If photographing the Tour de France doesn’t sound difficult enough, imagine doing it while riding on the back of a motorbike travelling up to 60 miles per hour. Laurent Cipriani has been doing that for the Associated Press since 2011, part of a team of photographers, editors, and drivers—what he refers to as “a travelling theater.”
While Cipriani’s focus is on the cyclists, what initially made an impression on him was the amount of people lined up along the streets watching the race. He said the evolution of photography—from the length of telephoto lenses to the aesthetic decisions to focus primarily on the cyclists—create images that don’t tell the entire story about what happens over the three-week event. In 2012 he tried taking some pictures of the people he saw whipping past him but wasn’t happy with the results, primarily because he didn’t have time to think about doing anything but the job at hand.
In 2013, however, after a year of thinking about how to capture the bystanders, he started work on “Along the Road,” a series about them.
The isolation of the people standing along the streets is exactly what Cipriani was after when he began working, deliberately removing any clues of the famous race from his images since the series isn’t about the Tour de France, cyclists, or even the fans.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” he wrote via email. “I like the dual meaning of these photographs: a portrait of France at a given time, and an open door to the interpretation of the viewer. During my editing time, I thought about the words of Joel Sternfeld, ‘No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium.’ ”
Cipriani grew up in Grenoble, in the French Alps. As a child, he and his father would often cycle in the mountains and would watch the Tour de France. After covering the race for a few years, he is no longer interested in it from a personal point of view, although, as a photographer, he still finds the work to be a challenging and rewarding experience.
“When you shoot from a motorbike or from a car or train you have to be very reactive, because there is no going back, no second chance,” he wrote. “But this is an exciting experience! Shooting on instinct, not thinking about it, not moving around the subject.”
Correction, Sept. 27, 2015: This post originally misspelled Joel Sternfeld’s last name.