I first met Matt on a satellite ride in North Wales organised by Manchester’s chapter of the Rapha Cycling Club. Based in Hull, Matt had crossed the country simply to take pictures over the course of the day. Unobtrusively, he perfectly captured frozen moments of conversation, exertion and camaraderie; his pictures conveying an emotional story as much as recording a visual memory of the ride.
Following Matt’s work over the course of the past year, it is clear that his star is in the ascendency. His photography is now regularly featured in Rapha publicity and marketing material, a relationship that earned him an invitation to travel (with camera naturally) to the Rapha Summit in Tuscany, and he spent a week shadowing Team WIGGINS as they raced the Tour de Yorkshire.
Catching up with Matt on a Sunday club ride north of Manchester, I took this opportunity to talk to him about the pictures he takes (including those that illustrate this feature) and the stories they tell.
Tommy V Blue Jersey
Which came first? A love of cycling or taking pictures?
Cycling for sure, I always loved riding my bike. The 1986 Tour de France was pivotal, watching the racing on Channel 4 then going out on our bikes. Happy days!
When did you first start taking photographs?
I started taking photos in my late teens with a little black Olympus Mju camera that could fit in my pocket. Remember those? I have no formal training at all, none. I guess my education, if you can call it that, has purely been through being a fan of photography since I was young, going to the cinema and continually looking through books of photographers I find inspirational.
National Cyclocross Championships
Is photography a purely instinctive process or are you conscious of a certain set of rules?
I think I’m really quite a simple photographer to be honest. Not particularly technically minded so I’d say more instinctive and driven by a certain moment of emotion. Obviously there are rules in photography but I try not to be overly conscious of them and overthink things. The main rule for me, though, is definitely composition.
Can you define the perfect picture?
Without wishing to sound pretentious, the one I’ve not taken yet.
Grant Martin, RCC Road Race
When you raise the camera to your eye, what’s going through your mind?
‘Please don’t move’ and ‘Press the button now!’
You shoot with a Leica M9? Why this particular camera?
A good question! The more books I bought on photography over the years, I found that long ago people like Henri Cartier-Bresson etc were using Leica cameras. I love old photos. More recently I also noticed that the Ben Ingham’s Rapha photographs I totally fell in love with, were taken using the Leica M. I loved the photographs and (perhaps naively) thought they had a certain ‘look’ made by the camera. How much was down to the camera I suppose is always going to be up for debate, but for me it was enough to make me want to find out more about the Leica. I went to London to the shop which is down a beautiful little street and I just loved the look and feel of the camera once there. Just the sight of it made me want to pick it up and use it and I still feel that way. It doesn’t have loads of features to get caught up in (and maybe never use) and has quite a retro feel to it, that’s for sure. And of course, I think it takes lovely photographs.
Jamie Sharpe, Rapha Supercross
In a world of digital filters and Photoshop, are technological constraints something you impose?
Not particularly, the kind of photographs I take don’t really take too much retouching. I try to keep to a certain kind of ‘look’ for both the black and white and colour photographs I take though. The way I feel at the moment is that for me, I think it’s important to try and keep to your own style otherwise you lose your identity.
What photographers do you admire?
I could talk all day about this! My favourite, hands down, is Anton Corbijn. I fell in love with his photographs even before I knew who he was. He was taking photographs of one of my favourite bands, Depeche Mode, and they had a certain feel and I wanted to be part of that world. I think he’s amazing. I was lucky enough to meet him recently and he mentioned that for him ‘imperfection is his perfection’ and it’s resounded in me ever since. It was very liberating from a technical standpoint to hear that. I also really like Ben Ingham, Guy Bourdin, William Eggleston, Peter Lindbergh, Nadav Kander, Ellen von Unwerth……so many.
Andy Tennant, Tour de Yorkshire 2016
How do you view image sharing sites such as Instagram?
At the moment an invaluable tool for someone such as myself although I think it can become a little unhealthy, scrolling through hundreds of pictures if you’re not careful. With regards to image sharing, it’s a difficult one to answer but I suppose the simplest one would be to say, ‘Please credit the photographer.’ (smiles)
Have you seen a change in the way we take, use and view pictures?
I’ve not really thought about it too much, if I’m honest, but I’d hazard a guess the majority of people take photographs with a camera phone. When it comes to viewing pictures I’m always, personally, going to prefer print as we look at so many pictures on some kind of computer screen these days it’s refreshing to see something real. You can’t escape screens though. I have a website to which I upload my full photo-stories and I post photographs on Instagram pretty regularly.
Grace ‘look’, Rapha Wales
What does the future hold for photography?
More photographs on social media. It’s great for emerging artists etc to be able to get their work out there so quickly and easily. For me, it’s been invaluable. The downside is that there are already too many photographs, so making yourself heard is going to be increasingly difficult.
Is photography an art or a craft?
Perhaps a bit of both? It’s all subjective I suppose.
Peter Kennaugh, Tour de Yorkshire 2016
What bike do you ride and where do you ride it?
I’m lucky enough to have two road bikes. I have a Genesis Croix-de-Fer which is a terrific workhorse; full mudguards and all steel. I really liked it as soon as I saw it but when I read the model name it was a done-deal. The Croix-de-Fer was the first mountain I ever climbed on a bike. My other bike is a Hampsten Gran Paradiso Ti. It’s completely custom made and I built it myself. It took me a year to save the money and complete it.
You’re a member of the RCC (Rapha Cycling Club)? What attracted you to join and what direction do you see the club taking in the future?
I’d already been a Rapha fan for quite sometime, since 2007, so it seemed a natural progression for me to join the RCC when it was announced. I just wanted to be a part of it to see what it was all about. Although I’ve not ridden my bike with the RCC as much as I’d like, I’ve met really nice people (including yourself!) which has been the main thing for me when I think about it. I presume the club will continue to grow.
World’s End, Rapha Wales
You’ve just returned from the Rapha Tuscany Summit and have work featured on their web site. How do you define this relationship?
It’s hard for me to put into words if I’m honest, and I still keep having to pinch myself. It’s been such an enormous privilege to be featured by Rapha as initially it was the photos that Ben (Ingham) took which made me stand up and take notice before I even considered buying any of the cycle clothing. To have my images published by Rapha is amazing to me and I’m so proud to be part of it.
During the recent Tour of Yorkshire, you were embedded with the Wiggins team and on the race finish line? What are the challenges you face when capturing a cycling event?
Have a plan. I suppose everyone approaches these kind of things differently but I need to think about what kind of pictures I want to take as I can’t be everywhere, all the time. The pictures I took at the Tour de Yorkshire are all (barring one) photos of faces at the start or finish. I decided I wanted to capture these type of shots rather than the action of the peloton so I tried to make sure I was in a position to do so. Otherwise I would never have been able to take that shot of Tommy Voeckler just moments after he took the overall win and put on the blue jersey. I was stood waiting round the back of the podium and he literally parked his bike next to me and put the jersey on. A special moment.
Do you have a favourite image you’ve taken?
Not such an easy question to answer as I have different favourites for different reasons. My favourite one from my recent visit to Tuscany though, is the black and white shot of Ben (Lieberson).
Any photographic goals?
To keep going and enjoy the journey.
Favourite Shot (Ben Lieberson)
The images accompanying this interview were personally chosen by Matt. You can view his other work here: