Fixed Gear Crit

Eloise & Francesco the photographers of, photography story telling during RHC

If the fixed gear scene does not lack one thing it would be the presence of creative people who capture the race and all the happenings around it. By doing so they are the ones who create beautiful work that shows how beautiful our sport is to the world. A famous artistic couple around RHC and in the Italian crit scene are Eloise Mavian and Francesco Rachello who are, since 2015, known under the name Tornanti (Tornanti.CC). Eloise is 31, and Francesco is 36. Both of them are Italian although Eloise has Bulgarian and Armenian roots. We had a talk with them to get to know more about who they are, how they got in the sport, and all the work that goes into a day of shooting at RHC.

Text: Brian Megens

Francesco is a self-taught photographer who started with a film SLR, to later move on to a medium format with an analogue rangefinder. He actually started taking photography more seriously thanks to cycling: “when the RHC came to Milan for the first time I had just got into fixed gear and off-camera flashes, so I combined both passions. Night crits kept on getting more and more popular in Italy after that first Bovisa RHC and I learned a lot following that kind of races.”
For Eloise both photography and cycling were passions transmitted by her father. “After a degree in Visual Arts in Venice I lived in Madrid for six years working in cinema in the camera crew. In that period, I had a single-speed with me all the time. In 2012, I met Francesco and fell in love with the cycling world.”

How It all started
“In 2013 we flew together to New York for the Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn no. 6. We managed to get our very first photo set published by Sportweek – the weekly magazine of Gazzetta dello Sport – for an article about the RHC. After that we started following also pro races, from Milan-Sanremo to the Giro.”

“We thought about a collective name that could represent both of us for a long time but only at the end of 2015 we came to an agreement on Tornanti. We remember a funny mail by David telling us he would miss type both of our names in the credits of our photos. Tornanti is the Italian word for “switchbacks” as mountains are important for us: when we were kids both of us used to spend a lot of time in the Italian Alps with our families. Interestingly we lived the mountains in different seasons: Francesco in winter, skiing, and I in summer, hiking.”

Matching Photography
Although they do not have a word to describe their photography style, both of their styles correspond really well. “We can say that luckily we have more or less the same aesthetic so our photos as a whole are quite coherent and – we hope – different from other photographers’. We both love architecture photography and minimally, neatly composed shots. We have a lot of art and photography books, not just cycling related ones. We love artists like Luigi Ghirri, Jeff Wall, Candida Hofer, Thomas Struth… Talking about cycling photographers that inspire us we must mention Iri and Jim Greco, the Grubers, Kristof Ramon and Manual For Speed.”

Eloise tells “Some of Francesco’s most interesting shots are quite ironic, as his personal character is. He has some kind of magnet for atypical things.” Followed by Francesco saying “Eloise is more emotional and at the same time, due to her studies, values a lot the composition of the image, which is a great plus if you shoot fast moving subjects.”

Love for cycling
The focus of Tornanti is cycling “we focus mainly on pro cycling races and track bike criteriums. We recently started following international cyclocross races and we’ve been to Belgium for a few races and to Luxembourg for the Cyclocross World Championships. They were all amazing experiences – especially the Worlds – and we learned a lot.”

RHC & Tornanti
Francesco started caring about cycling after falling in love with the aesthetics of vintage track bikes when the fixed gear bikes starting to become more visible in the streets of Milan. “I heard about the RHC – like many italians – on The first crit I shot was actually the RHC Milano no. 1. You can see my first experiments from 2010 here or better the ones from 2011 here. We are sure you’ll recognize some riders! Then I introduced the RHC world to Eloise in 2012 and she fell in love with the positive atmosphere and the passion of the riders.”

Eloise’s first RHC was the only one that took place during the day in the streets of Milan, during a Bicycle Film Festival. “I helped Francesco and had an analogue camera with me. I just landed from Madrid, where I was living at the time, and there are a few things I remember vividly: the good vibes, the very fast riders, me cheering Spanish riders, a crash of Martucci who hurt his hand and Francesco getting a photo of me with Walton Brush from Mash.”

“This was the only time I was a spectator at a RHC, so we can say I got a really great impression. You can’t stop the desire of taking photos during the RHC, there are too many emotions in this race and you can see the effort and the happiness that comes from being there in both the organizers and the riders. It really is a great spectacle and it’s getting better with every edition, thanks to the work of David’s team to improve the race and its rules. This year’s 10th RHCBK is going to be a special one.”

Their favourite RHC is Barcelona: “The atmosphere in Barcelona is one of the best. The sun shines and everybody has a good time even if the super hot weather might not be ideal to work. Last year was one of the hottest!

RHC London is the hardest for them to cover: “In London it’s usually not so easy: the private security personnel is pretty strict and won’t make our job easier. Sometimes we’re forbidden to get to parts of the course where we – as official photographers – would actually be allowed to get to.”

Tornanti working at RHC
We might only see them at the events taking photos, and seeing the end result already within a couple of days. However, a lot of work, already before a photo has been taken, goes into making RHC a success for Tornanti.The preparations are long, especially if the race is abroad! First, we check if everything we have is in good shape and if there is any new gear we need. Then we decide what each of us will use during the race. The day before the race we check the course with the race marshals and discuss with them about reserved spots for photographers. During the whole race day itself we already send a few photos to the RCH staff so they can update their social media channels in real time. On the night of the race, we already work on the shots. So, when everybody goes to the after party after the podium ceremony we go to the RHC office (the temporary one if the race is not in Brooklyn) to deliver the first batch of images to the staff members that are working on the races report. From the morning after the race we start the real selection and post-production and begin sharing the files with David and his crew. Usually in about 3 or 4 days – depending among other things on how long the trip back to Milan takes – we deliver all the shots, starting from the most important. Next to that, we also work on our Tornanti Magazine which we send to the typography not later than the fifth day so that it can be available as soon as possible.”

Camera Gear
It is almost common knowledge that pro sports photographers either use Canon or Nikon, although it must be mentioned that Sony and Fuji are rising. Both Eloise and Francesco fall in the Canon category. “We are Canon users and we have a couple of pro full frame bodies and a couple of 7Ds. We both tend to prefer the versatility of zoom lenses and we both mostly use a telephoto lens and a medium range lens.  For the night races we both use off-camera flashes: Francesco normally uses two, sometimes three when I can help him set them up. I lately uses one on the camera and one off-camera. While Francesco carries everything in a chest vest, I uses a pouch.”

Photography during RHC
“The Red Hook Crit is a great event, there are all kinds of riders and spectators. Both of us have several aspects we have to focus on. The location is one of our priorities. It is important for us to contextualize the race, to show the place where the riders move focusing on symbolic and peculiar architecture or anything else that surrounds us: the river Thames in London, the sea in Barcelona, the skyline of Manhattan, the gas holder in Bovisa (Milan).

Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn no° 9

Another important theme is the people who come to visit the race. The spectators are different in every city: they way they dress, how they ignite the riders and what they do in relationship with the race. Take the London location for example: since it is a public space people who don’t know about the race pass by, possibly to get to the cable car. Therefore some of the spectators are actually not there for the race. There are lots of different kinds of people, like Indian families taking group selfies with the riders on the back, young families cheering the riders, tourists. It’s also the location where we saw more dogs than anywhere else.
In Brooklyn and Milano the location is isolated from the city and people come there mostly just for the race, they know about it. In Barcelona actually it is a little bit different because inside the Parc del Forum there is an adventure park that is open during the race day so in some of our shots you can see people hanging in the air!

Obviously the riders have a great role in our photos. During the races we sometimes try to separate them from the background and get some peculiar expressions. We also look for connections between riders and we try to understand and depict how teams and friends live the race day. We obviously never forget to shoot the RHC staff that work their asses off for the whole day, not to mention the months/weeks/days before the event.

Favourite photos
The favourite photo of Eloise is one taken in Barcelona: “I was in the last hairpin before the finish line during the men’s race. This was a very technical hairpin and here you can see the concentration of the riders: Stefano Capponi, Nathan Labecki, Evan Murphy and Alec Briggs.”

Eloise’s favourite shot

Francesco’s favourite shot was also taken in Barcelona. “It freezes the moment letting you focus on the concentration on the painful faces of the riders, fighting for their position but above all sharing the same suffering.”

Francesco’s favourite shot

Tornanti for 2017
“We are looking forward to shoot as many races as we can. Italian and Belgian classics, European criteriums, the Giro and possibly another grand tour. Plus more cx races at the end of the year. We want to continue with our Tornanti magazine and share our view of the RHC but also of other races with our stories. We believe the RHC will continue to grow and get stronger, it’s a beautiful race surrounded by lots of emotions and good vibes and it connects a lot of people.”