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Photographer Focus – Indira Flack and the GBRD
The tale of over a hundred British racing drivers (and an unknown boy)…
So many British racing drivers will know the feeling. The feeling of Indira Flack bounding over with a smile and a question, or handing them a letter, asking them to be part of her huge photographic project.
To date, Flack has managed to take portraits of over 100 British racing drivers for her upcoming exhibition at Silverstone. But these aren’t simply candid shots of stars of British tarmac and gravel, they’re all fully-planned and brilliantly-executed shots from a professional photographer at the top of her game.
But how did the project begin? Why? And what’s next?
“I needed a project,” she said, reminiscing about the conception of Great British Racing Drivers (GBRD), “having been knocked off my bicycle and unable to work, I was battered and bruised, and left to think about what I could do.
“I’d previously been commissioned by Country Life magazine to shoot a series ‘The Great British Hobby’ which I’d loved doing, and felt like I wanted to do something like that myself. My partner (Paul) pointed out that, as I was going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in a few months’ time, perhaps I could photograph racing drivers.”
This was in November 2013, and with the Festival of Speed being a while away, (June 2014) Indira had a chance to plan it out.
One thing she knew was that she’d be taken more seriously if she was asking racing drivers at the FOS whilst already having a few drivers in the bag – and so she worked with Paul to set about tracking down some true legends of the sport– John Surtees CBE and Sir Stirling Moss. Paul had managed to get John Surtees’s email address at the Goodwood media day.
Surtees replied to Flack’s resulting email and was keen to be involved, Moss’s team advised he’d be most likely to respond to a letter, and so a letter was written and, with it, a precedent was set.
“Both were fantastic,” Flack remembers, “Sir Stirling fully embraced the British theme of the project, and wore Union Jack braces. He also sat in a chair he’d asked for as a prize in place of a trophy, as he didn’t want another trophy to polish!”
With these two icons photographed in early 2014, she knew the project was on its way, and scanned the entry list of drivers at the FOS that year, looking at what batch they would be in going up the hill, or if they were due to be in the Moving Motor Show.
“I wasn’t too sure who to pick, but I wanted to go prepared and write a letter to hand over to request permission to photograph them. So, I looked out for names of drivers labelled ‘Champion’ and thought I’d start with those. The thing is, I still didn’t really know who to look out for when I got there so I had printed their headshots too…”
That year’s FOS turned out to be a great event for finding the people on her list. She was still unable to walk too far comfortably so stationed herself in the top paddock where she knew all the drivers would end up and could be approached. Paul had advised her to seek out Bruce Jones whilst there, to point out any drivers who weren’t obvious to Flack, who is happy to admit she was still fairly new to the world of motorsport at that point. One such driver was Dario Franchitti.
“Dario was, and always has been, an absolute delight, but trying to arrange a suitable time to get a photograph done was incredibly tricky. It was very satisfying many years later when I finally took his portrait.”
Talking about stories behind some of the images revealed a lot about not only Flack’s tenacity, but also her good nature, endearing personality, and also the fantastic support she received from drivers wanting to be involved.
“I always say ‘patience pays off’ but Paul says I’m persistent,” she says, “at Autosport International in January 2019, we were talking to Andrew Jordan, Ashley Sutton and Colin Turkington. I was finally due to photograph Andrew the following Monday – I’d been trying to get a date from him since FOS 2016 and we were joking with him about how long it had taken to organise. I said ‘see patience pays off’ Paul then said to Andrew ‘more like persistence’! Andrew laughed and agreed. Ash laughed too, agreeing, and said my emails had gone into his junk folder to start with until I phoned him to see if he’d seen my email! Colin was already booked in for the end of Jan, so he quickly confirmed that that was ok.”
It would be too long an article for me to list every one of Flack’s anecdotes, but thankfully there’s set to be a book coming out covering the tales behind the images. Here are a few tales too good not to share now.
Jonny Herbert/David Coulthard/Martin Brundle.
“This shot was great to set up. I knew they’re always incredibly busy and seldom in the UK, so I had to take a chance at the British GP. I’d managed to get the OK from both Martin and DC but Jonny had never responded to my emails.
“I was at the GP sitting up in the media centre having dinner, I spotted him down below. Abandoning my food, I ran down and he laughed saying ‘oh yes sorry, yes got your emails and then ignored you’ but immediately assured me he fully intended to do the shot.
“Martin had organised the mics for him and Johnny, but David wasn’t sure – because at that point Sky and Channel 4 knew nothing about it! Luckily I just so happened to get a lift in the Channel 4 minibus, mistaking them for a Silverstone media courtesy bus, and got David’s microphone arranged with them!”
“This shot was of Lando at the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award ceremony in 2016. It’s been great to photograph up-and-coming talent over the years when they look so good in their tuxedos – I told them to channel their inner Bond! Lando was fantastic, choosing to pose on the bannister and with a huge grin. It’s brilliant to see him now driving for McLaren in Formula 1.”
Gordon Shedden/Matt Neal, Jason Plato
“The BTCC drivers are always incredible. The shot of the two Honda teammates and friends – both triple BTCC champions – was shot in Honda’s hospitality tent. I wanted both drivers together in the shot due to their friendship, rivalry and matching success.
“Jason Plato was great too – He’d tweeted that his favourite meal is pizza and a pint of Lambrusco rosé, so I wanted him eating pizza. I’d originally gone to his home to take the shots but it didn’t really work as I’d envisaged it (I always felt there could be more). So I set up this shot behind the scenes at the Goodwood Revival without him knowing! The team at Sub-Zero allowed me to use their car transporter as the location and assured me they’d get Jason to come along. He did, and it’s now one of my favourite shots. Jason agrees it’s much better than the original too.”
“Flick was great. We managed to combine her three favourite things when I visited her – horses, dogs and of course motor racing. This shows just how flexible the drivers have been and shows what a great result we can get when we think beyond simple headshots.“
Monger, Hamilton, McGloin.
“These are some of my more famous sitters – the F1 drivers I’ve photographed are huge stars, but Billy Monger is arguably the most talked-about driver that I’ve photographed so far.
“Although Billy’s not a champion, he is, like Nicolas Hamilton, Natalie McGloin and so many others, a true inspiration with a can-do, anything is possible attitude, and so I was keen to get them all involved in the project. I didn’t want this project to solely focus on championship-winners – it’s also about inspiration, talent and hard work which makes all of my subjects must-haves for this project.”
“Lewis Hamilton is the most famous driver on my list, but I’ve not managed to arrange a photograph with him yet, but he would be a very significant addition to a list of Great British Racing Drivers.”
Button, Hill, Mansell
These are all super-talented F1 World champions crowned more recently than the likes of Surtees and Stewart, and so are all still in huge demand, but were still keen to be part of Flack’s project.
Flack managed to capture Damon Hill driving his father’s 1967 GP winning Lotus Cosworth 49, which certainly adds a great amount of resonance to the image.
“Nigel Mansell’s portrait remains the only photograph I’ve taken which involved a flight – albeit only as far as the Channel Islands!” recalls Flack, “If I’d have had a sponsor for the project – and I still aim to secure one – then I may have been able to travel further for the drivers’ convenience.”
Karters and the unknown boy.
“This is a true highlight of the project. The grid kids for the British GP were a mix of ten competitive karters and ten Silverstone fans.
“I had pre-arranged with Silverstone and the MSA to do the picture for my project. On the day, I met up with the kids and parents before they met the drivers and went on to the grid. A lovely lady called Debbie was really helpful in rounding up children and parents alike – we definitely bonded that day. Her son Archie Clark turned out to be grandson of legendary rally driver Roger Clark. I photographed Archie with his Grandfather’s state at Mallory Park.
“Once the kids came off the grid we had very little time before the start of the race to get the picture done, especially as everyone was desperate to see the start of the F1 race, including me. I said to the whole group ‘everyone who isn’t a karter can go and find their seats, everyone else come with me.’
“I should have ended up with eleven kids (one of the ten ‘fans’ was also a karter)… but there were twelve. As we all ran down the paddock, I repeated that anyone who wasn’t a karter could go and find their seat, but I still had twelve kids when we arrived at the location!
“I am pretty sure the extra kid wasn’t a karter, but once at the location I wasn’t going to ask him to leave in front of everyone and – who knows – he may actually be a karter, although nobody seems to recognise him and I haven’t been able to find out his name yet!”
I asked what the next steps were for the project, knowing that Flack had been to see her printers that very day.
“For now, I’m not looking to take many more photographs, I have two more to do and one possible – the W-Series girls. I will have between 113 and 116 drivers and about 83 images in total and I need to call it a day at some point!
“The next thing is to design the exhibition and continue trying to finance it, so I’m still spending a lot of my time trying to find a sponsor. It would be a real shame to be unable to do this exhibition justice because of money – but I’ve not secured a sponsor as yet despite a lot of hard work in that area.
“Beyond that, it’ll be a book, with all the images and little bits of information about the drivers and the stories behind the images.
“If I manage to make a profit from the sales of a book I’d love to somehow use that to help support marshals because, regardless of the category of racing the driver competes in, there have to be marshals.
”But, more than that, I hope this project becomes the start of an archive, and lives on with more and more greatly talented and inspirational drivers added.”
All images Copyright Indira Flack (www.gbrd.photos Insta: @gbrdphotos Twitter: @gbrdphotos ) and must not be copied, reproduced or amended. To find out more about sponsorship of the project, click here.
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