Interviewing Scott Jones, the photographer who showed the soul of MotoGP

Time ago, reading David Emmet’s articles in MotoMatters, I discovered who is today my favorite photographer. He’s my favorite because he’s not usual, as he didn’t have so much help as others he was forced to innovate in photographing the motor sports, being himself, with is own style. He is Scott Jones, an american living in California who have showed the soul of MotoGP.

Some of you have noticed that I always try to find the best images for my articles in Motorpasión moto. Like many, I am just a photography lover and amateur photographer. The point is that after watching the same watermark in so many amazing shots I needed to know more about it. I spent hours watching his galleries, his MotoGP collections, scenes… and specially his portrait’s album. There I found the most expressive and emotional photos in years. That gallery was showing the unknown side, a side only  a few tries to catch, and even less success.

Thereby I decided to talk to Scott, I wanted to know how he’s doing, what’s he waiting for, what have he watched trough his lens.

–      How long have you been working in MotoGP?

Scott Jones: My first MotoGP event with a credential was 2008 at Laguna Seca. In 2009 and 2010 I applied for credentials on a per race basis with MotoMatters.com. In 2011 I received my first season pass, again via MotoMatters, which is based in The Netherlands. My experience in MotoGP can be traced directly back to the success of this website–I was very lucky to be looking for an opportunity at the same time MotoMatters was starting its amazing growth.

      Which camera do you use?

SJ: I use Nikon bodies and lenses exclusively. I carry two DSLR bodies and a variety of lenses from super wide (14mm) to super telephoto (500mm).

      In the last few months I have been following your galleries, not only about Motorsports, but when and why did you decide to specialize your work in racing?

SJ: My grandfather brought me to see my first car race when I was 4 or 5 years old, and I’ve been doing photography since around 15 years old. When I started doing photography, racing was my favorite subject, but of course then it was just a hobby, something I did for fun. My camera gear was stolen when I was in college, so for many years I didn’t do any serious photography, only travel shots with a compact film camera.

When I finally got a DSLR about five years ago (so I could take better photos of my first daughter), immediately I started photographing whatever racing events came to my area, which included MotoGP at Laguna Seca. This led to sharing photos of racing with friends on Flickr, which led to my connection with David Emmett at MotoMatters.com. David is one of several people without whose help I would not be in MotoGP today.

As you mention, I don’t photograph only motor sports, since I also enjoy photographing beautiful places in nature. It’s an odd combination, perhaps, but I feel at home in both places and find each of them thrilling in different ways. I have sold many landscape photographs to fans of my MotoGP pictures, but I have yet to sell a MotoGP photo to someone who was first interested in my landscape work. Perhaps that will happen some day!

      After traveling around the world following MotoGP or SBK. In your opinion, what’s the worst part of being photographer? And the best?

SJ: The best part for me is working at the highest level of a motor sport. Everyone involved in MotoGP has reached the top of their specialty, from the mechanics and engineers to the team and sponsor administration to, of course, the riders. To be included in this group of talented, dedicated people is amazing and inspires me to try to do better at what I contribute.

The worst part is definitely the time away from my family. I have a wife, two girls (7 and 2 years old) and two dogs. While I enjoy traveling very much, seeing new places, meeting people from different cultures, the time away from home is the most difficult part of my job. It is for this reason that I aim for 8 or 9 races per season. To cover 18 races is a lot of travel, even for someone based in Europe. some of my colleagues are away from home for almost half the year because they attend not only each races, but the tests and other media events. I live in California, so only Laguna Seca is a short trip for me. Even Indianapolis is much too far to drive, over 4,000 km. Everything else requires a day of travel before and after the race. My location also adds a lot to my expenses, and as this is a business for me, of course the cost of each race is a major consideration.

But it’s mainly the time away that I don’t like. For example, while I was gone for two weeks to cover Jerez and Estoril, my two-year old daughter went from a vocabulary of 20 or 30 words when I left to a hundred words or more when I came back! At least, it seemed like the change was that dramatic. But coming home to find I have missed a part of how quickly the girls are growing and learning is very difficult. If I am still working in MotoGP when my girls are grown up, I might like to do an entire season, but I can’t imagine doing so until then.

      Have you ever have problems with security, fans, riders or any other staff in the paddock? Any funny story?

SJ: Problems with security, yes, sometimes, because local security people are not always accustomed to Dorna procedures. They usually work for the track, which may host many different series, each with its own rules, or are hired just for the MotoGP event and don’t know much about working in a race environment. They usually just want to do a good job and keep people safe, but the track passes allow access that can surprise them. So they don’t always know what we expect to be able to do or how we work as relates to track security. So sometimes I arrive at a gate and show my credential but I am denied access or have to wait while the security person asks for advice on his radio. And occasionally we encounter someone who likes to be a big shot and enjoys being able to tell others what they can and can’t do. But most of the time the security people are well-informed and desire only to do a good job, so this type of problem is pretty rare.

I’ve had no trouble with riders, but I try hard to stay out of their way, especially in pit lane. I also try to respect their privacy as much as I can, even though it’s my job to photograph them. People sometimes ask me if I can get autographs for them, since I am so close to the riders. But to me this is extremely unprofessional on my part, so I must regretfully say I’m not able to do this. The riders have many more demands on their time and attention than most people realize, given responsibilities to sponsors, the race organizer, and teams. They have to manage all of this AND concentrate on racing. Sure, they are paid, sometimes very well, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So I try to respect their situation and remain professional, especially Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Thursday can be a bit more casual, and an opportunity to chat a bit is more likely if it comes up. But once Friday morning arrives, they have their job to do and I have mine.

Fans are usually fun to meet, and I’ve only had a few problems. I’ve had fans at Silverstone get angry because I stopped to shoot right in front of where they were sitting. I’ve been warned that the fans in the stadium section at Jerez can be the same, though I’ve never had this happen to me there. The worst was at Assen last year while I was walking back to the media center after the MotoGP race. Some drunk fans who were urinating at the fence line tried to hit me. I didn’t think that was as funny as they did. And they missed, so it is sort of funny to look back on it now.

But usually fans are friendly, and if they want me to take their picture and I have time to stop for a moment, I’m happy to do so. We are all motorcycle fans after all, so if I can I like to help them enjoy the weekend. After all, without the fans, there would be no racing to photograph.

      Would you change something in MotoGP? Anything that you don’t like?

SJ: If I could change anything, the first thing I think of would be more track time for the top class. In Formula One, there are four hours of track time before qualifying, and fans get more for their money at an F1 race. I know this would be expensive because of more wear on the engines, more tires, etc., but MotoGP is entertainment and I think the fans would be more entertained with more track time for the amazing riders and machines they come to see.

I think this would also make the racing better because the riders would get more time on the machines they race. Consider golf, tennis, cycling, or any other sport that doesn’t have a testing ban. The athletes can practice as much as they wish and develop their skills as far as they are able. If you are a MotoGP rider, how much time to you get to practice on the machine you race? Very little. If you are a rookie, trying to learn a new tire, a new track, a new machine, you have so little time to do so that it is a serious disadvantage among the more experienced riders. But even the veterans are expected to show up after a break or two or three weeks and go as fast as possible with no practice since the last race weekend. I just wonder how much better even Casey Stoner might be if he could practice. Considering how much Tiger Woods practices to be the best he can be, maybe Rossi, Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Stoner would be even better if they could practice, too.

The only thing I can think of that I don’t like is knowing that one of 3 riders is going to win the top class. I love Moto2 and Moto3 because the racing is fantastic and there is no telling who might win a race. While I am not thrilled with how the CRT project has performed this season, I support the idea of somehow bringing more bikes to the competitive edge so that we see more riders in the top class with the possibility for a good result. I believe it is very difficult for really talented riders like Crutchlow, Dovi, Bradl, and so on to go into a race weekend knowing they have no reasonable expectation of winning. They are all racers and racers want to WIN. I don’t have a solution to this, but it’s the main thing I wish someone could find a way to change.

      You have been in many places in the right moment. What’s your best memory in MotoGP or SBK?

SJ: It’s difficult to pick one best memory. Certainly going to Qatar for the first time was an amazing experience, to find myself at Losail as the sun went down and with a Dorna credential around my neck for only the second time. It was incredible to be there, at a track I’d only ever seen on TV, farther from home than I’d ever been before, and there for the purpose of photographing MotoGP. That memory is so strong I still think of it each time I got to Qatar (four times, now) and I feel incredibly lucky to be there yet again. Having Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner sign prints for me this year was fantastic, because I never thought I would come so far with photography as to have riders sign my work like that. But those two examples stick out among many, many moments here and there. In America we say when something unbelievable happens that you pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming, perhaps you have a similar expression in Spain. Many times I’ve had to pinch myself because I’ve seen amazing things through my lens, whether on track, in pit lane, or on the podium. It is such a privilege to be able to photograph MotoGP and the amazing people who make it happen, especially the riders, who are very special people among a group of special people.

      Everytime you make a portrait, you show us the characther’s soul – I don’t find any other word to explain –.  Who’s the most interesting rider for portraits?

SJ: I love to shoot portraits of racers because, while any human being can be an interesting subject, racers are particularly interesting to me. I think this is partially because they are competing at the top level of their sport, but also that sport is very dangerous. They must manage not only the strategy of trying to win, but at the same time they must manage the fears and doubts that come with danger. Some have very expressive faces that show emotion, which is the key to an interesting portrait. Rossi is great for portraits, as is Lorenzo. Many of the other people in the paddock are good, too, perhaps because many of them are former racers, but perhaps because they are almost all very interesting people. Pedrosa is the most challenging as his face is like a stone when he’s in the box and on the grid.( Find a link to the portraits gallery here )

      Who’s the best rider to shoot?

SJ: For me the most talented rider I have seen is Casey Stoner. A moment ago I said I’d seen amazing things through the lens, and no rider has shown me more amazing things than he has. Every MotoGP rider is amazing–you don’t reach this level with average performance on a motorcycle. To me the CRT riders are fantastic as well, many of Moto2 riders are tomorrow’s MotoGP stars, and so on. But Casey is like a magician on a motorcycle, and I always photograph him as he comes by. During each session, for example, I keep a list in my head of each rider I’ve photographed since I try to get at least a few images of everyone. Sometimes I skip one rider because I remember that just behind him is another I’ve not photographed yet. But I always photograph Stoner, regardless of who is behind him, because I never know what he is going to show me. This means that sometimes I end a session with no photos of one rider or another because he spent each of his laps too close to Casey. Very sorry, but if you want me to photograph you, you need to come around the corner far enough from Casey that I’ll pay attention to you. If you’re too close to Casey, I don’t even see you.

      Are you looking for anything when you turn on your camera? A certain scene maybe?

SJ: I’m always looking for drama in some form or another, some conflict of action or expression of emotion in the subject’s face or gesture. On track, the riders show us amazing examples of skill, of their abilities to ride on the edge of disaster lap after lap, and I try to catch moments that show the viewer this skill. When riders are in pit lane, on the grid, or otherwise not at the limit of traction, they are often interesting subjects nevertheless.

Sometimes I can improve my chances of getting a dramatic image by setting up to shoot a specific section of the track where the riders are put in an interesting situation. Some turns have more potential for drama than others. But sometimes a moment happens when you can’t predict it, such as Carlos Checa running down pit lane, having won a WSBK race and then dumped his Ducati in the mud and getting a ride back from a marshal. He ran for 40 or 50 meters before the crowd saw him and started to cheer. Then he put his hands up and I was lucky to be following him as he moved toward parc fermé. This is one kind of photo I really like, one I’m pleased to be able to make and show others, because it helps us see the human side of the riders. It tells a story of his victory, and we see his emotions as he returns, covered in mud yet having won.

      How’s the photographer routine?

SJ: The routine for me is usually very similar from race to race. I shoot each MotoGP session either from pit lane or from as many corners on track as the time allows. I shoot at least a few Moto2 and Moto3 sessions but most of my business comes from the top class, so most of my routine centers around the MotoGP riders. At the end of each day I prepare photos for my website customers and upload them so they are available to those editors to choose from. The week after the race is over, I go through the weekend’s images and select the most interesting to present on PHOTO.GP so that other buyers can find them easily. Images might show up in a sponsor catalog, a magazine, a race program, etc.

I also look for interesting images to share with those who follow my work on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog at http://www.scottjones.net  Though the best place to see my MotoGP and WSBK works is at http://www.photo.gp, meeting people via these social media sites has been another great thing about photographing MotoGP. It’s wonderful to hear from other racing fans around the world and to be able to share what I do with them.

Links for above sites:

Facebook PhotoGP

Twitter Scott Jones

For Spanish speakers:

Motorpasión Moto

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One thought on “Interviewing Scott Jones, the photographer who showed the soul of MotoGP

  1. Pingback: Dani Pedrosa, MotoGP, Qatar, Losail, 2013 | SuperStoked.me

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