Waiting by Richard Kelley – Review
By Liam Bird
I have a photo of Niki Lauda stored on my phone. I saw it one day when browsing for something or other, liked it – pictures of racing drivers have always appealed to me for some reason – and saved it. I have a tendency to do such things; quite what I was intending to do with that particular picture, or the pictures of other things I no doubt saved the same day, I’m really not sure. Nevertheless, that particular portrait has been in my camera reel for a little while now. I’ve no plans to delete it.
Little did I know at the time that it was Richard Kelley who took “my” photo of the Austrian, three-time Formula-1 World Champion. It appears in the opening pages of his book, Waiting. Eyes framed by his fireproof balaclava, if ever there was a picture that captured just how determined Niki Lauda could be… It’s superb.
At the age of 19, and into his first year as journalism student at Indiana University, Richard Kelley read Rob Walker’s account of the 1971 British Grand Prix in Road and Track Magazine. He decided on the spot that, as he puts it, “I had to be a part of that life”.
Kelly transitioned to photojournalism, found a way to cover the Indianapolis 500, and in lieu of any payment received a letter of recommendation to photograph the 1972 United States Grand Prix. After a 12-hour drive, pitching his ragtag tent in the pitch black darkness of the Watkin’s Glen circuit infield, and collecting his photography pass at first light, Richard Kelley, crossed the paddock “and walked into photographic heaven”.
From that day forward up until 1984, by which time photographic access to the Formula 1 paddocks and pitlanes had all-but evaporated, Richard Kelley captured the stories of the lives of the Grand Prix band of brothers who travelled, partied, and all-too often cried together.
The beautifully evocative black and white pictures brought together in Waiting tell the story of a dozen years of not only the relentless pursuit of new technology and the addiction of winning, but also the emotional roller coaster that is professional motor racing.
“The glory and the pain”
The beaming smiles of Gilles Villeneuve (above) captured on pages 194 and 195 fade instantly as one turns the page only to find his face in near despair as Ferrari chief mechanic Antonio Tomaini attempts to explain why the Canadian driver’s 312T3 just isn’t quite performing the way it should. Kelley shot McLaren teammates Niki Lauda and John Watson giggling like naughty schoolboys up to no good, and a jubilant James Hunt complete with lager can and cigarette in one hand and a Penthouse Pet in the other. Andrea de Cesaris is snapped stretching out nervous energy – he appears almost too petrified to even sit in his Alfa Romeo never mind drive it, and on pages 172 and 173, there’s a young Alain Prost, pulling a face that perfectly conveys just how disgruntled only a Frenchman desperate to prove himself amongst his peers can look. Sacré Bleu!
But it is perhaps the haunting images of Francois Cevert that most define the title Waiting. Richard Kelley’s way was to be, as he puts it, “a fly on the wall”, and not to disturb those around him in any way. His camera shutter catches the handsome French Tyrrell protégé staring somewhere into the distance, as he sits waiting in his car. Just minutes later Cevert, the man tipped to take over from Jackie Stewart and win multiple world championships would perish during qualifying at Watkin’s Glen.
Waiting brings together a collection of images of an era of racing the likes of which we’ll never – perhaps thankfully – ever see again. The ecstasy, the agony, the glory and the pain, are given equal measure, and as a result Waiting is all the better for it. If you want an original Richard Kelly print you’ll need deep pockets – and, maybe, rightly-so: his images are stunning – but if you purchase Waiting you might be tempted, like me, to carefully cut out the pages, and frame them all.
‘Waiting’ by Richard Kelly is published by Pitch, £30 hardback