August 20, 2012

Sharpshooter: Frozenspeed

Jochen Van Cauwenberge is a bit of an institution at the Nürburgring.  In the evenings, after track days. you can find him in a corner of the Pistenklause restaurant (the famed steak on stone place),  sitting in front of his laptop sorting through Frozenspeed's  shots for those looking for that souvenir of their epic day on the Nordschleife.

I don't know how many hours I have spent looking though Frozenspeed's public galleries daydreaming, it's probably an embarrassing figure.   These days' Jochen, being a businessman, is more strict with his shots but he is the go-to man if you want to make sure you have that classic shot of you cresting at Pflugplatz or popping out of the Karussell.

We talk with Jochen after the jump.

AXIS: When did you start shooting?

Jochen Van Cauwenberge: I started shooting in 2004. After a crash on the Nurburgring (caused by a brake failure at Aremberg) I found myself without a suited track car for the remainder of the season. I continued to visit the place almost every weekend for the social side and overseeing the repair but I decided I needed something more to fill the time and that is when I thought of taking up photography.
I did some research and bought a Minolta A2 camera which was not a DSLR but mimicked the functionality of a DSLR and things just took of from there.
My track driving friends liked the pictures, I improved every week and soon some of my journalist friends were tentatively starting to look in to my work.
As this was going on I was starting to think it would be a pity putting the camera to the side once the car was fixed and driveable again. Then I thought I would find a way to combine the driving and the shooting, in the end I never took up driving again as frantically as I had before. Although I do still enjoy the odd track session which usually involves a very generous friend lending me the keys to something that I can only dream of owning.
Looking back the A2 was a fantastic camera to learn and in the end some of those pictures even made it in to Evo magazine!
But it did have a lot of shutter delay and some other limitations so sometimes ninja timing skills were required to get that magic moment.
Although my gear has gotten a lot better since, unfortunately I still very much feel like I am working around the limitations and unreliability of my gear.
This does not prevent me from getting satisfaction out of my pictures but I often dream of the day where I have a camera that doesn't feel so limiting and unreliable.

AXIS: Your favorite track?

JVC: This is the easiest question, the Nurburgring Nordschleife. It's got character in abundance, is a great challenge to drive and it's layout and landscape setting allow for an unequalled amount of creative photography.
Having driven over 1000 laps myself and been a privileged passenger in a race car with several GT aces does give me an edge to knowing where to find that magic shot.

Although I do feel that the Nurburgring's setting gets bettered by the Isle of Man TT course, after having visited the event this summer and having gone round there a few times I don't consider that course a racetrack, rather a public road on which some incredibly exciting racing takes place.
And the extremely high speeds and general narrowness of the landscape also make the TT course less suited to photography, there's only so much you can do when a bike blasts past a few metres away at 150mph.
It's hard to understand how fast that course is but imagine this, the average speed for a Superbike on the TT course is 15% faster than the average speed of a GT car's pole position on the Nordschleife (130mph vs 110mph). Where as those cars are lapping 25% faster than World Superbikes when put on the same track (Nurburgring GP track 1'26" vs 1'55"). You get the picture.

My favourite modern track is Portimao, a challenging track that also allows for a lot of photographer creativity.
Portugal is also our second home and Portimao has the best Sushi restaurant I have yet discovered which strengthens it's nomination.

My favourite event?
I instinctively want to name the Nurburgring 24h race for it's unrivalled setting, atmosphere and hard racing.
But ultimately I feel I cannot ignore the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Nowhere in the world will you find such a concentration of legends from all era's, both cars and drivers.
And I can't think of a better place to work than in the top hill paddock where the drivers and cars wait and relax before driving down the Hill course again.
I have been invited to work at the upcoming Goodwood Revival and am very curious to find out if it will combine the best of both and take top spot!

AXIS: Your favorite car?

JVC: This is such a though one, I admire and am impressed by so many cars that naming one immediately brings up a list of other candidates with a rightful case of appeal.
To name a few: Mercedes Benz W196, Lancia 037, Ferrari P4, Roy Liechtenstein BMW 320i, McLaren F1, Bertone Carabo, Alfa 33 Stradale, ... still feels wrong to so many others.
I don't have a problem naming my favourite motorbike though, the Honda RC30.
I have a NC30 400cc version in my garage, to see a collection of the real thing I visit my friend in the nearby village.

AXIS: Your favorite tool?

JVC: This one is easy, my Kaufmann posographe. Worth googling.
As for my modern equipment, I am cursing the limitations too much and visiting the repair shop too often to feel really fond of it.
If I would have to name one thing it would be the Peleng 8mm fisheye lens, no autofocus and manual aperture, but solid Russian build, with a narrow field of application which happens to be perfectly suited for the job.

AXIS:  Your ideal photograph is?

JVC: Another short question, another though answer.
For me the ideal picture grasps the viewer instantly with a strong effect.
And then makes true to the initial awe after the first impression has subsided and one starts to look for more details.
The perfect picture should tell a story, it should show the viewer everything that made a great moment so great.
It should have a perfect composition, simple yet containing many things, with all elements contributing to the whole.
Only when all the elements are there will the viewer feel as if he or she was there when the picture was taken and living the great moment.
When this effect is achieved the flow reverses from the viewer back to the picture and he or she will then be able to enjoy more the picture and all of it's elements.

When taking around 150.000 pictures a year without motordrive there are a lot of rules and best practices one tends to learn and use to achieve the desired result.
Once you believe you have a firm grip on this and feel as if you are able to produce a strong picture anytime and anywhere, that is the time you should push yourself and start consciously breaking those rules again to create even stronger impressions.
Because my ideal photograph is one that proves that no matter how much photography benefits from a methodical and mathematical approach, it is ultimately an art and not bound by any rules.

Jochen Van Cauwenberge Can be contacted via on Twitter @frozenspeed
or Facebook.

Check out other Axis Sharpshooters


  1. Awesome! He's a very nice gentleman as well.

  2. My guess is the Revival will take his top spot. I can't wait to see his shots.


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