Delly Carr: a life devoted to capturing the emotion in triathlon

¨My favourite images in triathlon are the pictures that show the humanity within triathlon. The joy in overcoming the challenge and finishing, the agony of defeat, the push against pain and fatigue¨ 

By Alberto Trillo | Photos: Delly Carr


Every time elite triathletes dive from the pontoon, there is always someone clicking away. At many triathlon circuits around the world that man is Delly Carr - Australia’s top sports photographer and a usual suspect on the triathlon scene.

Almost 30 years ago, he left the corporate world to pursue his lifelong dream to be a full-time sports photographer. From Olympic Games –Rio 2016 will be his seventh Olympics– to Football World Cups, he has photographed virtually every major sports event around the world.

He talks to Pontoon about his 28-year contribution to photography, and in particular his experience capturing action and emotion at their most intense, in the triathlon races.

Who is Delly Carr?

Good question.... I am very shy, so talking about myself is harder than I thought. Let’s talk the Delly of today. I am a man who loves the Arts. Music, Film, Drama, Theatre, but most of all Photography. I think about Photography most hours of my day. I watch and obsess about light and shadows and how they play with each other.

I love Sport as well. All sports. But my world revolves around the sport of Triathlon. It is now a part of my life. And I am lucky that it is so.

I am 53. Been shooting Triathlon since 1988. Born and raised in Australia. I have a family and am Father to two teenage children, a cheeky dog named Snickers and a spoilt cat named Peaches. As a hobby, I collect vintage pinball machines, and photograph Popculture and all its gaiety in my spare.

You have stated your world is about ¨moments, quick fleeting moments that are otherwise missed but brought to existence by the physical photograph”. Is photography your way to relate to the world? What does it mean to you?      

Yes, it is. As I said I watch light all day. I watch movement. I see depth in the shadows. The Appeal of Light, the Charm of the Shadows. I don’t always have a camera in my hand, but I capture each fleeting moment in my mind and memory. And I save that vision for when I need it during photography.

How do you feel when you know you only have one chance to capture a moment?

As a young photographer, it scared me. The first time I went to an Olympics, it terrified me. I couldn't relax or sleep. I was teary at times.

I have just been accredited for Rio 2016. That makes it Olympics #7. So now I go and look forward to the challenge. I love the planning I need to do to get the image, I love planning for the fact that something may change or something may go wrong. With such planning comes a calm and good Delly zen, which I hope translates to a memorable image. Even before every finish line, as the winner run down the chute, my mind is interpreting all before me, all which is happening in milliseconds.

I think and see in images

My world is about moments, the moments are many, the moments are quick, and the moments all exist with different biologies to each other. The biology is determined by the vision and portrayal that I judge as being part of its outer skin. I try to put a little of my own self into the grand vision and the physical makeup of the captured moment. I now think and see in images.

Where do you seek your inspiration for the pictures from?

Once upon a time I would say I got all my inspiration from other photographers, but in the past few years this has changed. I draw my thoughts, energy, and creativity from all of the arts. Theatre, movies, song, dance, painting, sculpture, and even simple things like a beautiful arrangement of flowers. I am touched by anything creative, I get such enjoyment from seeing other people’s work and the creative thought that they have given to get to that point. Of course, I do get inspiration from photography, but now from all fields of photography and not just sport.

You are best known worldwide for your work in the sport of triathlon. What does triathlon have that makes it so special for you?

Triathlon has become a major part of my life. It´s been 28 years. I have friends and colleagues from all around the world. Very good friends. I have travelled the world. I have met Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses. I have been the Best Man at Triathlete’s weddings, I am Godfather to their children.

I have photographed Triathletes who were just out of junior school right through to when they win the Gold Medal at an Olympic Games. It is moments like that that makes me teary, it’s like photographing my own children crossing that line

So shooting Triathlon is personal to me. I am photographing a part of my own world. I have photographed Triathletes who were just out of junior school right through to when they win the Gold Medal at an Olympic Games. It is moments like that that makes me teary, it’s like photographing my own children crossing that line.

How does this close relationship affect your work?

I have two families…. my own and Triathlon. So shooting Triathlon is personal, I share their triumph and feel their pain in defeat. I guess I can get a little closer to the athlete through my images. They trust me, and because of that they can let me into their world … whether it be good times or bad.

 What do you admire in them?

I was never great at sport. But I always wished that if I had another life that I could have been a pro athlete in any sport. It’s never too late I guess!

But the athletes I watch and photograph, I marvel at their physicality. I marvel at their mental toughnes. I also admire them for being human, their personality, and their honesty

But the athletes I watch and photograph, I marvel at their physicality. I marvel at their mental toughness. I also admire them for being human, their personality, and their honesty. Athletes are so young, so their strengths will come with maturity, experience, and age. Special athletes gets it right at an age they should be being silly as teenagers.

What are the best elements that triathlon offers a photographer?

All of it. Three sports in one. Different parts of the world. Professional athletes giving everything they have physically and mentally. Add some Blood Sweat and Tears to that mixture, and I have the perfect Photographic mix. How lucky am!?

How do you plan that ¨luck¨ before the races?

I always do it, you must know the game. Understand the way the sport flows, what the athletes are likely to do and how they may react, and even know the basic rules. The greater the affinity you have with a sport, the more likely your mind will flow with the game, which then moves into a physical translation by pressing the shutter at the exact time.

99% of the time, being in ‘the right place at the right time’ has happened because you had some knowledge of the sport and anticipated it

Knowing sport allows me the comfort of being part of the play, allowing me to react quickly to the peak action, allowing me to anticipate a key movement before it happens, and giving my ‘photographic eye’ time to relax and see new opportunities. 99% of the time, being in ‘the right place at the right time’ has happened because you had some knowledge of the sport and anticipated it. That makes a great sports photographer stand out from the rest.

That and travelling non-stop. With such a schedule, are you ever home?

My travel schedule is long and varied. My Flyer miles are too numerous to mention. I have eaten my fair share of horrible airline meals, and all films I have seen in the past 10 years have been on the small screen on a plane. How I long to see a movie at the cinema! How I long to see a movie at the cinema!

Travel is a laborious task, it isn’t as glamorous as one imagines when flying from point A to point B. But when you land, and your bags are in the hotel, and you are in one of the world’s most exotic location and about to photograph the world’s best athletes, then that my friend becomes the best job in the world.

As a fan, what do you expect from the WTS 2015?

Each year I photograph the WTS, and each year I say that that is the best racing I have ever seen. So I expect the same from 2015. They seem to bring it up to another level. I cannot wait to see Javier, Mola, Brownlees, Jorgensen, Stimpson take racing to a level where all I can do is gasp in amazement. I have seen all the greats, at all distances, yet these modern day speed machines have gone to a level of pain and speed that was once thought unachievable. I have seen all the greats, at all distances, yet these modern day speed machines have gone to a level of pain and speed that was once thought unachievable.

Apart from the ITU series, you are also a reference in long-distance races photography. You consider the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kailua-Kona as a “photographic day of blood, sweat and tears”. What makes it so special for a photographer?

Apart from the ITU series, you are also a reference in long-distance races photography. You consider the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kailua-Kona as a “photographic day of blood, sweat and tears”. What makes it so special for a photographer?

I cannot wait to see Javier, Mola, Brownlees, Jorgensen, Stimpson take racing to a level where all I can do is gasp in amazement

WTS, Ironman... What are the best triathlon circuits for a photographer?

Any new one. It means that I haven’t been there before, and my photographic eye has a new course to play with. It does get hard to find something new to photograph on the same course I have photographed for 15 years straight. That’s why I love the ITU World Series. Races drop off and others are added year after year.

And which are the best conditions to take a great picture that could become an iconic image?

My favourite images in triathlon are the pictures that show the humanity within Triathlon. The joy in overcoming the challenge and finishing, the agony of defeat, the push against pain and fatigue. It’s such an obvious element of my photography. That picture goes deeper than swimming cycling and running, we get into the spirituality and mentality of Triathlon, something that can only be captured by the still photograph.

Why are good images so important for quality journalism?

That picture goes deeper than swimming cycling and running, we get into the spirituality and mentality of Triathlon, something that can only be captured by the still photograph. It´s just such an overused cliché …. But a picture does says a thousand words.

Our biological penchant for imagery partly explains why the use of multimedia has become so ubiquitous online. However, just as words cannot really turn into pictures, pictures cannot replace words in terms of their ability to convey clear, (mostly) unambiguous information.

You also devote your time to mentoring a new generation of sports photographers. What is the most important lesson to teach them?

The photographic ‘eye’ cannot be taught or learnt. Must be within. From a young age. You have it or you do not. That makes a great photographer stand out from the norm.

You are either creative or not as well. I cannot teach that, I might be able to inspire them to be creative and bold, but that is done through them looking at my images and interpreting the process behind how I got there. So what do I teach those who I mentor …. I teach them about zen, calm thoughts, good business practices, manners, trust, professionalism, love, and being the best person you can be.

The best sports picture is one that comes from within

The pieces of work that I am most proud of are those that I have had some significant input into getting that shot. So my idea is that the best sports picture is one that comes from within. It could be some forethought, some vision, an effort beyond what is the norm, an emotion, or a part of the photographer's personality (whether that be funny, happy, sad, uplifting, depressing). When that photo comes off, then that photographer will stand out from the rest. That’s what I try to tell them.

You claim still having your first check for a photography work in 1988 framed in your office. How much does money matter?

Sadly in this world money does matter. As a creative you need to earn a living to put food on the table, to pay the bills, to pay staff, the office rent, etc. So I shoot for my clients reasons and not mine.

No income, and you cease to be a creative and you end up driving a cab. The reality is that photo credits and praise will not buy bread butter or keep my bank manager happy. But I am lucky most times. My clients want me to shoot each event for my reasons and not theirs. To make the event as pretty as possible. To make the sport sexy.. To make it look cool. When I get that type of brief, you can see my dancing at the start line.

What challenges remain ahead for you?

As year has passed in my 30-year career, my photography moves up a level in what I see and how I have recorded it. I started my career thinking my photography was good, in reality it sucked. Only now can I say that when I take a peek at my older images. I am so happy where I am at now, my soul is so nourished, but I feel that in a few years from now I will have taken a few more steps up the stairway to photoheaven. That’s the challenge that lies ahead, to be a better photographer to what I am now.

 

After this interview, Delly read our Top 5 most thrilling triathlon races article, both for men and women. He also wanted to contribute with which, according to him, are his best triathlon photographs.