Interview: World Rally Championship photographer, Maurice Selden
World Rally Championship photographer, Maurice Selden, will cover his 450th WRC event in Germany later this year, in a career that goes way back to 1973.
Having worked for many publications and employers over an impressive career, Maurice most recently was the number one photographer for RallySport Magazine’s international rally correspondent, Martin Holmes.
Although he’s now retired, Maurice still attends a few WRC rallies, and is looking forward to his upcoming photographic exhibition in Wales, that showcases his 40+ years of motorsport photography.
Peter Whitten caught up with Maurice to look back over his career as a World Rally Championship photographer, and asked about the highlights, the changes in photographic technology, and for a look at some of his favourite photos.
It’s been a stunning career, and one we’re thrilled to give you an insight into.
RSM: Everyone seems infatuated by statistics these days. What are your WRC stats? How many events, years involved, countries visited, etc.?
Maurice Selden: To date I have photographed 449 World Rally Championship rallies. I had not intended to go to any more, but my family are all telling me that I need to go to another one to make the total up to a neat 450, so I think that I will probably go to Rally Deutschland in August this year.
I have been given lifetime media accreditation by the FIA, so getting a pass will be no problem.
As for the countries I have been to on WRC events, they are:
Canada, United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Indonesia, Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Italy, Monte Carlo, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ireland and, of course, UK (30 in total).
Important firsts for me were: Monte Carlo 1975, Safari Rally Kenya 1977, New Zealand 1990, and every Rally Australia that was held in Perth 1989 – 2006.
I teamed up with Martin Holmes in 1987. Before then, and while I was at (photographic agency) LAT, I was also covering Formula 1 Grand Prix and probably went to around 100 grands prix, including: Dallas, Las Vegas , Long Beach, Detroit, Montreal, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janerio, Buenos Aires, South Africa and the first Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide. I also took photos at most of the European circuits.
When I joined LAT in 1972 I was the junior of the three photographers. By 1979 I was one of the two senior photographers and we now had another two juniors.
By 1982 I was chief photographer, which meant that I was covering far more events. Formula 1 Grands Prix were the most important, but I usually managed to get to most of the WRC events as well.
Having travelled the world for so many years, how does a retired professional photographer cope with life at home, and how do you fill in your time these days?
In 1980 my son was born, and in 1982 my daughter. I think on average I was going to at least 30 – 35 events a year, which meant that I was away from home for two out of three weekends.
My wife, Jude, had given up her full-time teaching job to look after the two children. It was a financial burden, but I could not have continued with my job if she had not decided to become a full-time mother.
I tried to take over as much of the duties as I could when I had a free weekend, but I know that I missed out on many milestones, like their first steps or first words.
Now that we have four young grandchildren, we try to spend as much time with them as we can, even though they all live more than 300km from our home in South Wales. We usually see them all at least once a month.
These days I do a lot of trout fishing. There is a good trout river 400 metres from my house, where we live on the edge of the Brecon Beaons – a very beautiful part of Wales with many waterfalls and lakes.
I am also in the process of putting a Photographic Exhibition of my 40 years in the WRC together at a gallery in mid-Wales.
We try to get away a couple of times a year, usually to the west coast of Ireland and somewhere else in Europe. I like to take Jude to places that I know well from rallying. We have been a few times to Portugal, Spain, South of France, Italy and Greece, and last year we went to Venice for a week.
In 2009 we took our trip of a lifetime and spent four days in Sydney, then drove up to the Gold Coast, before going on to New Zealand for a month. Jude fell in love with NZ and we returned there for seven weeks in 2013.
People ask me if I miss the life, and to be honest I do, but even if I was offered the chance to do a full season, I do not think that I could cope with all the travelling involved.
I think that I have had a good run, and I have loved every minute of it.
Your career saw an incredible change in the way photographs were taken, processed and distributed. What were the major changes you had to get your head around, and were the changes generally for the better?
When I started at LAT it was just a small agency servicing Motor Sport, Motoring News, Motorcycle Monthly and Gun Review.
So, at circuit races I would need a camera for black and white and another for colour. I would shoot two laps in black and white then two laps in colour, then change position.
In the mid-70s LAT was contracted to supply images to Ford Motor Company. We had to give original negatives and transparencies of the Ford powered cars from Formula 1, European Touring Cars, British National Rallies and WRC Rallies.
So when it came to rallying, I, like many other photographers, had to develop ways of using two cameras fitted on a bar together, either by using two fingers, or later, with cables linking the cameras to enable me to get the required number of images.
LAT gradually grew larger and we were supplying photos to many other large clients like Marlboro, JPS, Williams F1, and ICI.
The only real change we had was when a sales manager from Canon cameras came to the office and offered to swap all our used Nikon equipment for new Canon cameras and lenses, for no charge. LAT are still using Canon and I, too, have used Canon ever since.
When I joined Martin Holmes Rallying in 1987 I continued with the same two-camera system. It meant a very heavy camera bag with three cameras (one was a spare) and about 10 lenses and a couple of flash units. I would also carry 40 rolls of colour transparency film and 40 rolls of black and white film.
My bag would weigh about 20 kilograms going to each event.
All the unprocessed films would be taken back to the UK after each rally, and after processing I would normally produce 800 black and white prints, plus duplicate transparencies (or slides) to be posted to the magazines we were contracted to.
This was all done in our own darkroom at Martin Holmes Rallying.
In the mid 1990s we changed to using colour negative film instead of black and white, so we now supplied colour prints instead of dupe transparencies. Original transparencies were still needed for other clients.
The next change started a few years later when we were asked to transmit digital images, so I had to take a scanner and computer to events. It meant having to find a local lab every evening to process the colour negative films, then spend a few hours in the press room scanning and transmitting.
Whereas a few years earlier, once I had returned from the stages, work was finished for the day and I could relax over a meal with friends. Now we would often work until late in the evening, before grabbing a quick meal and heading off to bed.
The next big change was when digital cameras came on the scene. The camera bodies were very expensive, but instead of the large amounts of equipment I used to carry, I could now use just one camera and a small selection of zoom lenses. The quality of the images from the digital cameras were comparable to film cameras.
Apart from the initial outlay for the camera bodies, it was much cheaper than buying and processing film. It is certainly true that digital photography has made life much easier, but it also has its drawbacks.
Many clients now demand images almost as soon as they are taken. Manufacturers’ PR teams want images of their car quickly so that they can inspect and control which images are released – no team wants images of their damaged or crashed cars on their websites.
For a photographer who is not contracted to a specific team, crashed and damage photos of the leading cars are often the most valuable.
Magazines can get the standard PR photo, which shows all the sponsors, free of charge from the websites, but would often have to pay a premium for use of accident images.
Another problem is, once a photograph has appeared on the internet, the photographer has lost control of the image.
There are far less photographers on the WRC now than were active in the 1980s, and now very few of them are able to make a living solely from rallying, unless they are working for a manufacturer or a major sponsor.
On a more personal note, in the 1990s I used to have a back problem because of the weight of the equipment that I needed to carry. Within six months of changing to digital and the subsequent weight reduction of my camera bag, the problems ceased and I have had no problems since.
The WRC scene appears from the outside to be a tight knit family – both with the competitors and the working media – is that the way it was from the inside?
There are only about 30 photographers that cover the complete championship each year. As a rule, we all get on very well, we are all competitive and try to get to the best locations, but there is very little bad feeling between us all.
We all have the same problems to overcome and even though the job is extremely enjoyable, there are still risks.
Rally photography is often regarded as being a high risk, dangerous occupation, but I have found that for me the most dangerous part is driving on public roads in some parts of the world.
The worst of these were Indonesia, China, Kenya and the Ivory Coast in West Africa, where the standard of local drivers is appalling.
I have been lucky, and over more than 40 years I have only had three accidents, two were minor, but one was quite serious. Luckily, on that one I had several witnesses who explained to the French police that I was blameless.
While I was waiting with the wrecked car, a number of other photographers stopped and asked if I wanted to join them for the rest of the day, and because I missed a few stages, I was even offered some of their images if I needed them to complete my contract work.
I think that this attitude says a lot about my colleagues.
I can remember a couple of occasions when photographers had all their kit stolen before the start of a rally, but enough of the others would offer the loan of a spare body or lenses to enable them to do their job.
I think that I have always had a good working relationship with all the other WRC photographers.
Of course, there is professional rivalry, but I have never experienced any deliberate sabotage. I believe that this is because we all must face the same challenges when we are working, whether it is adverse weather conditions, car problems, or having to deal with police and marshals who do not allow us to do our jobs.
You’ve provided a few of your favourite photos for use with this article. But what was your favourite rally?
People often ask me that. I usually say that it was the Safari Rally in Kenya, and certainly it was the one that I always looked forward to each year. It was unique and was always an adventure, and a little dangerous.
I must admit that I enjoyed it more before it changed to the short cloverleaf and office hours format event that it became in the final few years in the WRC.
I always tried to make time to visit some of the National Parks (in Africa) to see the amazing wildlife.
The light and the variety of scenery made it a delight for photographers. The weather, especially rain, was always a factor, as flash floods could quickly turn a main road into a river or a mud bath.
There were very few rallies that I disliked. Probably my least favourite was the Ivory Coast Rally, as it was always a challenge to find good photo locations. The country is very flat and featureless, so photographers were continually looking for mud holes or villages that the competitors would pass through.
Good restaurants were hard to find once we drove away from the capital, Abidjan. I once went to the restaurant in a large hotel and apart from pizza, I did not recognise anything on the menu.
I asked the waiter what one dish was, and after thinking for a few seconds, he said: “Big mickey mouse” (rat). I decided to have the pizza!
Other firm favourites for me were New Zealand, Australia, Greece, Argentina and Sweden, the latter because it was the only guaranteed snow rally in the championship and always very spectacular.
This year I will be going to Rally Deutschland in August. This will be my 450th WRC rally and it will be the final rally of my career. I feel very fortunate to have visited so many beautiful parts of the world that I would never have had the opportunity to if it was not for this sport.
You were involved in all the great eras of the sport, from Group 4, through Group B, Group A and the modern World Rally Car era. What are your memories of each era?
When I started photographing rallies the cars that all the spectators and photographers wanted to see were the works Group 4 cars such as the Ford Escort, Fiat 131, Opel Ascona and, of course, the futuristic looking Lancia Stratos.
I still consider the Stratos to be one of the most spectacular looking rally cars ever produced.
The 1980s saw the birth of the Group B supercars like the Lancia 037 and Delta S4, Ford RS200, Peugeot 205 T16 and the Audi Quattro.
Gradually these cars evolved even further and became faster and more exciting to watch. This was why the number of spectators on the events increased dramatically, which made photography more difficult and often more dangerous.
On rallies such as Portugal, Corsica and San Remo, the enthusiastic spectators would often stand on the very edge of the stages. To get clear, uncluttered shots of the cars meant that I would be forced to stand just in front of the spectators, pushing me further into the road.
In some ways, I was relieved when the FIA banned the Group B cars following a number of fatal accidents.
The following year’s Group A cars were initially much slower than the Group B supercars and events started to have better crowd control.
The current WRC cars are now even faster and certainly more reliable than the old Group B cars, and I think that the last couple of years have seen the most exciting championships, with all four of the major teams capable of winning rallies.
It is looking like this year’s championship will be the same.
What’s happened to all the photos you took of rally cars over the years (and presumably there were millions of them!)?
I am preparing photographs for an exhibition of my work at a gallery in Brecon, Mid Wales. It will run from the start of July until the end of August this year.
I thought that getting the photographs from the start of my career was going to be a big problem because they are all held at the huge archive that LAT holds. Luckily, the office manager while I was at LAT is still employed as a researcher there, so she was able to arrange with the archive manager for me to visit their offices and select the images I required.
It was especially important for me to access images from Morocco 1973, which was my first WRC rally. I also needed some pics of the Group B cars of the mid-eighties. I selected the ones that I wanted to use and they scanned them and sent me the digital files.
I was able to call in at Martin’s (Holmes) and scan the original negatives and transparencies of my shots from 1987 to 2003. From 2003 to now I have my own archive of images that I took when I started to use digital cameras.
The exhibition will be a record of my 45 years as a rally photographer. Some of the pictures that I have sent you will feature in the exhibition.
See Maurice’s Top 10 rally photos: