Flandrien: Hard Men and Heroes

Cycling and photography have a long and not always entirely harmonious history, and it’s one I’ve remarked on several times, for example in my short piece on the 1896 Photographic Salon. Both came to be popular middle class recreations in the same decade, with the widespread adoption of the dry plate around 1880-81 and J. K. Starley’s iconic Rover Safety bicycle of 1885.

I’ve previously written briefly on the fine photography of Belgian photographer John Vink, both on his own website and Magnum, and whose work was features strongly on Magnum in Motion‘s essay on the Tour de France.

On Wednesday I went to see the work of another fine Belgian cycling photographer, Stephan Vanfleteren, at HOST gallery (Honduras Street) in London. Flanders and the north of France have what are almost certainly the toughest cycle races and the hardest cyclists in the world, with riders battling it out in rain, hail and headwinds on muddy paves and forest tracks. Races like Paris-Roubaix (L’enfer du Nord) and the Tour of Flanders which make even the Tour de France look an easier option.

His gritty black and white images are a perfect match for the landscape and the people, and he looks at the events as a whole, including the spectators as well as the riders. Many of the images on show are taken during local kermesses (village fairs) which include races going through the village. The show also includes extremely powerful portraits of most of the leading Flandriens (Flemish cyclists) of postwar years, including such legends as Eddie Mercx and three times Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Museeuw.

The show continues until 31 July, and there is a special late night opening on Thursday, 5 July, 6.30pm-9pm, one of a series of summer soirees including DJs and cocktails. You may get a better view of the show during normal opening hours (10am-6pm, Mon-Fri and 11am-4pm, Sat.)

Honduras St is off Old St (a few minutes walk from Old St station or the Barbican) and close to Magnum’s London print room, where the show ‘New Blood’ with work by associate members Antoine DÂ’Agata, Jonas Bendiksen, Trent Parke, Mark Power and Alec Soth must also be worth a visit (63 Gee Street EC1, 11.30am to 4.30pm Wed to Fri only – or by appointment.)

Peter Marshall 

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