The Basement Tapes: Ashley Gruber from Issue 104
Interview by Tim Schamber with images from Ashley Gruber
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In issue 104, our 10th annual Photo Annual, we showcased 12 photographers and 1 collector that are at the top of their game in cycling photography. Here’s the extended interviews from Peloton magazine: The Photo Annual.
What has the chaotic last year taught you as a world traveler since being back in Europe? That we should seek out the good moments in each step of where we are as human beings. There was a lot of good for us in the pandemic—time to reflect and ask ourselves and each other important questions. I know we aren’t the only ones. We’ve felt privileged to be able to travel when most couldn’t and to see places in person, instead of reading about them on the news. One of the things I took away from living the lockdown moment was how nice it was to check in on friends in different places. We are all still connected, and I think it’s important to remember that it’s true across the board, whether you want that or not.
Another Tour de France is over for you: As a photographer, how did this one differ from previous years? I still feel like a beginner, and that we are juuust starting to figure things out. And that feels exciting. The obvious answer is Covid restrictions. They were in place for the September 2020 edition and still in place for everyone working the 2021 event; but it felt a little harder to understand some of the restrictions this time. The fans were back at the starts and finishes, but we weren’t allowed to go places, to respect the bubble that we’ve had access to previously. I have a hard time with that fact alone, but that coupled with some inconsistencies about what the bubble means was frustrating at times.
The less obvious difference: Jered and I started talking about the Tour as some sort of yearly vision quest, something that you don’t always love and forces you to go places you might not opt to go, but you become better for it. We are both getting more comfortable with taking on such a big endeavor as a love-hate kind of thing. It feels healthy, challenging and overall good.
Your car broke down this year. Would it be a grand tour without Gruber Images having some sort of mishap? How’d you get through it? It does seem like something always comes up [sigh]. Driving to the stage 9 start, our car started acting up—the diesel particulate filter was clogged past the stage of self-regeneration. As we coasted into Albertville (it was, thankfully, all downhill), Jered pulled up the name of a Peugeot garage. I went in, used some of my newfound French etiquette (thank you “The Bonjour Effect”) and Google Translate to ascertain that they could not fix our car today, and they couldn’t even look at it until next week.
It was around 11:30, which is significant because both the garage and Hertz closed for two hours starting at noon. We called up the local Hertz office to explain. It was a few minutes away, we went there, swapped the essentials from our van into a little Citroen C3 (kind of love that car now) and raced back over to the garage to leave ours for repair.
A stroke of luck filled in the rest of the picture: I happened to have extra official race stickers for the car. After the first days of rain in Brest, I asked ASO for extra stickers since it looked like ours were peeling off. I fortunately decided to watch what fate would do to them, and they stayed put, leaving us with the extras. We jumped on the racecourse, and we were off.
Italy has always been your favorite place, but where does France stack up? Italy is easy to love, France offers nuance. I’m coming to appreciate nuance more and more. So France is moving on up in the rankings.
Both are grand tours, but what are the biggest difference between shooting the Giro and the Tour? We only shoot about half of the stages of the Giro, and we shoot the entire Tour. So, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. We cherry-pick stages that we hope will be the most interesting from a visual or racing perspective, and hopefully both. Occasionally, we get a lemon, but most of the time it pans out well enough. Jered and I both believe that the other half of stages we shoot during the Tour—the ones we wouldn’t necessarily elect to shoot based on interest alone—can yield some of the best photos. It allows us a freedom of our own expectations to make something that we had been thinking about for a while, or gamble on something a little less certain.
The Mont Ventoux stage of this year’s edition is a good example: if we had shot that stage and chosen not to show Ventoux, instead choosing the hillside village of Gordes or one of the tiny can’t-remember-their-names villages along the way to the base of the climb with giant trees and Tour de France buntings, I don’t think we would have accurately shown the story of the day. We had to show Ventoux. But, on the days of no expectations, you are free to play.
There’s a lot of logistics for a Tour stage or a single-day race; how much of it goes according to plan? And if it doesn’t, is that a rush or does it eat at you? Logistics can go “off-route” and I’ll feel fine as long as we get something. Things will go wrong—it’s just how this stuff works. You can’t hold on to whatever it is for any period of time; it’s too intense to do that and it’s really just a waste of energy. Logistics aren’t personal, and that makes it easier for me to deal with. If something doesn’t work, just keep moving. With regards to photos, Jered always says he feels good as long as his first shot is a solid one. I find that mentality kind of scary and thankfully don’t really operate that way. It’s not to say I don’t understand what he means, but I think I’m a little more on one level, where Jered can bounce up and down. That said, I think his passion and dedication is what makes him tick. While it can be a little much at times, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
You spend a lot of time in Europe. As you’ve been doing this for a while now, do you find yourself longing for home [Athens, Georgia] or ponder life fulltime in Europe? The longer we spend away, the more I appreciate what we have on both sides of the ocean. I’ve gone through periods of feeling lonely, or even longing—for our friends, a dog we share and my garden—but I don’t have any idea what things will look like in 10 years. It almost feels scary to admit, but I’m doing what I want. I don’t really want to look too far ahead now. I don’t want to feel like I’m not doing or thinking in the right ways to accomplish goals. I want to enjoy what we have, do good work and stay open for what the next doors may be.
From issue 104. Buy it here.