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"Hard Men and Heroes" Photo Exhibition in London
By Nick Bull
Date: 7/5/2007
"Hard Men and Heroes" Photo Exhibition in London

"Hard Men and Heroes" Photo Exhibition in London
Cycling Arts & Culture: a visit to the preview of the Host Gallery's exhibition of Stephan Vanfleteren's photos of the Flandrien Classics.

For once, I honestly believe that small – very small – is beautiful. Host Gallery’s hosting of Stephan Vanfleteren's ‘The Flandrien: Hard men and Heroes’ photo exhibition perfectly sums up everything beautiful about Cycling in Flanders as well as over the border on the road to Roubaix – and it is all encapsulated within one room no bigger than a bedroom or two.

In London for a six-week stay, Thursday night saw a special night for members of the cycling press. As well as the great photographs and video introduction, a small bar was set up in order to keep the enthusiastic crowd refreshed – the lack of Belgian beer was my only slight complaint!

Classic Jerseys hang in the window of Host Gallery in London Photo c. Nick Bull

Assembling from 6.30, the exhibition began with the aforementioned video; lasting several minutes, this segment perfectly captured how I would define Belgian racing – cobbles, hills and the Ghent indoor event. For all of the footage, the final five minutes hit me the hardest. Shot from a fan’s perspective, the guests got a unique but beautiful viewpoint of the Ghent six-day event. The polished camera angles from a TV feed were missing; instead we got to understand what it was like amongst the die-hards.

My particular favourite shots were those of the Madison event, with the fans trying to get as clearer view as their position inside the Velodrome would allow. As the pace of editing, action and background music slowed, emotive shots of Paramedics seeing to a cyclist were shown. Lying still was Isaac Galvez; the film ends with note to mourn his tragic passing in Belgium last November.

The track takes a backseat for the photographic element of the exhibition. Looking at the works from afar or close up, it is easy to see how hard Vanfletern has worked in order to capture the essence of the spring classics; the races to which two-wheeled pilgrims travel many miles just so they can say they have ‘been there’.

Unsurprisingly, the largest portraits are reserved to the most revered names through Belgium’s colourful history. Merckx, of course, is there, along with Maertens, van Steenbergen as well as recent pretenders such as Peter van Petegem and Johan Museeuw. The latter’s knee, so famously injured in the Arenberg Forest, is captured in all of its healed glory, though the pain and suffering of that crash rings true. Despite this impressive roll call, it was the career of Alberic Schotte – whose picture is the lead shot for the Gallery’s publicity – which summed everything about Flemish cyclists up. In his career, the ‘Briek’ won the World Championships, the Tour of Flanders, the Paris Brussels and Paris-Tours all twice; and ironically he passed away minutes after the 2004 Ronde van Vlaanderen began. ‘God must have been one of Briek's greatest fans’ was how commentators at the time remembered this legend of the one-day races.

The award for the most optimistic quote in any picture says ‘God is terug’ (God is back), referring to one of Franck Vandenbroucke’s many unsuccessful comebacks. I can only assume it was written by one his fans, and not some of the pictured elder ladies and gentlemen, whose support for our sport is also captured magnificently in a handful of shots too. (One image, of an aging man, complete with cap and jersey triggered images of my Grandad).

Finally, if I could give one reason why cycling fans must visit The Flandrien is a twelve picture – series covering the day in the life of the Kapelmuur, the penultimate climb during the Ronde van Vlaanderen, on race day. The first shot shows the steep, cobbled rise in all of its blissful, tranquil glory. Soon the crowds are seen emerging then dispersing following the riders passing through the climb.

This last exhibit, as well as all of the glorious black-and-white pictures, perfectly sum up the emotion and the beauty of life in Roubaix and Flanders during the spring season. I’ve sat in stadiums and arenas and wondered how these venues that are so expensive could be so bland and plastic. Those thoughts are all coming back tonight, especially as the Belgian and French terrain over which these hard men of the sport have made their name in the last sixty years is little more than disjointed cobbles, mud and hills.

HOST Gallery
1 Honduras Street
London EC1Y 0TH
Tel: 020 7253 2770

Admission: Free

Opening Times
Monday - Friday 10am - 6pm (Thursday 5th July until 9pm)
Saturday 11am - 4pm (Saturday 7th July 10am - 2pm)
Exhibition will be open until July 31st.
Nearest underground stations: Old Street, Barbican.
Buses: 55, 243

Limited edition prints from the exhibition are exclusively available for private sale from the gallery, as is the book 'Flandrien'.

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