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Photographer Profile: Michael Blann

From issue 96 • The Photo Annual

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Do you recall when you started shooting professionally? I was always interested in photography, and when I went to work for an advertising agency as a studio manager I was soon shooting some smaller campaigns for the likes of Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. When I left the agency, I landed a job at Getty Images as a photographer.

Who were your photography influences as you were coming up—and now? I was influenced by the Magnum photographers Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka and Gueorgi Pinkhassov when I first became interested in photography, but now it’s broader with the likes of Alec Soth, Nadav Kander, Edward Burtynsky, Vanessa Winship, Philip-Lorca diCorsica, Andreas Gursky and Taryn Simon.

What is it about cycling and landscapes that drew you to shoot the roads and mountains? I grew up watching the Tour de France in the mid-1980s and was fascinated by the exotic names of climbs such as the Peyresourde and Tourmalet. It wasn’t until later that I wanted to connect the landscape to these names, so I started to photograph the famous climbs. It was almost a mapping process that eventually grew into a larger project and eventually a book.

Michael Blann ||| London, England

Covid-19 hit sports very hard. Has it affected the way you see the world? With the lack of travel, it’s been very hard to get out and shoot new work; but it has certainly been a time for reflection.

Have your images changed since you first started shooting? Yes. I think as you grow older, your photography becomes more truthful and reflective of your personality and thoughts. I guess I see the landscapes as a moment of calm away from everything else. That said, I still enjoy the advertising side of photography for the likes of Zwift, Shimano, Castelli and other brands.

Give us a basic breakdown of what cameras you use and whether print or digital. I have three cameras: a Phase One medium format is the most expensive and the one I use for advertising and mountains work; a Canon 5D is my go-to camera when I need to be quick or there are mixed lighting conditions; and a Leica M10 is for family shots—a beautiful camera that’s a joy to hold and use. I’m 100-percent digital.

Where is your favorite place to shoot photos? I’m still discovering new destinations. If we are talking mountains, I love the Dolomites; but last year I discovered great climbs in Slovenia and the Serra da Estrela in Portugal.

Your book “Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs” is mesmerizing. What was the impetus to do such a big project? I’ve always found this connection to landscapes and been interested in man’s “role” in the world. The perspective of looking from a distance at a race as it winds its way up a climb reflects this sensibility and detachment. You realize the grand tours are traveling circuses that visit the mountains for a day before disappearing. The quietness of the mountain remains long after the action.

Name a sport that you haven’t shot that you would like to shoot? I like extreme and endurance sports, which are as much about the location as the event, such as artic endurance events.

Instagram: @Michaelblann
Twitter: @Michaelblann

From issue 96. Buy it here.