New York-based photographer, Ben Franke, was recently featured in The New York Times for his photos of parkour – the French acrobatic training style that has been prominently featured in films like Casino Royale and Kingsman: The Secret Service. But in a twist inspired by the dry powder used at the Holi festival, Franke covered his athletes in flour to create a dust trail that heightens the action and creates a super hero-esque image.
I talked to him about his approach.
A number of dance photographers have used the flour/chalk technique in the studio. Your work is the first instance I’ve seen of more “environmental” style work. What was the impetus for trying this?
Using the flour technique outdoors to demonstrate the movements of the athletes was a natural fit. Parkour is a sport that happens in an outdoor environment—with the basic principle of the sport being to move around the urban space in an unexpected and unique way.
I didn’t see any blur in the feet or hands which would be typical of slower flash durations. What type of equipment did you use?
The majority of the project was shot on Canon 5D Mark 2. At the start of the series, I mainly used Speedlights to light my images, however, most recently, I have been using Profoto B1’s.
Are you using the hypersync option on the B1?
I’m not using that feature on the B1. The flash duration is enough to freeze the athletes.
Did you have to experiment to get the right camera/flash settings?
When I started this project, I had been shooting Parkour athletes for a few years already so I knew how I wanted to shoot it. The settings were the easy part, more challenging was timing the shot and knowing enough about the movement to capture the shot at the exact right moment.
Given the technical nature of the jumps and moves, how much planning did you do prior to shooting? How did you work/plan with the athlete?
Shooting the Parkour Motion series is a collaboration with the athletes. We talk about locations that we both like and within that, we discuss the movements they will execute. There is quite a bit of planning that goes into each image, as we have to consider lighting, composition and what movements would work best for each location.
How does executing these still shots contrast to the motion work you’ve done with parkour?
My aim is to show the dynamics of their movement almost like a video would. I’m capturing the motion and energy of the athlete’s movement in a single still instant. The images provide the sense of physical movements that preceded that instant and also hint at a trajectory to come. With video, it is a bit more straightforward as you have 24 frames per second to show their movement and you see what goes into their motion.
Any strange encounters with bystanders or police when you have people covered in white powder at night?
There have been no strange encounters really. We have been asked to leave on a few occasions and have always tried to be respectful of that. One of the things I love about being in New York City is that you can do work like this in the middle of the night without people batting an eye.