‘From the Pit Lane’ is back and this time ‘stoodonthepodium’ is uncovering the often overlooked world of motorsport photography.
For Drew Gibson, a Formula 1 and WEC specialist, this life and occupation is a combination of two great loves, a passion that has got him noticed amongst his peers and the racing community.
At the start of our interview, Drew was quick to note how cars and motorsport had a huge influence from a young age – “some of my earliest memories from my childhood are watching rallies and rally X, so I’ve always been interested in motorsport” , he explains. In 2002, after taking a photography course at his local college, Drew took a borrowed camera to rallies with his brother and friends. “It all grew naturally from there”, it was immediately evident that Drew’s passion for his career is the driving force behind his work.
Since leaving college in 2004, intent on this chosen career path, Drew has been working on a freelance basis, making connections and adding to an already impressive client list. Not only has Drew’s work been seen in major national newspapers, but he was also the official photographer for Aston Martin Racing during this year’s Le Mans. Drew has worked closely with the team since 2009.
I asked Drew to describe a stand out moment from the weekend, completely oblivious to what his answer would be. For him, different lighting and weather conditions can create some memorable moments. “I always enjoy shooting at night, so I’d say one of the practice sessions early in the week. The Ford chicane near the fun fair is a cool place to get night action shots of the cars”.
Drew was then quick to remind me that not all racing is memorable for the right reasons. It immediately became obvious that, good or bad, the photographers are the eyes and ears of the sport.
“I remember Allan McNish’s huge accident in 2011 at Le Mans. Seeing the debris flying over the fence, and in amongst fellow photographers, was shocking. It was a while before I got word that everyone was okay”.
Drew’s 2013 memories of Le Mans will be mixed. Their podium finish will be marred by the death of Allan Simonsen which has cast a cloud over the Aston Martin Racing team, creating an atmosphere that he described as “very difficult and strange”. It is obvious to see why.
I wanted to know more about Allan from someone who was there that fateful day “Allan had only been with the team for three races, so I didn’t know him that well. He was a really chilled out guy, very professional and would do anything to help with set up shots”, he explained.
“He was just a really genuine bloke, and it hit every one hard when news of his death came through”. Drew was incredibly positive about Allan as a person. It really struck home in that moment, the consequences his death had on the grieving team.
“After hearing that he had not survived the crash, I was in a difficult position, as I wanted to keep a respectful distance from the team, but with the team continuing to race the four remaining cars, I still had a job to get on with.” Fortunately his presence was not unusual; Drew continued his work as the remaining cars finished the 24 hour endurance race, at the request of Simonsen’s family and in his honour. The atmosphere, he explains, “had a very somber feel to it” far from the partying and fireworks he had become accustomed to at this event.
Amongst all the mayhem of the tragic events, Drew found time to himself in his motor home. “Le Mans is a difficult race for accommodation as there are very few hotels near by”. Drew explained that travelling to a hotel was almost pointless, “I didn’t finish working until 4am on Wednesday, 3am on Thursday, 1am on Friday and then didn’t sleep at all on Saturday”. By cutting down the travelling time, Drew could take what little sleep was available.
Besides his unusual mode of transport, Drew’s Le Mans preparations involved understanding specifically, what his requirements were. “The race is challenging logistically as there are some events held in the main town, some at the circuit, and very full schedules”, he explains, listing the factors that must be considered. For Drew, planning ahead is his most affective form of preparation.
His greatest race day challenge is meeting the needs of his clients who demand images rapidly for press releases and social media. “Trying to fit in time to edit images around shooting is always tough, not to mention trying to find time to eat healthily and sleep”.
Considering all these factors, I wondered if there was stand out moment. Drew then told me of his first trip to Sebring in 2011. “There’s a famous shot on the start/finish straight with the sun setting behind the cars, it’s a shot I’d seen hundreds of times before, but never taken myself”.
“The sunset that evening was perfect, the track turned to a golden glow and I remember thinking, ‘I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at this point’”.
From this moment of deep reminiscing, it seemed to me that photographers really do have the best of both worlds. Drew can experience a race first hand whilst capturing his own memories along the way. His story of the sunset was emotional and I felt as if, in that moment, the little boy within him re-emerged.
As the interview came to a close, I really felt that I understood his life and the love he has for his career. It is no surprise to hear, he is held in such high esteem by his peers in, what is, an overly competitive career. Motorsport photography requires hard work and long days, sacrifices Drew is all too willing to make.
All images in this interview, are courtesy of Drew himself and copyright permission from Drew must be sought if they are used in any other capacity.
I would like to personally thank Drew for agreeing to share this side of motorsport exclusively with ‘stoodonthepodium’.