Italian site interviews world’s fastest masters photographer

I wish it were me. But no. The world’s fastest masters shooter? That would be Tom Phillips of Britain, a Lahti gold medalist (in the 4×1) and M55 sprint finalist who recently gave a nice interview to the Italian track site Web-atletica. I sympathize with Tom when he says he’s torn between taking pictures and taking warmups starts. He also says: “I have worked out some good “warm down” routines that allow me to recover and take photos.” I have to learn those!

Tom (left) battled Canada's Kerry Smith in the 200 semis at Lahti worlds.

Here’s an English version of the Italian interview by Andrea Benatti:

So, Tom, how did you come to be a track photographer?

After about 15 years away from the track because of a serious injury, I started racing again when I was 46 years old. I was only competing in local leagues and club championships then. I was spending much time in the Italian Dolomites, as a landscape photographer, and the equipment I was using (medium and large format cameras) was useless for the track. Then digital came along! I was becoming more competitive on the track at regional and national level by about 2005. I was also spending more of my free time running, and much less in the mountains, so I sold some of my film cameras and “went digital”. I took a digital SLR camera and a couple of lenses to the WMA Indoors in Linz in March 2006, where I worked unofficially, from the stands. I was pleased with the results. So were the athletes. In July 2006 I was an official photographer at the EVAA in Poznan, and it has gone from there.

You are also a good athlete and have done well in big championships. How can you run and work as a photographer?

It is hard. Sometimes very hard. Even when you are not racing, it is impossible to be everywhere and photograph everything. My racing is my top priority. Most of the time I know when I need to pack the camera away, and get ready to race. It takes discipline. I hate to disappoint friends who hope I will be getting shots of them. After the race, I often pick up the camera gain very soon. I have worked out some good “warm down” routines that allow me to recover and take photos. Even so, it is not easy. I ran well in Lahti in the 100m, but I knew I could not do the 200m semi final and final and also take photographs that day. But it was very difficult to leave all my cameras in the hotel, and spend a whole day just being “the athlete”. I am glad that I did, because I am proud of my 4th place. I believe you call it “medaglio di legno”in Italy, but I only missed a place on the podium by 0.02 sec!

Are there events you like to photograph better than others?

Definitely! Being a sprinter, it is great to try to capture sprinters at full speed, but you only get one chance each race. With 400m there are maybe two chances, and many more with races from 800m. Photographing long distance track events can be boring, and it is easy to take many very similar photographs. I believe that it is very important to understand what you are photographing. That helps the photographer to anticipate the action. I have had to learn how most field events work, so that I can photograph them well. I am still learning. Hammer and pole vault are the hardest – hammer because of the obvious danger, and pole vault because it is so complicated.

Do you have a favourite photographer whose work has inspired you?

On the track, no. There are very few photographers specialising in Masters (which is great for me), and although I look at many sports photos every week, I have not yet found a real favourite. Away from the track, when I am taking photographs in the mountains, the English climber/photographer John Beatty has been a big influence on me.

What is your favourite memory as a track photographer?

Darren Scott racing against the best Italian Master sprinters in Riccione and at Clermont Ferrand! I also enjoyed the comment from an athlete who bought several of my photographs after WMA in Lahti. She said to me “I learn so much about my running from your photos!” That was good to hear.

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February 1, 2010

4 Responses

  1. Doug Smith - February 1, 2010

    I think Masters Track photography is unique among other sports in that we shoot and compete as well. Tom, Ken, Leslie, and myself are always balancing warming up and shooting the events before our race. Being in the non-medal winning category, it’s a little easier for me. 🙂
    The fact that Tom is one of the best sprinters in the world and produces such fine work is truly outstanding!

  2. pino pilotto - February 1, 2010

    Congratulations Tom!
    The fastest masters-photographer and alpinist –hmm-wait – and the name of the fastest interviewer: Benatti or Bonatti?

  3. Tom Phillips - February 1, 2010

    Pino, That will be lost on most people! I met the great man once. Bonatti, that is. I see his near name-sake, Benatti at most big meets. Yes, I think he (Benatti) would qualify as the fastest webmaster in the world!

    Doug, you’re too kind, you ol’ smoothie. I won’t be under your feet in Kamloops, I regret to say.

    Just a point from the interview that didn’t translate. The Italians have what I regard as a great expression for fourth place – Medaglio di Legno, or “the wooden medal”. I like that.


  4. Carmel Papworth-Barnum - February 1, 2010

    Tom is a gentleman and a generous friend. Providing me with his beautiful photos making my interviews come alive. As masters we are fortunate to have photographers like Tom, Ken and Doug capturing the wonderful moments of track and field. Thanks guys!

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