Motor racing and photography, in fact motorsport in general, is highly photogenic but there are few photographers that have ‘the eye‘ for a shot and can make sure they are in the right place at the right time, knowing the angle of the track, the composition of the shot, where the sun is and where the action is going to take place. It is more cinematography or art direction than taking a technically perfect photograph… having the photographer’s eye. These photographers know motor racing so know, often instinctively, how to capture the excitement, danger and atmosphere of this magical sport.
In this series of blogs we’ll look at a few photographers who are the masters of their craft; masters of the art of photography. We make no excuse for loving the depth and contrast in black and white photography, the lighting, shadows and atmosphere… and we make no excuse for loving the period between 1930 – 1975. Photography is, without doubt, an art form and we hope you enjoy this selection of photographs.
In the first installment we look at Louis Klemantaski.
Klemantaski died aged 89 in 2001 having achieved the respect of peers; the doyen of motor racing photographers and arguably the greatest exponent of the art.
Some of Klemantaski’s greatest photographs were shot with analogue cameras. He followed the Grand Prix circus around Europe always able to ‘see the shot’, choose the best spot and the perfect moment to take pictures.
“I knew enough about racing,” Klemantaski once said, “to know what a car would be doing that critical fraction of a second after I pressed the button.”
He knew enough [understatement!] because he had raced at Brooklands in the 1930s. Additionally, and interesting for those who like aviation history, at the outbreak of World War Two he joined the Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development at the Admiralty, where he was involvement in the development of Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bomb. Here his role was to take photographs which would allow an assessment to be made of the dimensions, trajectory and speed at which the bombs were most likely to be effective in breaking the dams. After the war Klemantaski renewed his interest in motor racing and followed the circuits round Europe, photographing Fangio, Gonzales, Moss, Hawthorn and others from that rakish and adventurous time.
Klemantaski entered three Monte Carlo rallies and took part in five Mille Miglia – most notably with Peter Collins in a Ferrari 860 Monza. In 1956 and 1957 he and Collins finished second in the Ferrari.
Klemantaski enjoyed wine and food. In his tours of the continent during the 1950’s he ate well, but eschewed Michelin-starred restaurants, favouring family-run establishments. His favourite restaurant was Ricordeau at Loue near Le Mans, where he could be found during the 24-hour race.
Klemantaski was a popular, dapper figure, distinguished by his bow tie and neatly trimmed imperial. He retired in 1982.
Here we pick just a handful of Klemantaski images that capture the speed, atmosphere and glamour of motor racing. Capturing the art of motor racing, the style of the times and the finesse of the skilled drivers and beautiful racing cars.
This is the photograph that Klemantaski considered his best; Juan Manuel Fangio winning the French Grand Prix at the Rouen-les Essarts public road circuit on July 7, 1957. The original was shot using a Rolleiflex not Klemantaski’s usual Leica.
This captures a moment, a glance between drivers. It’s the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and Alberto Ascari in his Ferrari 375/F1 overtakes the Alfa Romeo 159 of Juan Manuel Fangio on September 16, 1951. He went on to win the race.
As the sun begins to set on a Saturday evening. On June 22, 1957 Les Leston takes the Mulsanne Corner at the wheel of an Aston Martin DBR1 that he shared with Roy Salvadori. Klemantaski’s shadow is clearly visible.
One of Louis Klemantaski’s most famous photographs. Mike Hawthorn on the limit in his Cooper-Bristol through Fordwater at Goodwood.
Perhaps Louis Klemantaski’s most famous image: Peter Collins on his way to victory during the Giro di Sicilia on April 8, 1956 in a Ferrari 857S with Klemantaski as his navigator. The Tour of Sicily was a 671 mile open road circumnavigation of the island, often used as a kind of warm-up for the Mille Miglia.
Simply, there are too many ‘perfect’ photographs to select a short list.
The book: KLEMANTASKI | Master Motorsports Photographer by Paul Parker is a masterpiece, every page one to saviour and photographs to dwell over and soak in the images. Every motor sports enthusiast should have this superb book in their library.
Find out more at KlemColl or on Twitter @klemcoll