The intense excitement of a child going to Disneyland is what I feel when hurtling through time and space towards Belfast. (BELFAST 24 ALBUMS ARE HERE #1, #2.1, #2.2, #3, #4, #5, #6 )
It doesn’t make any sense to me why I am going to the World Championship 24 Hour event and I can’t explain my need to, but I need to in the same way that a penny dropped from the top of a sky scraper needs to fall to the ground.
“You’re mad in the head” is something that is repeated to me over and over in my quest to make endurance event photography an art form.
I no longer feel uncertain about my ability to take good endurance photos and have made every mistake possible in my journey which has led to this event.
I have flipped every dial, every switch, hammered every setting up and down and done things with my photos even when part of me knew they were a bad idea.
As a teenager I used to read choose your own adventure books where the story unfolded according to the decisions you made. It was often obvious what the “right” thing to do was, but the prospect of doing the “wrong” thing was an exciting exploration I always had to undertake. Like Adam in the Garden of Eden, I needed and still need to sink my teeth into the forbidden fruit just to see what it tastes like.
Sure, tasting the fruit gets one cast out of heaven but the prospect of eternal happiness is sure to get monotonous after a while.
Surely, after a while, one would become robot-like since one would have no reference point for which to gauge bliss and if one isn’t seeking bliss then how can there be any motivation to do anything? Being cast out of heaven on to Earth, thus, has to have been a good thing.
I have lost my insecurity about being able to take great pictures of these events and so my ability to write about it has lost a certain John Cleese Fawlty Towers sense of edginess that characterised earlier posts.
I’m sick of talking about myself and my own ideas about things and so my plan on going to Belfast is to engage with the runners and their crews to find out what their stories are and what makes them tick, but I can’t do it, I just don’t have, and can’t find, my mojo.
I am a chatty person by nature, excessive and maddeningly so to some people, and so I don’t get on with everybody but people I do get on well with I have a solid and almost indestructible bond with. I say “almost” because everything can break.
I don’t really understand relentless pursuit of material wealth and I find the conventional tried and tested formula that constitutes most people’s reality kind of bizarre.
By the “formula” I mean being born, christened, going to school, getting a job, getting married, buying a house, having kids….blah, blah, blah.
Don’t get me wrong – I envy people that find bliss in this sort of A-Z existence and wish that I was such a person, but I wonder how many people are such people?
Ever since being a teenager I have felt like a piece to a jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t exist.
I think the alphabet of existence is short on letters, or at least I did until I started on my photography journey.
Nothing is perfect in life. Perfection does not exist here. But I believe that a picture can be perfect and thus my quest has become one to capture, in so far as possible, the perfect picture, and since movement, to me, is the purest form of perfection that is what I strive to capture.
Arriving in Belfast on 2 hours sleep and a 5-6 hour drive, the desire to sleep claws at my brain but the race is about to start and so I get straight into pitching my tent, chugging an extra strong coffee, supplied by regular race director Vincent Guthrie of the Medieval Marathon in Kilkenny, (which I wrote about here Oh My God, Kilkenny Medieval Marathon) and getting down to the business of taking photos.
I decide to capture each three hour window of the race as non-stop photos would use up all my card space rapidly.
Contented I’ve captured the first three hour segment, I resolve to lie down to freshen up but my eyes are wide like an insomniac and it’s far too bright anyway, so I get up and after a quick walk encounter some runners I’ve photographed many times who are in Belfast in a spectator/support role with a case of Tennant’s beer stocked. They offer one and in an instant I’ve downed two and am puffing happily on a cigarette.
My head swims and while I’m enjoying the exceptional company and the feeling of alcohol and nicotine pulsing through my veins, I know that these things, for me, are a sure fire road to hell and damnation.
Lack of food and tiredness has magnified the effect of these things and so shortly afterwards I decide to get on and take some photos of the next 3 hour segment.
Shooting away, my head swimming a bit, I feel a mild sense of self-loathing at the scent of beer and fags off myself.
After a couple of photos I realise my shutter speed is way off what it should be but I adjust it and end up popping off way more photos of this three hour segment than I meant to.
My stomach growling furiously at me now, and feeling a bit shaky, I go in search of the food depot.
“What would you like?” asks the man serving.
“Have you got any actual food?” I ask, a rising sense of irritability boiling up inside me at the sight of nothing but crisps and chocolate bars.
“We’ll have sandwiches in an hour or two,” he says, happily.
I glare at him, “‘An hour or two'”, I repeat after him and storm off to find other alternatives.
I’m feeling quite stupid at this stage, but log on to Google maps to rescue me from my plight and it informs me that it’s 150km to the nearest place to get food. In a normal state of mind I may have realised that this situation could have easily been rectified in my settings but my brain is just not working right now and I’m convinced this is some kind of glitch caused by five years of phone abuse.
On my way towards where I’m told there is a supermarket, I suddenly tap my pocket and realise I’ve lost my car keys.
After a spell of mounting panic, backtracking all the places I had been, and getting a football spontaneously blasted into my face (by young lads playing football in the park near to where I’m camped), I find my keys in the tent and realise it’s been an hour and a half since being at the “food depot” and that he probably has sandwiches now.
While in the queue, I can see the sandwiches disappearing rapidly with the last two being ordered by the man in front of me.
How in the absolute fuck can you cater for a world championship event without so much as being able to provide a place where you can get a simple fucking sandwich, I rage internally, but am mildly comforted by the fact that they have half a dozen wraps left. I order two, feeling worse than Dickens’ Oliver Twist as I realise there will be zero use in saying “Please, sir, can I have some more?” as in about 10 seconds there won’t be any more.
At this stage it’s getting darker and so, realising it’s extraordinarily boring to take the same photos over and over for every section of the race, I decide to take some motion blur photos which generally require a steady hand.
Struggling to co-ordinate what I can ordinarily do fairly easily, I curse everything I can think of but manage to get in the swing of it after a while.
Back to my tent, near the Guthries, I see somebody handing out pizza slices and feel like a rabid dog with the amount of saliva that’s flooding my mouth and I feel as if God himself has descended from heaven with naked angels when he says he is calling for pizza and takes orders off everyone.
One 12 inch pepperoni pizza later and I’m back, Jack.
At the start of the event I had a vision of a light trail picture and since it’s dark now I get to it and manage some interesting results. Several things have to be correct for this to work so it would probably take all night, stacks of batteries, and possibly a burnt out flash or two to get everyone and get them well.
I only really want one good one for the cover photo though and when I’m satisfied I have it, I head back to base and wind up having a lengthy chat with Vincent’s daughter, Lindsey, about life, the universe and absolutely everything. I’m so sleepy I feel like I am drunk but a good chat is probably something that I enjoy more than anything else in life.
After a while, I have another attempt at sleeping in my tent, but it doesn’t really work. I turn this way and that, desperate to switch off, but it just doesn’t happen, and after what seems like an eternity, I get up, as it’s 9am, to take some head shots of participants who mostly look like something you might expect to see coming from the tail end of an all night rave.
The last thing I resolve to do is to take photos of people in the last half-hour of the event and much of the strain that was visible in the 9am headshots has evaporated into a sense of relief at the prospect of being at their gargantuan effort’s end.
By the end of the race my brain is fried, scrambled, poached, jellified, erratic, scattered, random, and nonsensical, but I feel a sense of relief and happiness at having gone the distance and feel confident that I got quite a few decent photos.
Emotions ran high at this event, and there are many people and encounters that I would like to mention which I may include in a subsequent blog post, but for now, this is just my own subjective experience of being – 24 Hours On The Run In Belfast.