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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.
Francesco Rachello and Eloise Mavian
Tell our readers how the two of you connected to create Tornanti.
We have known each other a long time; we grew up in the same Italian region and we have some friends in common. It was only in 2012 though when Francesco introduced Eloise to the magic world of the Red Hook Crit, and she fell in love with that race. The electric atmosphere and the family feeling left us wanting to have more of it. Our flow of creativity and a good work relationship brought us naturally to the big step of following professional races. We started with Milano–Sanremo and it was love at first sight. Since Francesco was a child he was skiing during winter in the Dolomites while Eloise was hiking the Dolomites in the summer. In a way we wanted to pay tribute to what the mountains mean to us, so we chose to blend under the Italian name of Tornanti, which is “switchbacks” in Italian.
Eloise, you were born in Venice, studied in Madrid, Spain, and ended up in Milan. Which of the three really influenced your art?
My father is Armenian and my mother is Bulgarian, so having a mixed cultural background and being raised in Italy, the cradle of art, for sure had its influence. My grandfather and father studied in the Armenian college in Venice and when I was young my family used to spend a lot of time there as it was holding lots of concerts and cultural events; nowadays it’s a location for a lot of art exhibitions. Venice’s cultural atmosphere gave me a particular artistic imprint that influenced my work. Here I studied visual arts at the university and thanks to that I had the chance to meet a lot of international artists and to explore the different shades of art. Venice always had a great flow of artists and exhibitions, there is a lot of variety of museums and for sure the Biennale of Art and Architecture is the perfect ground where to look for contemporary and innovative art forms. I must also add that my dad had a photography shop, so I grew up surrounded by films and cameras.
Francesco, you have been around the sport of cycling for a long time it seems. How did you get your start in photography and even more, cycling photography?
Photography for me began as a passion that I started taking seriously thanks to cycling; in 2010 I was very much into fixed-gear cycling and was doing a lot of experimenting with off-camera flashes. When the RHC came to Milan, I started combining both passions. Night criteriums started getting more and more popular and I specialized in photographing that kind of race.
Shooting together as one is like Gruber Images. How do you divide and conquer when photographing an event?
Tornanti is a mix of our personalities and qualities. When we work together, we always try to blend our best skills. Having the same aesthetic helps a lot with our photos and we know each other’s potentials, so we try to push them. For example, Francesco loves to climb up bridge railings or mountain slopes and look at the race from above taking landscape shots showing riders and spectators, while Eloise feeds her shots with the energy of the spectators that she likes to have close to her. Francesco likes to add an element of irony to his pictures, when possible, be it fans wearing special costumes or riders making fun of each other; Eloise loves to include in her shots architectural elements and to look at her shot’s subjects with an unusual perspective.
Eloise, while we profile female photographers in our magazine often, there aren’t that many female photographers shooting big cycling races. Does that bother you and how do we change this?
Cycling, like many things in this world, was born in a male environment but thankfully there are lots of women nowadays working in cycling. It’s true that cycling photographers are mostly men, even if I can’t really say why. Anyway, every year I see new women shooting races so I’m sure there will always be more willing to try this adventure! Anyway, this is a difference that doesn’t bother me that much, but something about the female/male gap that does bother me is that women’s cycling is not considered as important as it should. This is slowly changing but it’s still far from being at the same level of men’s cycling. I hope that in the future there will be people willing to help give female cycling the right importance.
Francesco, what is it about the Red Hook Crit that keeps bringing you back to photograph?
It has been a unique series with an exceptional team behind it. The riders and fans were a fascinating bunch of passionate outcasts. It was by far the most important race of its kind and the start of each race never failed to give me goosebumps.
As Italians, there must be some sort of loyalty to the Giro and to the heroes of Italian cycling. What is it about the Giro that you love? And if you were to choose and look at your family history, would you say your family (or you) are Fausto Coppi or Gino Bartali fans?
We love the Giro so much and we love the varied landscapes that Italy can offer from ugly but fascinating industrial outskirts to the beautiful Dolomites or the Sardinian mountains, from the hills of Tuscany and Friuli to the fresh breeze of roads along the Mediterranean Sea. And how can we forget the incredible dark Etna! We feel that most Italian spectators are truly some of the most passionate fans. It’s very nice to spend time with them while waiting for the peloton to pass. Knowing that you can always eat well after a long day is also an important factor.
As mentioned, the historical background of Eloise’s family is far from the one of Coppi and Bartali, but even without Italian ancestors she still feels Italian! Even if we both love Bartali’s history of helping during the war, and visiting Coppi’s house during a Giro stage years ago was a great experience, we would both choose Marco Pantani as our most important Italian cycling hero, although for different reasons. Eloise has nice memories of watching some of Pantani’s races with her father, while Francesco really got to know him when the pirate was already gone through an extended documentary series he binge-watched while he was sick at home for a few days. That’s how he fell in love with the character and with road cycling.
Each of you name a sport or event that you are absolutely wanting to photograph and why.
Eloise: I always liked the idea of shooting tennis; I’d like to create images playing with the shadows against the red clay and I’d like to portrait the spectators of a tennis game. Another sport that I’d like to photograph would be horse riding: I really hope to see those nice big ladies’ hats! Besides that, it would be nice to shoot backstage of a race—horses really fascinate me. Finally, when I was young, I was a fan of motocross so I should add that sport to the list too!
Francesco: The sports I practiced the most other than cycling are skiing and snowboarding. I would like to make some experiences in that field, also because there are some great examples of photographers that are proficient in shooting both these outdoor sports.
Both: But a friend of ours suggested we should shoot golf.
Each of you give us your daily camera setup for a race (camera body, lenses, other equipment).
We both have two Canon 1DX camera bodies. Eloise mostly uses the 24–70mm f/2.8 II and the 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6 II. If she must travel light when on vacation, she likes the 40mm pancake lens. Francesco mostly uses the same lenses, but he always brings a 16–35mm f/2.8 and 70–200mm f/2.8 II. We also have a 300mm f/2.8 II for some finish-lines shot, track cycling or commercial photography. We don’t use speed lights so much for road cycling, but we use them a lot in the velodrome or in night criteriums.
Tell our readers more about this image. Break it down: where it was, what you love, how you achieved the image, your feelings toward it.
This photo was taken in Milan during the Red Hook Criterium championship series in 2017. We have chosen this picture because it’s from an important part of our journey as cycling photographers. Francesco shot his first RHC in 2010 and he quickly managed to create a distinctive style that everyone would recognize. When we started working together the fresh eye of Eloise helped to give more shades to this style and together as Tornanti we expanded our night-shooting styles with different perspectives and techniques. For the first years, if you would say Tornanti, people would think of Red Hook Crit and our night shots. We love shots like this because of their dramatic “Caravaggio” lighting and because it clearly shows the focused faces of the riders. We also created several independent magazines (coming from a fanzines background) for each race of the Red Hook Crits, and it was something that we actually miss a lot to do.
From issue 104. Buy it here.
All images courtesy and copyright: Tornanti.