To me, in a fraction of a second, photography is the simultaneous recognition of the significance of an event.
In conversation with renowned photographer Marc Lecureil, we discuss the importance of timing when capturing the perfect moment in sport. Defined by his ability to capture the dynamism and grace of the body in motion, his photographs of athletic subjects have been featured in a diverse range of advertisement and editorial campaigns that include Le Coq Sportif, Puma and features with Olympic athletes.
What are your thoughts on the role of the sports photographer?
We are here to document a certain performance in time. There is not necessarily a medal at the end of the shoot, but we try to get the feeling through studying movement and perspective. We are recording and capturing iconic moments in history that either exist or that we create. Very often, when I take photographs, it is not within a competitive context. It is to recreate an iconic moment and to give a feel and impression of what the athlete’s performance was about. Photography is always relevant. It is an everlasting impression and it forces the viewer to imagine a state a mind, or anticipate what’s to come.
Photography is always relevant. It is an everlasting impression and it forces the viewer to imagine a state a mind, or anticipate what’s to come.
What are you looking to capture in the perfect moment?
I don’t really look for perfect movement in the sense of amplitude and technique. I try to find a burst of energy – the movement that is most significant. The body does not have to express full movement or extension, but there is a significant moment where the body says something aesthetically and symbolically. There is an elementary particle of movement, a very quintessential moment – where the light, the shape of the body, the intensity of the expression, the perspective or the image, is in synchronicity and harmony.
There is this moment where the intensity is exploding, and it is almost like the big bang.
How do you prepare to take photographs of sprinters and high-speed sports, where the success of the composition rests on a split second?
Photography shoots are not necessarily motion pictures- not everything is planned. Very often we have very little time, just a few moments, to find what we are looking for. But I often know what I am looking for, and I often find it. If not, I find a way to capture another image that will be equally symbolic. For example, when you look at photography of the Olympics, most of the framing tries to capture the intensity of the eyes and the facial expression.
All bodies, like all people, have different ways of expression- an original impulse.
Speaking about Olympic Athletes, you captured Usain Bolt on a few occasions. How does your relationship with your subjects inform how you photograph them?
When you work with an athlete of this calibre you have to come prepared.
The first time I saw him was for a magazine shoot in New York. I have done a few series with him, but the most successful was the ‘Bolt of Lightning’ shoot where I took photos of him as he was training on the track in Kingston early in the morning. The idea is that you have to find a symbolic image. I was amazed by his body, he looked like a Rodin statue in motion. His body looked like it was carved out of bronze. His sheer size was impressive and I wanted to translate that. I am always amazed by the sense of discipline these athletes have, to sculpt their body to fit the demands of their sport.
I chose not to focus so much on his face and his expressions, because I thought that is something that has been seen many times.It’s a very interesting subject of study, I almost approach photography like a painting where I am the painter.
What other influences have shaped your approach to photographing the body in motion?
I really love sport, especially contemporary dance. I find it a fascinating subject. Not very long ago I saw this great documentary about this Israeli choreographer Mr Gaga and it had a great influence on me. I could relate to his approach and his way of directing- his sheer interest and obsession with the body and the movement.
Architectural photography has also been a great influence to me. My father was an urban architect, so I have always been surrounded by drawings, perspective and symmetry. I love to incorporate architectural elements, such as the texture of buildings, into my work and try to find some correspondence with the body and its surroundings. I try to place the body and movement within an architectural context, so there is an interaction between them. This serves to either enhance the movement or to stylise the movement in some ways.
I always try to find a grace in movement, whatever the sport.
Paris born photographer Marc Lecureuil has worked with some of the most established photographers and personalities of our time. Starting his career in LA in the 1990’s he was worked for the likes of Herb Ritts and Annie Leibovitz. He is currently based in New York and continues to capture images for iconic publications and sports brands around the world. Explore more of his work over at marclecureuil.com