How do you manage to be so sought after?
I’ve always thought: ‘The day that I set off and I don’t really want to do it is the day to give it all up’. In order to photograph a sport, you have to understand it, love it and even practise it yourself. The trick is always knowing how to change the final.
Your twentyfifth Dakar…
I went back this year but it’s not Africa. Dakar used to be the most prestigious of them all, the one that made you really understood what it was all about; if you hadn’t done Dakar, you hadn’t done anything
How has it changed?
It used to be a challenge; you had to establish how you were going to approach it. The problem was getting the rolls of film sent off without losing everything. A plane carried them to Paris but then someone had to send them on to your editorial office. The only other way was to find out who was injured; bad injuries meant getting sent home. We would give whoever it was bags full of rolls of film. But the injured too travelled via Paris. One year, ‘finally’, Zocchi, who lived 10 miles from my house, was injured: Zocchi’s been injured, fantastic!, compound fractures, he was done for. When you get home, call the office, we told him. To get to the international airport, he took a small plane which crashed and burst into flames. Despite his injuries, Zocchi managed to run to safety but he ran so hard that he dropped the little rucksack, which I believe is still there in the jungle somewhere. Ten days’ worth of amazing photographs lost. We had to use guesswork, set off early, struggle on regardless, make chase, get the shots we needed and then run to get to the next station using only a compass and following tracks. You got lost; some years it was awful. Several journalists lost their lives. Today, it’s lost that spirit; no unforeseen problems or serious difficulties. In Africa, there were only off-road tracks; in South America, there are many stages done on tarmac, a daily schedule, GPS positions, it’s all pre-planned.
What sort of difficulties might an inexpert photographer encounter?
Registration costs around seven thousand dollars; it includes press flights, bivouac fees and insurance to cover repatriation in the case of injury. Then there are flights, hotels, unforeseen costs. If you are wealthy, it’s not a problem. If you’re just a photographer, it’s money down the drain; the press flight takes you to transfer points which are sometimes nearly 200 miles from the race. To take the photographs, you need a special car which costs another fourteen thousand dollars to hire. Your accreditation must be backed by a recognised newspaper or press agency. You overcome all of these hurdles and you take your pictures, for I don’t know whom. It’s not like the African race; a unique experience or a Grand Prix, where you go and take a few photos. Today, it’s all about making money, entrepreneurship. You have to be exclusive, provide images that are original, the best, develop a theme, demonstrate that you have that something extra. These days, everyone’s photos are available to anyone; you have to keep ahead and excel in an elitist and absolute fashion, you have to justify and understand the costs. It’s not easy.
Given the outstanding work of experts like you and of the press agencies, does it make any sense to take photos only at one Grand Prix?
Good question. We are bombarded with these things; many people would like to work in the Grand Prix but can’t because of the accreditation. In my opinion, they don’t come to sell but because of the opportunity to produce low-cost work based on improvisation. There are those who end up as photographers for I don’t know who, an underworld of flash-in-the-pan photographers who sell cheaply to minor teams to recoup part of their costs. They follow the Motor GP for a season or two and then they burn out and disappear. They create enough publicity for themselves and reach their goal, for whatever reason. They invent a website so that they can request accreditation that no one ever gives them; the general tendency is to pay for it. They bleed themselves dry, there’s no evidence that they make any money. There are people who work using their mobile phones; they take pictures of the screen from the boxes and tweet them. Our Milagro photo galleries encourage things that others do without going anywhere, reproducing and reinterpreting images from home: the best moments, the paddock girls. We have to be thankful that a personality such as Rossi still exists; in five years’ time, interest will fade.
The original interview was in Italian and has been translated for the purpose of the MSoX website.