meals, and many other things in life, bigger ain’t always better. Once we slow down and look at the macro world instead of always going for the biggest, the world becomes so much more interesting. I chose to look at the small picture the past few months, while attending events, photographing, traveling a bit, and even spending time in my backyard.   For example, folks in the Northeast flock to places such as Niagara Falls, Watkins Glen, and Kent Falls  and other huge waterfalls to be in awe. Here’s my photo of the oh-so-lovely Rainbow Falls at Watkins Glen in New York’s Finger Lakes. Beautiful, no?

IMG_2049logo But are the small, none-more-than-five-feet-tall brook waterfalls of Dover, New York, any less beautiful? I get them all to myself, and the beauty of this almost temperate rainforest shocks those who see my state as one giant city.   IMG_9046pslogo   What about weddings? I had a wonderful time at all of the weddings the past few months, getting to see friends, celebrate, and reunion-ize to my heart’s content.

Yet I also was able to celebrate and photograph the wedding of two dear friends of mine—friends I actually helped set up!—in a small but equally wonderful ceremony. They shared their special day with just a handful of immediate family members, and it was a wonderful, intimate moment that they were able to share without all the cost, craziness, and show associated with so many weddings.

Or take something as simple as country drives. I can pay money and stroll through botanic lands and farmland, and see so many plants I never knew existed.

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On the other hand, I was able to walk into my own backyard and find a wonderful assortment of critters. This ¼”-long tree frog made my day!

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And most recently, I spent time at the beach in Fire Island with a friend of mine. We had entire stretches of beach to ourselves and had a great time exploring dunes, finding a disappointing shipwreck, and making fun of women who think platform sandals on sand are a wise choice.

Wait, look closer...

Wait, look closer…

But then out of the blue (literally?), I saw something wriggling on the beach. We walked closer, and I quickly realized I was staring at a small shark! At just about 3’ long, it sat wriggling there for at least 5 minutes, trying to…accomplish something? The reason remains unseen.

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It pretty much made my day. What I’m trying to say is this: Don’t always assume that the bigger the production, the more awesome it is. Sure, it can be. But there is so much beauty in the details. Go walk into your backyard, or grab a macro lens, and hopefully you’ll agree. And also, don’t buy blood diamonds. The end!

My Photos of India, as Featured in the Huffington Post

I had quite a nice surprise this weekend: I discovered that several of my photos were featured in a popular HuffPo article!

My photos were posted as part of this article written by bestselling Indian author Chetan Bhagat, an English writer who pens both novels and non-fiction about contemporary India. It describes how the Western world is obsessed with old, exotic India, and not the India of 2014–a modern-day India full of technology, jeans, cyber cafes, and investment options. Mr. Bhagat has millions of Twitter followers, millions more fans, and millions of book copies sold, but he finds it hard to communicate the fact that India is a changing nation. And it’s easy to understand his point. While living in India, I felt lucky to see both sides of the spectrum, and to not only photograph them, but live in them. I spent time with farmers in the poorest of areas, used wi-fi in hip cafes, slept on concrete slabs with locals, and rode the subway in the cities. Sometimes these everday events occurred within hours of each other! There is still so much to be seen of the “old” India–the areas with no running water, mud huts, and poverty–but there is a modern-day India that westerners often ignore.

The six photos of mine that were published as part of Mr. Bhagats article are, funny enough, all about the “old” India. Even so, there are modern-day stories about each one. In the photo above, for example, the bride was the niece of my friend and co-worker. I am friends with the bride’s uncles and cousins on Facebook, and she attended the college where I spent the bulk of my time in India working. On the other hand, she had only met her groom a few times, and the wedding took place in a remote part of Rajasthan. I traveled for days with her extended family in order to reach the wedding temple. In the photo below, these kids were indeed working hard while barefoot, and they lived in extremely basic concrete and salvaged wood shanties. Yet just down the street, people lived in beautiful homes with Western toilets (believe me, that’s big), mostly reliable power, and garbage bins. No matter that these garbage bins were only emptied by cows during my entire time there; they were placed there with forward-thinking intentions. As India works toward being a modern-day society, from what I observed while living there at least, still many obstacles stand in their way. Will Modi change some of that? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. Read the entire article right here, and see all the featured photography of India on HuffPo’s site.

I’m delighted that my photos were showcased in such an interesting piece, and I’ve already received some thought-provoking messages from passionate Indian citizens. Please feel free to ask me any questions by leaving a comment below, or by tweeting me @AntiTourist. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

More musings from Chetan Bhagat, a man named Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2010, can be seen here.

My photography, including a photo essay on India and plenty more travel photography, can be seen at KathrynCooperPhotography.com.

 

Come Hear Me Speak on a Travel Writing Panel in New York City

If you’re in New York City on Tuesday, June 17th, then come on down and hear me speak on a travel writing panel! My friend Debbie will be doing readings from her book on traveling in Tibet, and other folks will be doing photo talks and readings. To end out the night, several of us will share interesting stories, compare points of view, and engage in Q&A with the audience–who, at that point, will likely be full from the passed appetizers and obligatory cocktails. I’ll also have some prints on display, so please consider spending your Tuesday evening with us. I may even wear a dress. For more information, view the official Facebook invite here. Hope to see you there!

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