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Photographer to the stars

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He stands far back from the media scrum that follows every stage finish in the Tour de France as photographers, journalists, TV cameramen and radio reporters clamber around the day’s winner. Instead, Scott Mitchell waits for the stars to come to him. Mitchell is not your typical cycling photographer. He is the personal photographer to stars of the sport, including Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. And in his day job, Mitchel photographs rock stars such as Paul Weller, founder of legendary British bands The Jam and The Style Council.

Words/image: James Startt

“Getting into photography was a happy accident,” Mitchell says. “I went to visit my mum who was living in Spain and there was this bike race, the Tour of Murcia. Since I was 16, I’ve been riding Vespas and I knew that there was this one cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, who had a Lambretta LI150. I saw him before a stage and we started chatting about scooters. He asked me if I was coming back, and when I said no, he said, ‘Well come back and just hang out.’”

Before Mitchell knew it, Wiggins wanted to hire him to do a photo shoot. “I thought he wanted me to shoot him in Soho with some cool clothes or something, but it was the Tour de France. That was in 2010.”

The immediate link between the two was their shared taste of mod culture that has remained a strong undercurrent in British music, art and fashion since the 1960s. Both were passionate about Vespa scooters and a whole host of other elements linked to the mods.

“English schools were very tribal and you had to be a punk or a mod or a Teddy boy or a skinhead or a new romantic,” Mitchell says. “I was a mod. I just loved the look. I loved the attitude. At first it was about buying the shoes and getting the haircut. When I was 15, I got my first scooter. Then I started buying books on the art that mod culture produced, with artists like David Hockney. I started reading a lot about art and finally ended up at the Edinburgh College of Art.”

Wiggins immediately took to Mitchell, who already had Paul Weller, one of Wiggins’ favorite musicians, on his client list. “Brad said that the thing he liked about me was that I didn’t ask him anything about cycling,” Mitchell said. And soon he was the official Team Sky photographer.

“Scott has got his own style and personality, especially when it comes to fashion and design. And the fact the he doesn’t come from cycling actually helps,” said Team Sky general manager Dave Brailsford. “You know a lot of the guys on the team like fashion and music. And so they really connect with him on that level.”

Mitchell’s own images, often black and white, come from a more reportage perspective than most sports photography. And a current series of stripped-down black-and-white portraits of Wiggins, Cavendish and Weller call to mind Richard Avedon, one of his favorite photographers. “In a way there is nothing more interesting than the human face and I’m trying to find the right moment that captures something about them, capturing that special thing I don’t have.”

Since his first Tour, Mitchell has become a familiar face on the race, and this year he was there primarily photographing Cavendish. But while he photographs some of the sport’s biggest stars, Mitchell still does not consider himself a cycling photographer. Instead, he always has remained focused on specific personalities, and in many ways, he sees little difference between sports stars and music stars.

“Their lifestyles are actually very similar,” Mitchell says when comparing cyclists to musicians. “Both spend much of their life on the road living in the buses. Musicians have a sound check before their show and cyclists get on the turbo trainer. But they are both putting on a show. And then there is the absolute focus, the hard work and dedication. All those guys work so hard. I’ve always been surprised at how hard Paul still works after all of these years in the music industry. He’s had so many hits and yet he is still writing so much music. And the same is true for Mark and Brad. They have both won so much but they are still so focused on their current goals.”

And he admits that their drive is contagious. “Hanging around such immense talents pushes me to keep pushing,” he says.

From issue 57. Buy it here.