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  • At the Heart of the 'Tour de France' with Sarah Meyssonnier

  • At only 17 years old, Sarah Meyssonnier is the youngest photographer accredited by the Tour de France. Despite her young age, she has a good head on her shoulders and already has her eyes on her next goal: becoming a sports journalist.

    Armed with Nikon equipment, Sarah is currently following the 2015 race trail.  We were able to grab this exclusive interview with her before the madness started. (Original interview in French here.)

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    Where did you get your passion for photography?

    My passion for photography comes from my best friend with whom I also share a passion for cycling. He introduced me to photography and pushed me to improve myself in sports photography. I quickly found that I really enjoyed taking sports photos, landscapes, and even portraits.  Eventually I joined a photography club to learn the techniques that I was lacking.

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    Which photographers inspire you and why?

    I was very inspired by Robert Doisneau with his scenes of everyday life, but which tell a real story. I love the work of Elliott Erwitt as it can sometimes be humorous and light, and sometimes hard and accusing. He is an inspiration to me and I greatly admire all of his images.

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    I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of cycling and the work of other photographers, which I use as inspiration. Jim Fryer and Iri Greco from BrakeThrough Media (who are my training mentors on the TDF 2015) are the only ones to combine sport photography with the more artistic side of classical photography. Their works carry a true message, they are real artistic photos. There is also Scott Mitchell, who often shoots in black and white; he focuses on everyday small scenes in the race.  Because of this, he stands out from other photographers who are only there to capture the race.

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    Are there any photos that have left an impression on you?

    There’s a photo that I found this year while doing research for a presentation on the Vietnam War. I discovered the work of Nick Ut, whose images of this sad event are famous.  He’s best known for the photo of children burned by Napalm, but the photo that shocked me the most is of a handcuffed man in the process of being shot. It’s a photo of unspeakable violence but the trigger hasn’t even been pulled yet.

    Can you tell us about your accreditation for the Tour de France?

    It all began in 2013 when I was a finalist in the “Young Tour Reporters” competition (Jeunes Reporters du Tour) organized by the ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) and L’Equipe newspaper, which gave 6 youths a chance to shoot the Tour as a journalist. I didn’t win this coveted prize, but as a consolation prize the ASO gave me access to a departure or arrival of the 2013 Tour. I decided to go to the one at Vaison la Romaine, near my home, and took advantage of this opportunity to interview two photographers that I had encountered on Instagram, Jim Fryer and Iri Greco. I hoped that this article would be my passport to the competition the following year, but to my dismay, the ASO decided to stop the Young Reporters competition. Regardless, I stayed in touch with Jim on Facebook.

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    During the 2014 Tour, in Nîmes, I again met the two photographers from BrakeThrough Media and Jim said that it was hard meeting just once a year and that they would like to see me more often. This sentence clicked.  We thought, why not spend the three weeks of the Tour together next year?

    In August, I began the project of organising a photo workshop with them and at the same time launched the site “Roulez Jeunesse” (Rolling Youth), which they agreed upon (to my delight).

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    What will be your “mission” on the Tour?

    When I am on tour, I will have two “hats”. The first is as the BrakeThrough Media photo assistant intern, where I will learn from my mentors on a technical level and in post-production. They also will show me how they run their business, and I’ll act as their translator when they are with the French teams.

    The second role I will take on is that of “photojournalist” for Rolling Youth, where I take the initiative to write articles and interviews about the Tour, whether that is with riders, mechanics, support drivers, or even fans watching along the edges of the road, to give an overall impression of the Tour “scene”.

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    What are the peculiarities of cycling photography?

    I’m not really an expert on the subject, but cycling photography is very demanding. It requires a complete mastery of your equipment because it all goes by very fast (a sprint finish can be up to 75km/h). It’s very important to capture the cyclist’s face as that is where his emotions are revealed and that’s often the key to a really good photo.

    Nikon was with you on the Tour by way of loaned equipment; what did you choose and why?

    For the Tour, I chose the Nikon D7200 for its near professional AF system and its sensitivity range of up to ISO 26000 which makes it very useful in low light. For the lens, the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300 mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR suited me perfectly. It’s very versatile, allowing no lost time (which isn’t an option at a sporting event like the Tour). I also wanted to try the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G because I love taking portraits and this was an opportunity to take the plunge and test a fixed focal-length lens.

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    What would be your dream shot to capture during the Tour?

    The shot of my dreams would be where I capture pure, raw emotion: a winner shouting with joy when he passes the last line, a rider with tears in his eyes after a defeat, the joy of a team that has just triumphed … in a word, a picture that bombards the eye with its emotion.

    Nikon wishes Sarah the best of luck in the coming legs of the Tour, and please follow her blog Roulez Jeunesse for highlights of the races.