The final stage of this year’s Santos Tour Down Under also marked the final day of twisting around on the back of a motorbike for British cycling photographer Graham Watson.
My editorial today in some ways is not really a ‘trade’ story. But I don’t think there’d be too many bicycle shops in Australia that haven’t whether knowingly or otherwise, had a Graham Watson cycling image on display in their stores.
In addition to countless magazines, websites, books, posters and calendars, his images were used by virtually every major bicycle company over the years for their catalogues, advertising campaigns and point of sale material.
Great images help sell products in your stores, so please read on as I pay tribute to this icon of cycling photography who also played a key role in the foundation and success of our media company, Bicycling Australia which includes Bicycling Trade.
In a post on his website dated 1st February 2017, Graham began, “I am no longer a cycling photographer. If you want, you can now refer to me as an ex-cycling photographer or as a former cycling photographer. Yes, after almost 45 years as a professional photographer and 38 years of that as a cycling photographer I am retiring – my last race was the Tour Down Under in January.
“I turned 60 years-of-age last March and began finalising a plan that had been fermenting in my mind since five years earlier. I had always wanted to stop at 60, reasoning that my vision and reflexes would be left intact if I stopped now – stay too long and the quality and commitment were bound to fall at some stage. By stopping at 60 I also have the chance to discover other things in life, or at the very least get out on my bike more and maybe climb a few of the mountains I’ve photographed for so long.”
As the founder of Bicycling Australia, please allow me a moment’s indulgence to publicly thank Graham Watson for the critical role that he played, not just in the publication of Bicycling Australia magazine, but in other aspects of our businesses as it grew over the subsequent 25 years.
Back in 1989 I was a retired racing cyclist in my mid 20’s, living in a remote part of South Australia with my wife, two young children, little money and an ambition to create an Australian cycling magazine better than anything that had been published before.
I knew that great photography would be critical. Graham was already over a decade into his career and widely regarded as the best in the business.
But would this London based global icon provide photos for some hick from the back blocks of South Australia? It wasn’t just a case of flicking me an access code to a website in those days. He would have to laboriously hand select and mail his original film images.
I drove to Sydney (I couldn’t afford to fly much for the first few years) and caught another cycling media icon, Rupert Guinness, in an airport motel literally hours before he was about to fly off to Europe for eight months or so to cover the pro racing season.
Rupert not only agreed to become our European correspondent, but put in a word to both Graham Watson and pro rider Allan Peiper, who became our first ‘inside the peloton’ columnist.
This was a pre Skype, pre internet and pre digital photography world. Every month I’d wait anxiously for an express airmail package to arrive containing a selection of ‘trannies’ – 35mm slides and sometimes larger format images, that I’d excitedly put onto my home made light box and study through a magnifying glass to see what would be our next cover photo, double page ‘hero’ spread and lead feature photos.
In this age of global communication and ‘instant everything’ online it’s hard to believe that back in 1990 there was virtually no cycling on TV and no way for cycling enthusiasts to see high quality colour images of who had won the Paris Roubaix until their expensive airmail copy of Winning or Cycling Weekly arrived in their mailbox, followed later by an often bootlegged low resolution VHS video.
So not only was I selecting photos for our next magazine, but I was often the first person in Australia getting to see up close in spectacular, sharp colour what had happened in those great races in Europe five or 10 days previously.
Most of these were the original film images that had been created inside Graham’s camera on those European roads. Although it was possible to create ‘dupes’ – duplicate images, because this required a physical re-shooting process, the colour quality and sharpness was never as good as the originals.
Graham would always make sure he sent images of the Aussies: Phil Anderson, Allan Peiper, Neil Stephens and Stephen Hodge were the only four pro’s prominent in the big teams back then.
I’m sure we paid a fraction of what some of the big European, UK and American magazines paid him, but we always received great photos and friendly service.
As our business expanded we began a mail order department and Graham Watson Calendars were always a best seller each Christmas. Over the years thousands of these spectacular calendars ended up on bike shop walls and in people’s homes across Australia.
Later there followed some classic coffee table books such as Landscapes of Cycling and Images of Cycling, plus huge glossy posters such as ‘Sunflowers’ and other iconic images.
It never ceased to amaze me how Graham managed to maintain the enthusiasm to spend about 200 days of every year on the road. Sure, he was in the thick of some of the most dramatic moments in world sport, which would have been exciting. But the never ending flights, hotels and countless hours on various motorbikes in every weather condition is something that few could handle year after year for almost four decades.
Congratulations Graham! Thanks for your key role in growing the sport of cycling throughout Australia and the world. Enjoy your retirement.