'I really love the concept, no sponsors, no high tech shit'

Fotograaf en regisseur Bill Tanaka was deze week curator van RPOTDFAW*. Zijn thema: Tour of Ara in Zuid-Afrika, de échte Tour.

Bill Tanaka in actie tijdens de Tour of Ara

Sinds vorig jaar vraagt Nils Adriaans mensen uit het vak om een week lang curator te van zijn *Random pic(k) of the day for a week: ‘Iedere dag plaats ik dan een door haar of hem gekozen visual van beeld/film/muziek/poëzie of wat dan ook, plus een korte toelichting (waarom heb je voor dit fragment gekozen?) op mijn Facebook-pagina.’ Daarnaast bundelt hij sinds dit voorjaar iedere vrijdag de bijdragen van zijn curatoren op Adformatie.nl.

Deze week was Bill Tanaka, fotograaf en als regisseur verbonden aan Smarthouse Films, curator. Tanaka fotografeerde en filmde de laatste versie van Tour of Ara, een meerdaagse old school wielerwedstrijd dwars door het ruige Zuid-Afrika.

Hij vertelt: 'Named after the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Ara, the Tour of Ara was a race ridden on pre-1999 South African-built steel racing bicycles in the proud tradition of the early Italian multi-day stage races.

Held between 2014 and 2018, the six-day Tour followed a tough dirt-road route through the beautiful but harsh semi-desert of South Africa’s Karoo region. It was as much a race as it was an exploration and celebration of this unique and sparsely populated landscape and the people that live there.

Each year 40 racers experienced life-changing situations, met locals, and faced some serious race challenges soft sand, corrugated roads, loose stones, tyre-shredding rocks, rain and mud. Broken frames and forks were not uncommon, and each race brought at least a few serious injuries. Distances varied from approximately 100 kilometres to 180 kilometres per day. The longest stage was a gruelling 213 kilometres.

Tour of Ara is an initiative of Stan Engelbrecht, a close friend of mine from South Africa. I really love the concept, no branding, no sponsors, no support, no high tech shit, no apps, supporting small local communities of the Karoo, using old school maps and old school bikes and the Karoo is a really amazing place.

How this project came along? Stan and I were having beers in Amsterdam a month before the race and by the end of the night we were stumbling out of some or other dodgy late night bar high fiving that I would come over and photograph the 5th and final Tour of Ara.

Here's my 1st pick Ara veteran and winner of stage 1, Nkosi Mpofu – exhausted but ecstatic.

Winner of stage 1, Nkosi Mpofu
Winner of stage 1, Nkosi Mpofu

I always wanted to be a part of Stan’s Tour of Ara, but I’m not a keen cyclist in any way, so this is how it went. It always felt like an opportunity to, not only be a part of something unique (which it definitely was) but an opportunity to make some beautiful imagery.

This is pick 2: Carl, Martin and Mike climbing hard, fighting their way up a long incline, chasing the front riders under wet and slippery conditions.

Carl, Martin and Mike
Carl, Martin and Mike

Stan gave me creative freedom, my interpretation of the 5thand final Tour of Ara. I made so many really great pictures, editing them down to tell one story was a hard task. Every time I revisit the images, my mind changes as to what my favorites are.'

This is my 3rd pick: Jared stopped to help Carl (both from Mother Amateur Cycling Club) wash some mud and grime from his eyes. When a dirt road is wet and hard packed you can move at tarmac pace through the landscape, but when you hit a wet spot the mud can go flying. And with these unpredictable conditions you daren’t take your eyes off the road for fear of hitting a rock or rut.

Jared stopped to help Carl
Jared stopped to help Carl

Photography and filming Ara was an amazing experience. I witnessed the riders going through hell, driving themselves and each other through this harsh terrain and weather conditions and loving it and hating it and loving it – emotions, sweat, broken bones and bikes, all together with the back drop of the Karoo.

For me It was also bloody hard work and really long days, but what a rush! I was the only photographer/filmer so I had to be everywhere at once, following the leaders, but also the tail end, also picking up a fallen rider or 2 along the way, which was handy for photo moments. Temperatures varied from early morning below 0 degrees up to 35 degrees mid day desert heat.

In this 5th stage (see pick 4 below) riders raced a short and fast but muddy 31 kilometres to the edge of the escarpment to the south of Middelpos. At the finish line on the escarpment the idea was to look down the Gannaga Pass into the Tankwa Karoo basin, and have some lunch. The weather didn’t play along and there was no view, only a spooky mist rain and hot coffee (with an optional shot of whisky, of course).

Hot coffee (with an optional shot of whisky, of course)
Hot coffee (with an optional shot of whisky, of course)

For me, the creative highlight was making 'End of (an) Ara', a 50 second film and tribute to the blood, sweat, tears and joy that Tour of Ara is. I owe a big thanks to Gert-Willem Visser and his outstanding editing skills. I shot so much footage over the 6 day race, it was a bit overwhelming. Gert went through it all with a fresh eye and my enthusiastic demand that I wanted a fast and furious edit, and he really got it.

Making this little film, pick 5, was so much fun, from shooting – to edit, to music to grading (graded by Switters). It turned out exactly how I wanted, raw and fast paced, no time to look away.

(For longer photographic stories and a 30 minute documentary go the website of Tour of Ara and/or CyclingTips.)

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