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Photographer Profile: Pauline Ballet

From issue 96 • The Photo Annual

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When did you start shooting professionally? Shooting the 2013 women’s Flèche Wallonne on the Mur de Huy. I felt like a little crumb in the middle of the chaos—people everywhere, screaming and joyful (not to say drunk). I was super-excited when the women arrived; it was a pure revelation to see their effort on the Mur through my camera, their faces suffering and tense muscles. That’s when I realized the potential to tell stories in cycling.

What have been the influences on your photography? I like artists or painters with very different styles. My favorite is the impressionist period. I love the photography esthetic in movies like “Her” by Spike Jonze or the dark-night esthetics in “Melancholia.” My photobook library is my favorite spot at home. Among my favorite photographers are Todd Hido, Geert Goiris, Bryan Schutmaat, Alec Soth, Bill Henson and Nadav Kander. And my husband and friends are artists and photographers.

You shoot other sports. Do you take the same approach for, say, tennis as you do cycling? Tennis is an individual sport that takes place in a fixed place, and so the photographers are quite a way from the players. But whatever I’m shooting, I want great light, pure emotion, intense action. I don’t like to be static in a match. I explore all the possible angles: behind the umpire’s chair, from the terraces…and I shoot a lot between the points. I love to recount everything that’s going on around a match, the same as around a bike race.

Pauline Ballet ||| Paris, France

Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the way you see the word? After four months of nothing, I was shooting cycling in amazing Ardèche landscapes. I can’t say if all this mess has changed my way of seeing the world, but it does emphasize my motivation and gratefulness for being where I want to be and shooting what I love.

You went to photography school. Do you believe this shaped the way you capture sport in your photography? During my years at the National School of Photography in Arles, I photographed subjects that had nothing to do with sport; I was interested in twilight landscapes, my territory and environment. I think that the openness to artistic trends are valuable for understanding shooting. I also learned photography through film, which taught me to have my finger less heavy on the shutter button. I think it’s a benefit not to be too specialized.

What cameras and lenses do you use or love? Two Nikon D5s, with 24–70 mm f2.8, 70–200 mm f2.8 and 200–400 mm f4 lenses. I would like a 20mm fix and  a 100–400, which could be very useful working on a motorbike. And I’d love to have a 105mm 1.4 for portraits.

Where is your favorite place to shoot photos? For my job, I’d say Norway for the crazy landscapes and Paris–Roubaix for the story and dusty cobbles—or it might be muddy on October 25 this year! For my own pleasure, I would say the Faroe Islands, Japan and Iceland.

Name a sport that you haven’t shot that you would like to? Buzkashi, the national sport in Afghanistan, which is a violent horse race in the dust.

Instagram: @paulineballet
Twitter: @paulineballet

From issue 96. Buy it here.