The best of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels is, in my opinion, his last, the title of which I've borrowed for this piece. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler shows us more of what makes Philip Marlowe tick than in any of the previous novels, and along the way, as observed by my old professor Thomas Steiner, the book itself seems often to be Chandler's personal farewell to Marlowe and to the hardboiled detective novel itself.
This off-season has been a kind of Long Goodbye of my own, in this case not to a genre of fiction or to a fictional character, but to a real one. My main task over the past few months has been to go through my photos from each race weekend I've attended since 2008 and pull out the best images to show on Photo.GP, my online archive. Each time I open a new catalog or revisit one partially processed, I'm confronted with more images of Marco Simoncelli to edit and decide if they belong on Photo.GP or not.
Though I shoot many images each race weekend, most of them are imperfect in some way and never see the light of day. Part of the process of collecting content for Photo.GP has been to delete thousands of images which do not meet my current criteria for showing in public. But it is almost impossible for me to delete photos of Marco, no matter what their flaws might be. Only the most out of focus or otherwise flawed get deleted. There will be no more photos of Marco, after all, so each one I have, even if imperfect, is important to me.
As I go through the old photos, I continue to stumble upon sequences of images that I have literally never seen before. There simply is not enough time in a race weekend to view all of the exposure I make. So when I come back to that weekend's images later (a week, a month, a year later sometimes) I sometimes find images that are completely new, such as the one at the top of this page. I had not seen this image until a few days ago. Finding a new image of Marco that is worth sharing is bittersweet. On one hand I'm glad to have it, and on the other hand finding such an image stirs up feelings of loss that I suspect others have been able to put away as they move past the tragedy at Sepang.
This is why I thought to write a Photographer's Blog about the process. I get many inquires about what I do, how to get credentials, what gear to buy, and so on. But there are many aspects of what I do about which I never get questions, simply because until you find yourself in the situation, it wouldn't occur to you that such a situation could exist. This is one of those situations, I think, where the photographer pours over old collections and finds images that have new meaning due to a changed context.
If Marco were still with us and preparing for his 2012 season, the above image might not have grabbed my attention so strongly as it did the other day. But in a world without Marco, this image now looks to me like a farewell of its own, Marco riding toward the Italian colors on the pavement at his home round at Mugello.
My first chance to photograph Marco was in Qatar in 2009, when he was recovering from a broken right hand, still an unsightly orange from having had a cast removed moments before the 250cc class was assembled for the group photograph. This was also the first time I was able to see him in person, off his bike, and free of the clutches of his on-track personality, which was so different from his gentle, friendly demeanor that was his norm if not gripping handlebars.
His hand was clearly very painful, and yet he joked with the Italian journalists, who later assembled their national 250cc riders for a group photo. How he was going to ride with a throttle hand in that condition was a mystery, given that he was so careful not to let anything so much as brush against it. But ride he did, perhaps because he was, after all, a motorcycle racer.
Not long ago I also ran across what may be the only photo I have of Marco with his father. This was at the Losail test last season, and at the time I didn't realize the man half in shadow was Mr. Simoncelli. I was just looking through the lens at Marco and wondering if he'd do something interesting. But as his personal tragedy has revealed his own amazing character, Paolo Simoncelli has become another person of whom I am glad to have a least one image. I'm just lucky that the image is of him standing over his son, half in shadow, looking at me as I make my photograph.
I've been thinking a lot recently about what it is that I'm so privileged to do in MotoGP and how I can do it better: I try to create still images that bring you closer to the world of MotoGP than you can otherwise get in person, to show you things that you don't and cannot see on TV. Still photographs are good for that, because they allow you to soak in an image and think about it before it disappears, to notice details that might otherwise escape, to allow the world being photographed to affect you as you connect with it through the process of looking, unhurried, at a still image. I hope to do a better job of this in 2012, for you, our cherished readers here at MotoMatters, and for all of those who follow my work here and elsewhere. I hope that I never write another piece like this, full of melancholy and loss, but instead that I have many photos in my future that celebrate the joy of motorcycle racing rather than the sorrow.
In the mean time, my own long goodbye to Marco goes on as I continue to sort through my past collections. And good or bad, or perhaps, good and bad, that, my friends, is another part of the photographer's work.