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Jojo Harper | Photographer

From the Photo Annual, issues 49 (Jan 2016), 61 (Jan 2017) & 79 (Aug 2018)

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I am a documentary photographer based near Winchester in the south of England. In 2012, I was the grand-prize winner in the National Geographic Traveller (UK) photography competition. This gave me the confidence to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time professional photographer.

Aged 23 with no qualifications to my name, I decided that I wanted to study the subject I loved. I love to photograph what is real, I love to tell stories and access a world that only a camera allows me to do. Knowing this about myself it seemed obvious that I should study documentary photography. I applied for a master’s degree at the London College of Communication. For me to be accepted onto the course I needed a strong story for my portfolio.

I chose to tell a cycling story. Cycling runs in the blood. My father races and I have two professional road cyclists as brothers. I witnessed how much the sport has changed my brothers’ lives and seen first hand what it takes to compete at a professional level. This fascinated me. Cycling had so much power over them and allowed them to access a range of extreme emotions. I wanted to look into this further and shoot a story on an up-and-coming pro.

My brothers were too close and an easy subject. I needed more of a challenge. So I contacted the Rapha-Condor-JLT team that very kindly let me document one of its riders during the road-racing season. From then on I was hooked. I don’t call myself a sports photographer because it’s not so much the racing and the action that interests me, but the emotions that surround cycling, and how the sport can help an individual.

For my final project on the M.A. program, I decided to go to Rwanda to document the life of one of Team Rwanda’s cyclists. I photographed a man who came from the streets as an orphan and through cycling has now got a family and a home, and is one of Rwanda’s top riders. The bike has literally transformed his life.

More recently I went to South Africa to document the life of a young rider from Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha. The bike gives this boy so much hope, and telling his story was an incredibly rewarding thing for me to do.

The bike can help people all over the world and I will continue to tell these stories as long as they’ll have me.

Equipment. I try and keep it simple with just one body when I am out. I use a Canon 5d Mark 3 with three lenses: the 50mm f1.4, a 70mm–200mm f2.8 and a 24mm–105mm f4. For backup, I have a Canon Mark 2. And I love to use my old Pentax k100 film camera from time-to-time—it’s an awesome camera that gives beautiful results.

Travel Must-Haves. I must carry Ernie the Owl whenever I travel! It’s the cuddly toy my parents bought me when I went off to boarding school at age 11. I must have compact, light, comfortable shoes and the Nike Free model is the ideal pair for me. I also carry a traditional notepad, too. There are too many ideas rolling around inside my head and I need to regularly note them down so I don’t forget. It’s quicker than typing! My MacBook is vital not just for editing but also for communicating, watching films and browsing the Internet.


You are a National Geographic award-winning photographer. What was your reaction when you first heard that? I was working as a [real] estate agent in London and I was bored out of my mind, so instead of trying to sell houses I was checking Facebook and my personal emails. I got an email from Helen Warwick who worked for the magazine. It said I was the Grand Prize winner. I didn’t believe it so I asked if she was sure; she replied, “Of course you’ve won! Congratulations! We did get thousands of entries, so you should be very proud of yourself.” I ran to the nearest newsagent to buy the magazine. Seeing it in print was quite exciting!

When you covered the Tour de France this year, did you have any strategy going in? This was my first year doing it. I was commissioned by a brand to follow Movistar. I absolutely loved it, one of the best experiences of my life. I had a vague checklist of what I wanted to get, but apart from that I played it by ear. The shots very much depended on the team, how well they were doing and how much access I could get. Movistar were amazing and very accommodating. They gave me a sticker to put on my car that allowed me full access to the race route, which was a massive help. I don’t do a huge amount of planning as I want the situations to be as genuine as possible. 

What are your two favorite images in your selection? The first is the overweight fan sitting outside his van with the French flag in the background. I like it because it’s kind of a contradiction: an overweight man, smoking a cigarette, sitting on the side of the road waiting for the world’s top athletes to fly by on their bikes. In terms of composition, it’s just quite simple, with a very clear focus. I do love simplicity in an image and I would definitely prefer it if there weren’t any other people in the background.

The second image I quite like is the one of Valverde on the massage table—not because it’s a particularly good picture, but because it was a real achievement getting it! Trying to get access to a massage table was very tricky, I had to push quite hard and I am not pushy by nature.

Interview by Tim Schamber


How has this last year been for you shooting cycling? Amazing, I love what I do, and I am yet to get tired of it. A new race for me this year was Strade Bianche, which was awesome to shoot. I would say that it comes close to my favorite after Paris–Roubaix. I am yet to do a whole grand tour; I do one week of each, and I think I would like to do the full three weeks at least once. My aims for next year: whole Tour de France, Tour of California and Tour de Yorkshire. I also hope to do some more women’s racing.

What has it been like following and shooting Team Katusha? I have worked very hard to get where I am, but I also feel incredibly honored to be in the position I’m in. They are a very welcoming, friendly, open team and made me feel at home very quickly, both riders and staff. The whole team is changing for the better—media, sponsors, riders—and it is very exciting to be part of that. The whole Katusha project is great. Katusha has a brand and a travel company, and the aim is for the income to help fund the team. Check it out (; the kit is nice.

You have a master’s degree in photojournalism and documentary photography. How much has that helped in the way you shoot images? I was already a working photographer when I did the course. The course was interesting, but taught me nothing technically. What it did help me with was the storytelling element. I love to tell stories through pictures, and that was the focus of the course. I would love to do more storytelling in cycling, but if you get the shots then the story is in the layout of your images and that’s something I can’t always control.

What do you love the most about shooting cycling? The access I have. I love to shoot anything that the average person doesn’t see. The brutality of the sport is fascinating to me, as is what the riders have to do to prepare for a race. I would far rather shoot behind the scenes, but having said that, being on the top of a mountain while watching the Tour de France is something special and is actually very exciting…as is the velodrome finish in Roubaix.

Is there an image in your selection that stands out for you? Please don’t make me choose! I am awful at editing down my images; that’s why I gave you 25 to choose from, not 20!

Interview by Tim Schamber