1/1000 is not only the optimal shutter speed used in sports & action photography but also the name of our interview series with sports photographers, who play a big part in the roller derby community. For the next edition of this series, we spoke with Vinciane aka NSP189 (an acronym for Non-Skating Photographer as she is quite certain that she will never strap a set of wheels to her feet and because it makes sense with NSO’s acronym. The number is her date of birth), a set photographer for things like movies and TV-series who lives in Brussels, Belgium.
Vinciane got into roller derby photography during a time when her day job was less busy. What intrigued her was the big gap between the two types of capturing images: one allowing for many takes and time to capture the perfect picture (movie sets), the other…not so much.
You are a pretty busy roller derby photographer. In 2018 you covered 2 World Cups, 13 tournaments, 171 games. Seems like you really love this game. What is your favourite thing about shooting roller derby?
Wow, you counted them? (N.B. we did…) I am impressed by myself now. I must confess I like big events with A LOT of games to shoot. I began shooting roller derby in Dec. 2012 in Brussels. Belgium counts about 10 leagues. I quickly crossed the borders to shoot French or Dutch teams who I previously shot at Belgian events. I became the official photographer for Team Belgium at the second Women’s World Cup in Dallas in 2014. I was running from track to track to shoot a maximum of countries. About a year or two later, Malmö Roller Derby organised “The European Smackdown”. I applied. And they accepted me. I got a slap in the face when I saw and shot derby at that level for the first time. Crime City, Stockholm, London, Helsinki, Glasgow and Detroit! This was an amazing level of roller derby for me, coming from Brussels, Belgium. From that moment, I knew roller derby travel is my thing. Going from place to place to shoot teams I don’t know. As kind of a shy introvert, it was a therapy/self-challenge and made it easy as I was lucky enough to meet really cool, nice, amazing and caring people. And as a bonus, I got to practise my English! I became a derby-holic, killing some piggy-banks to attend the Vancouver Playoffs in Sept. 2016 for instance (a self-gift for my birthday ;-). The second slap I received was in Calgary, the first jam of the first game of the Men’s World Cup, which I attended as the Men’s Team Belgium photographer. I had shot some roller derby played by men before but again not at that level. I literally didn’t see that first jam as it was so fast played! Wow ok, now I am ready for that too and since then I shot roller derby played by women, men, mixed even Junior as they are super inspiring. Roller derby, the sport I like to freeze.
My favourites are improbable moments. Like apex jumps of course but also star passes or falls. Yes, falls are part of the sport, you cannot deny it and I like to catch the “flying” moment, just before the athlete touches the floor. Also shooting the struggle in the pack to show people things they might not have seen because the viewers are seated far from the track. I like to say we are privileged tourists. As all roller derby photographer newbies, I started out shooting the lonesome jammer skating their lap before entering the pack again but yes, the struggling pack is more interesting and challenging to shoot for me. Leap in time, we arrive in 2018, an apotheosis to mid-tone year. Apotheosis first. Co-heading the RDWC in Manchester with Marko Niemela was delightful. I will always thank Michelle Petti Phillips for believing that I can do it and push me to apply. I didn’t shoot as much as at Dallas and was a little stressed but I learned that I can also do logistics and keep everything rolling smoothly. I found the perfect complement in Marko. It seems that we did the job well… and are ready to do it again. Now the mid-tone part. Sadly my last piggy bank died in June leaving me with no financial possibility to travel the derby world or attend the 2018 playoffs in A Coruna nor the European Continental Cup in Birmingham. Roller derby is an expensive mistress when you are addicted. The 2019 season has now begun and I have to drastically limit my participation in events I loved to shoot. I am trying to not call it a farewell tour and stay positive by focusing on never-shot-before events. I am really lucky to be asked to head WHIP, the WFTDA tournament organised by Paris Roller Girls or get invited by Alp’n Rockets RollerDerby to shoot their yearly event, “Skate Im Ring” in June. Still, so much derby to shoot… and ways to document it.
You take so many pictures that you have started collecting some of them in series. Can you show us some of your favourite series and tell us more about what you love about them and how this project started?
I think the most suitable term is “collages” or “collections” as they came only after reviewing the images of a tournament or a time period like for the photobook. For me, “series” means that I go shooting roller derby to shoot pieces for it, like a shots list.
As said, I like big events with a lot of games. I am super focused on the track to not miss any action (of course when you follow one jammer in the pack you are missing the other one but I accept that). When you shoot plural games at an event, focused on actions, some “repetitions” happen. Like star passes and my first “collage” were the moments right after the pivot takes the star and the struggle to put it on their helmet. Yes, the struggle, sometimes the fight, is real and during that particular time, the “new” jammer has no choice than trusting their skates because they are focused on the cover or their view is blocked by the sneaky star. I liked that “out-of-time” moment… and the funny situations that sometimes happen as well.
Do all of the collages just happen? Do you realize after an event that you have enough images for a new collage or do you see a pattern rising or an interesting setting, which inspires you to hunt specifically for certain motifs?
I found it funny to gather those epic star pass moments for one collage and then I did it again at other big tournaments so yes maybe I hunt them a little… or stay ready in case of.
Another of my small challenges is to catch the jammer ref focused with the jammer blurry between the ref and me. It’s so fast that you only have one of ten images of this perfectly composed. Maybe I will make a collection of them in the next photo book. For those images, I feel more like a “hunter”.
As you’ve already mentioned some of these collages even made it into your first photo book. Can you tell us more about that book and maybe also what other books you have published and – most importantly – where one might be able to purchase them?
The title and subject of my photo book was “100 games, 100 pictures”. One picture for each full game I shot. When I reviewed my albums for the final selection, other collections popped up. Like coaches, jammers, derp faces, apex jumps, it was the occasion to create breaks in a book of full-page pictures. One of my favourites is the jammer heads profiles and playing with the colours to create a rainbow. I am a nostalgic paper lady. Now everything is digital/virtual, you post pictures on the web and you forget about them. They disappear. I liked the idea of a photo book you can keep on your coffee table, looking at it from time to time, like the Ikea catalogue. 😉 The “100games, 100 pictures” project was created to cover my travel costs to Calgary for the Men’s World Cup. My real-life job doesn’t allow me to save money for roller derby or anything else so I had to find a solution to generate some “derby dollars”.
That’s also how the “2019 Derby Planner” project was born, which is entirely dedicated to the officials. I had noticed that they were featured less often than the opposing teams but you know, they are the third team on the track, and the biggest team. For me, it was the occasion to give them a face by selecting 53 close-up portraits to illustrate each week of the year. And I want to take this opportunity to thank them again for all the support and kindness they have always shown me. I like to shoot teams I don’t know but when I arrive at a venue it is reassuring/comforting to cross the path of an already known smiling official. The first “Derby Planner” volume covered games from Dec. 2012 to June 2015, except for Dallas World Cup and is quite sold out (I still have about 20 copies I like to offer to my hosts for instance). The second volume (still in progress) will cover July 2015 to July 2016. As you can see the roller derby addiction has been a thing for a while now.
As I have been shooting 100+ games a year, I already have the number of images needed for 5 “Derby Planner” volumes… oopsie. It might be printed to cover my costs to attend the 2019 WFTDA “trilogy” Playoffs/ECC/Champs or the 2020 Men’s World Cup in St Louis, Missouri. But also help other roller derby people as I did with the first planner. Its success allowed me to help 6 officials attending the 2018 WFTDA Champs in New Orleans and an LGBT+ association already supported by one of those officials. If I can generate roller derby money, for me it is natural to help roller derby people.
What do you want the roller derby world to understand about roller derby photographers?
As Marko and Jurgen already said, we are more than the button pusher you see around the track. We are humans too and the most important word like for any other human is respect. Respect who we are, the dedication we have for your sport. A smile, a blink, a thank you, being considered as part of the event is one thing. But also respect our work by not using our pictures without crediting, do not crop them savagely, do not hesitate to ask for high-res, I prefer to provide a high-res for a poster or even a profile pic than seeing my picture compressed and squeezed by social media algorithms. As much as you are training to play your best roller derby, we spend hours treating our pictures to provide the best memories of the sport we both love.