Tuesday 5 February 2013

F1 Revisited - a new season of Darren Heath

A year older, a year not that much wiser, but the last twelve months have certainly blurred past. Whether it was 100mph with the landscape as coloured lines, a brief moment of dark introspection or an intense effort to stay focused, time has rumbled on; after all, another year, another Grand Prix season. Once again Darren Heath's images of Formula One give the office gallery a sense of excitement and drama. With a more leisurely interest I went down to see what differences could be found, given the exact same topic and medium which was exhibited a year ago.

My immediate feeling was the sense of humanity in these pictures; the human touch is more evident. There are more portrait shots and the crowds seems revolve around the individual. The black and white 'Fernando Alonso European 2012' was shot with his back to the viewer, giving a view of the ecstatic fans. However all focus is on the two children who are privileged to be on the same side of the barrier as Alonso. One child looks at his hero in smiling awe and the other looks on less than impressed but the stillness and separateness of these two turn the image into portraits of them in a special moment, rather than the F1 star and the scrum of adults.

For me, where Darren Heath shines is with the unusual view point, for instance, the birds eye view of 'Lewis Hamilton Mclaren MP4-22 Malaysia 2007' is striking. It seems that the car is on an operating table, the camera positioned where the theatre lights would be illuminating the car body. It is being medically assisted with tubing whilst the rapidly moving doctors administer vital fluids and other life saving procedures. A later pit stop shot is an intense black and white image of nine identical humanoids poised to do their essential job. You can only hold your breath in empathy of their suspension.

His black and white photographs remain poetically simple and within the exhibition contrast beautifully with the frenetic colour of the crowds, adverts, and landscapes. In these colour-free shots there are no identifying features, just machine/speed/road/light. They strip the sport back to the essentials. Where a single colour is introduced it then becomes the main feature. The 'Jaguar R3 Test Valencia 2002' is astonishing with the orange cloud of sun dust. The silhouetted car appears from the coloured hell's mouth. The almost unnatural gradations of orange also provides the backdrop in 'Mercedes F1 W03 Abu Dhabi 2012'. This has an absolute graphic design/cartoon feel to it; the iconic F1 car shape in its unnatural habitat.

© Darren Heath Photographer 2012
My favourite in this show is one of the more abstract images which uses the car wing mirror for the sparkling reflection of Alonso's iridescent crash helmet. The feminine curves of the car, the black textured rectangle of tyre are mere details against the soft pink, purple almost salmon-scales colours of the background. However a piece that made me laugh out loud was 'Jenson Button Brawn BGP 001 European 2009'. I appreciate his development of the sports photo and this one is far more striking than the familiar speeding car / whooshed background type. Here the car doesn't look to be moving, however the heat shimmers off the tarmac and turns lights into vibrant cherry, lime, mint jellies, quivering and dancing as the white car approaches. I'm not sure how jelly and F1 connect but the image is spectacular.

I mentioned in my previous piece that his portraits offer a psychological insight into major F1 characters; a pensive Schumacher, a prayer like Raikkonen amongst the mobbing hands of the press, and the peering enigmatic head of Bernie Ecclestone. However this exhibition includes the iconic image of Ayrton Senna, vibrant with thought and with passion in his beautifully molded lips. A reminder that this sport has a dangerously dark side and all can be extinguished with any failure. 

Once again Darren Heath shows how exceptionally versatile and interesting a photographer he is in the field of F1. The passion, creativity  and bravery  in both his work and that of the subjects of his images shine through and I look forward to seeing more of his work next year!

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