The Basement Tapes: Sean Hardy from Issue 104 Interview by Tim Schamber with images from Sean Hardy

In issue 104, our 10th annual Photo Annual, we showcased 12 photographers and 1 collector that are at the top of their game in cycling photography. Here’s the extended interviews from Peloton magazine: The Photo Annual.

Hey, it’s Sean Hardy! Image of Hardy by Hardy.

United Kingdom

It’s intriguing that not long ago you barely even knew how to use a camera! Tell us how you discovered photography. I grew up with music. Spent my life from 7 years old on the flute to 25 years old singing and being a guitarist in bands. Music was everything but I always felt it remained a youth movement and as time went by it became a hobby rather than a dream. I had kids and wanted to document them; the family got me an entry-level camera when my first daughter was about 3 and that opened a door. I became obsessed with everything about it. I quickly saw the comparison between writing songs and taking a photo—nothing exists at some point in the process. You can sit with a guitar or a camera and nothing happens unless you make it. You have to apply vision or direction and the result is something that still confuses you. You hear of musicians not knowing where the hell songs come from; photography is the same to me. I have never studied it, but at the end of the day I take a photo of something I like. I do not dwell over an image; once it is done I move on and instantly hate it. You are only as good as the next photo you take and I love that!

I’m curious if you think your lack of training in many ways helped you attain your unique visual perspective. Again, this stems back to music. I remember hearing The Beatles for the first time and it blew me away. They were not trained. Same with Hendrix or Dylan. That means there are no rules. There is no right or wrong. When you remove that element of education you become hungry to learn, you start to dive into the masters of the art rather than the teachers of the industry. You learn to break rules rather than abide by them and I think that keeps you searching. I have no idea what makes a good photo and no desire to learn how to take one. I have to learn more about the business element of it, but again that is trial and error. A lot of my images are a reflection of the mood I am in rather than the brief. You can tell me over and over and over again to shoot a certain concept or a campaign that delivers a specific result but at the end of the day your voice will be the end result; you can’t change that so why learn how to be something you are not. Learn the tool, not the art.

Image: Sean Hardy.

So, you show up to a cyclocross race and start shooting images. Next thing you know you get a call for an assignment. Did you think at that time that this could be your profession? Never. I was suddenly shooting a front cover with no experience or understanding of what it took to deliver that. All I could do was hope that I didn’t fail too badly. I wasn’t narrow-minded about the process. I knew it could all crumble within seconds but sometimes that environment is just what you need to get better. I was so lucky to meet clients that weren’t looking for that first album, they could see the idea and let me grow. They wanted Album 3 to be the one that shone and understood it would take a series of events to get there and that meant it was suddenly a career. I was still pulling sick days to shoot Movistar at the Tour de France—it was all mental!

But there’s more to your art than cycling. Outside of this sport what events do you love photographing and why? I am still working out how to answer that. Covid changed photography for me in so many ways. I used to only post cycling work; at the end of the day, I thought all I wanted to be was a cycling photographer and that was it. When we were locked down, I had nothing to post but family and life around me. The camera became my sanity in the whole process of the pandemic. I woke up with it on my bedside cabinet and regularly fell asleep with it round my neck. I posted 10 images a day around lockdown and started to let an audience into my personal life. I think that made me a better photographer. I certainly feel like I live photography now rather than work with it. The fact it is now my job is almost secondary to the importance of growing and finding ways to communicate with my images. I honestly do not know what I would do without a camera now.

Image: Sean Hardy.

Things moved pretty fast for you in cycling photography, from magazine to clients to video. To this day, can you name an event or client that stands out the most and why? Cancellara’s last Roubaix was one of my first professional cycling jobs. I turned up with a Canon 5D (the first model, not quick enough to shoot a bike race) and one lens, 50mm. I was standing next to Emily Maye and Scott Mitchell taking photos of Cancellara covered in mud as he slipped on the velodrome during a celebration lap! The place cleared. I was standing in the middle surrounded by rubbish, like at the end of a concert, and I remember calling my dad and saying, “I want to do this.” I was working for a journalist called Timothy John who opened a hundred doors for me and someone I still work with and hold in the highest of respect. Rouleur and Endura were super important, giving me ongoing projects to help me develop. Terry at Simpson magazine was the one that taught art; he allowed me to think outside the box, he really helped me believe that I could be a photographer.

Give our readers a breakdown of the kind of equipment you use at a race (camera bodies, lenses, other stuff). So, stills wise, I shoot a lot with Fuji. I have one Xh1 with a long lens to help fill in the gap with my second Xh1 that has a 24-70 attached. Sometimes I also have an xpro2 with a 23mm lens around my neck, so get that old school 35mm style image. I then have a fully rigged Blackmagic 6k camera over my chest; this is heavy and after a few days on the road the left side of my body is covered in bruises from it—that camera will be the death of me! I recently got a Hasselblad, which I now use for all my portrait and studio work. That camera is my baby. I love the way it handles light, but it is slow due to being medium format and requires patience, so not ideal when at a race but great for the down time at the hotel.

Part pain, part art. Just an incredible capture. Image” Sean Hardy.

This image really stood out to me. Take us through the process. Where it was, who, what, where type of thing and why you love it. That is Marta Lach from Ceratizit WNT Pro Cycling. I shot this on the xpro2 just as we came down the mountain from the finish at the Giro. She arrived with blood everywhere, took a tumble at the start of the race and a chainring dragged across her thigh. She got cleaned up and sat in one of the cars waiting to go to the hotel. She was on the phone laughing and joking so I ran over and took that single frame. I love how it looks like she has been attacked by an animal. Normal people would take two weeks off work with an injury like that; cyclists just brush it off like it’s nothing—warriors!

Twitter: @hardyccphotos
Instagram: @hardyccphotos

From issue 104. Buy it here.