Ray Archer doesn’t need much introduction. If you are involved in the industry, you know him, use him or have at some point used some of his pin sharp images from the Grand Prix or British Championships. A well-respected photographer, Ray has worked for pretty much every motocross related magazine or paper publication over the years in the UK, and a whole lot more abroad. If you don’t know his name, you’ll recognise him at the races as ‘that dude with the massive lenses’. I talked to Ray after the rare British Championship round up North at Whitby.
MOTO: Hi Ray, what was it like to have a local meeting up North for once, OK, nearly local?
RAY: It was good, mind you, it was still 80 miles South of Newcastle and one and a half hours drive. There are a lot of nice tracks in the North East and even more in Scotland but I think that because the majority of championships or big races are based in the South, people just don’t want to travel north.
Has a jaunt down the motorway, a flight or ferry crossing been a natural part of going to the races for you?
It’s part of the job, I probably fly forty times a year and drive the rest. I’ll do around 37 overseas races a year and that’s not to mention the mid week work where I might fly to Amsterdam or Belgium for the day. Whenever I get pissed off with driving back I always think of Willy Simpson, sometimes I’d follow him up the M6 and we would get to Carlisle and I’d cut across to Newcastle and he’s still got another three hours to go to get to Dundee, every week, I never hear Sean Simpson moan about it, it’s all those guys like Flockhart and Scott Gardner that I really admire and you’ve got to take your hat off to them.
You prefer to fly then?
It’s so easy, it’s actually a chore to go to somewhere like the Isle of Wight (IOW) I can understand why some people don’t want to go there. To me it’s a first class track but to have to get a ferry to a race is bit of a hassle. For me, to get a flight to Amsterdam, Los Angeles or even Japan isn’t a problem and I accept that is where I make money but the British championships, sometimes I think I could really do with out it, and if I’m thinking that and that’s part of my job, what chance have we got of getting the public there. It turns out being expensive especially for the foreigner that has to pay to get the ferry from Calais to Dover then a ferry over to the IOW and the same back again, and as for me it took the best part of eight and a half hours to drive there.
Who have been your favourite riders to photograph past and present?
Take Stefan Everts, it’s difficult to get good pictures of the guy, he is the fastest and most reliable racer in the world but on a bike he sometimes looks wooden, give me Pit Beirer or Tallon Voland any day, someone who’s elbows are down by the handlebars, then at least the picture looks like it’s got a bit of action going on there. Stefan is a bit of clockwork precision engineering but sometimes you just don’t need that to get the shot.
What is your quickest turn around of having a photograph go to print?
One of the most impressive turnaround times was when I shot a supercross in America before everything was digital, I had the films processed on a Sunday morning in California, I flew back to England in the afternoon and the magazine was going to print on the Monday. I flew back over to America the next Thursday with freshly printed magazines from the previous week’s supercross – then you have got the Americans who are saying they need to see your magazines to give you credentials, I handed them the mags and they chucked them on the floor to one side, it was the same with the guy from Moto Vert in France, we did this a few times and in the end you go, hang on a minute and get pissed off about it, I’d say what’s wrong with the magazine? They would be like “nothing it’s fine” I was like, I’ll tell you what’s wrong, you’re embarrassed, we’ve taken the photograph, had it processed, flown half way around the world, had the magazine laid out, printed it and sent to us, flown back the other half of the world in five days and your magazines won’t be out for another six weeks, so don’t tell me I’m not working hard enough to promote your sport. People think that America is the biggest and the best but it’s not, when we can come back here and turn magazines around like that, I still think that’s amazing, I don’t think they realise how big it is over here, if the guys that were handing the credentials out came over to the MX Des Nations or any GP and saw 100 laptops working there in the press room, they would wonder why. If you go to a press room at a supercross it’s like a cafeteria, you cant send photos out from a supercross that night, you have to go back to your hotel room, you cant go to a press room at an outdoor national because there isn’t one. My point is they are not catering for the press over there like they do for the Gps.
Do you know what a day off is?
I virtually used to work seven days a week up until five years ago when my wife got pregnant, I knew my daughter was going to be born in October, so I made a plan to have October and November off and as it happens by the time you get to October you’re pretty much burnt out. The past five years I have done very little during October and November, you need time off to look back and get things organised for next year and see where you might of gone wrong, you can’t do that mid season, and with all the best intentions come January you just find yourself drifting from one weekend to the next, every year seems to go very quickly, people say the older you get the quicker the years go and that’s absolutely true. Now the only way I can take time off is to turn my mobile phone off, then people say we cant get hold of you in the office, we cant get hold of you at home or on your mobile, what way is that to run a business. I say, well that’s the way I run mine and if you cant get hold of me in those places then I don’t want to speak to you. That’s the only way I can get away from it, there’s more to life than just motocross you know, I have a family life and they grow up very quickly and that’s my top priority to spend as much time with them during the week. I work a reversed week, my time off isn’t at the weekends, going out with the lads for a drink on a Friday night… well that happened a long time ago, it just doesn’t happen now.
Has the digital world made life easier for you?
It makes a longer day, you have to do stuff straight away for the Japanese but it means that when you get back on a Monday your work should be done. For three days over the weekend you work all day and night to get the work done. Before the digital stuff came about you would get to the lab first thing on a Monday, then have your films processed, make your selection before lunch and the courier would be knocking at the door at 3 to 4 o’clock to take them away. Before Monday used to be a stressful day. It’s harder work but shorter, I’d rather work harder days than longer.
Were you apprehensive about switching to digital?
I was apprehensive because it was a lot of money to fork out but I had a Winfield tobacco contract, I was forced to work digital because that’s what they wanted. It was £15,000 just for the camera body alone, it was a Canon Kodak body, I had a pain in my chest for like two weeks that at the time was a price of a good second hand Mercedes car. For all I knew the thing could be obsolete in six months but within two months it had paid for itself. I then bought a couple of Canon 1Ds then I got the 1D mark 2. I have two of everything, I can’t afford for something to go wrong, I’m only as good as my last photo and if I let someone down then they might not use me again.
What do think about having 2-3 GPs in the UK a year?
I’ve been out to dinner with Guiseppe Luongo and he has asked me why places like Foxhills GP were so popular, I told him it was because the English were starved of Motocross. When it was at Foxhills there was one race a year and the public came, it had bit of a reputation but come rain or shine you would get at least 20,000 paying spectators but as soon as you start diluting it with two races then people aren’t going to come, it’s the same in Belgium, There was a international race held on the Wednesday night before this years Belgium GP, it was only just over an hours drive away and most of the GP boys rode that Wednesday evening. Spectators paid like 10 Euros to get in, why are they going to go and pay 45 Euros to watch the same riders three days later. It’s like that every week over there, they have something like three GPs and 25 internationals, it’s a joke, we don’t need to dilute it, the best way to get the good crowds is to have one GP per country.