Why am I doing this? I ask myself, groggy-eyed, as I arrive on Achill Island to photograph the first day of their marathon events which consist of a half marathon, a full marathon, and an ultra marathon. This is the same question I always used to ask myself any time I ran any of these races in the past, as opposed to today where I’m photographing. (All pics will be here soon).
The why is a little different for photographing an endurance event than when one participates. Lots of photographers don’t bother doing what I do as the general consensus is that there is no money to be made out of it outside of when you are an “official” photographer. To put it in context – I’m lucky if I cover my petrol expenses when going to these events, but the why is so much more than selling a photo or two.
The why is some internal force in me that marvels at the effort it takes to push one’s body through miles of exhaustion just for the fun of it.
Oftentimes the “official photographer” is actually a camera with a sensor attached to a pole, with no human input into the photos being taken, which I think is tragic and I shall shortly explain why.
Cruising along the race route before it starts, I am dazzled by the landscapes Achill has to offer and have to resist a strong impulse to spend time photographing them instead of what I’m here to do.
I find a suitable spot around mile ten and wait for the runners to arrive.
In one instant I consider blasting out Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger but I instantly realise that such a thing would spoil the calm serenity the island offers.
Soon, I see two seasoned runners gliding towards me seeming as natural as seagulls gliding on currents of air.
Before long all the other runners approach me and the why for being here becomes abundantly obvious.
Magical smiles emanate from almost every single participant that comes in my direction and they infuse me with a wonderful sense of joy.
I have a few races under my belt now, but I have never seen as many smiles as I’m seeing at Achill Ultra and the why question dissolves in an instant of realisation. I invite anyone who doubts that to observe other events I have photographed in the photos section of the Facebook page.
There are lots of playful antics by the participants, too, which adds to the fun.
To the occasional runner who isn’t smiling I shout a loud and encouraging “CHEESE!”
At one point there is a slight wait for runners to capture and I go to put my jacket in the car and, on catching a glimpse of my reflection in the window, am horrified.
I look in the car’s vanity mirror and see my face has more than half a dozen welts the size of one euro coins and I instantly scan my memory banks to troubleshoot the abhorrent mess it has broke out in.
I haven’t been anywhere near any wayward women recently so I know I’m safe on that score. I haven’t eaten anything out of the ordinary either, so I don’t think it’s that.
Looking for my phone so as I can confirm, via Google, what is most probably a clear cut case of smallpox with impending death imminent, I feel a pang of frustration as I realise my phone died a week ago.
Cut off from the World Wide Web for assistance, I go pre-internet and realise there are midges all over the place. For reassurance I say to a few runners, “the midges are bad today, eh?” and they all agree, and so my smallpox worries abate.
Automated cameras and the internet are the same in a way, I realise. Both are made to make life more convenient but both, in reality, disconnect people from each other.
I believe a good photo is more than just a fancy camera, pushing a button, getting the right angle, ensuring optimal settings, reading techniques for hours, driving long distances to events, and spending up to a week post-race processing images.
I believe a good photograph is one where there is a clear and positive emotional connection between the photographer and the person being photographed.
In many events I have photographed it is not easy to establish this connection, but at Achill Ultra smiles are as easy and natural as the sea affectionately caressing a sandy beach on a sunny day. The smiles are pure sunshine.
The smiles are the why.