This book transported me to an incredible era of Formula One racing, 1962-1969. I could almost smell the exhaust, the Castrol, the burning rubber, and the courage. The Golden Age of Formula 1 is full of some of the most beautiful black and white images of auto racing published.
Rainer Schlegelmilch is a master photographer. The over two hundred pages of 11 x 14 black and white photographs include some of his earliest photographs from 1962. Schlegelmilch attended his first race, the 1962 1000km of Nurburgring, for his school of photography final exam photographing race drivers. Those early photographs hint at the genius he would show in his later works. By 1964, he truly understood how to photograph a race and not just portraits of drivers. Schlegelmilch continues to photograph Formula One today, a career of almost fifty years, and he shows no signs of repeating his work or tiring.
What is so remarkable about this volume is the intimate view of incredibly courageous drivers, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Jo Siffert, Bruce McLaren, Innes Ireland, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Jochen Rindt, Jack Brabham, and John Surtees. For each driver there is a perfectly exposed, focused, and printed portrait followed by several critical pictures of the driver and car. The informative captions were written by Hartmut Lehbrink. On occasion Lehbrink adds a little joke or remark about women and Formula One. But mostly it is remarkable that anyone would know so much about each individual in the frame. One caption mentions a person standing in mid background, not really part of the photograph, and points out that he would become a well respected automotive journalist. How anyone can remember all these details is incredible.
The driver portraits are like nothing I have ever seen before. In the 60's many drivers died while racing, safety measures were nothing like today (five point safety harnesses were first used by Jackie Stewart in the late 1960's - until that time, drivers simply sat in their car). Schlegelmilch has captured the intensity, the concentration, and the courage of every driver. Occasionally he captures relaxed moments, drivers laughing, talking, or stopping by to manage rebuilding a transmission.
The actual racing pictures are remarkable in their simplicity. At that time, spectators were separated from the cars by a very short knee wall, a light fence, bales of hay, or nothing. Schlegelmilch has an amazing ability to capture the closeness between spectator and a car racing at the limit of adhesion, so close to wiping out the spectators with one small mistake. Even more remarkable, all these pictures were taken with film cameras and likely without much of a motor drive. There was no such thing as 8 frames per second to capture the peak moment. Schlegelmilch had to predict what would happen and choose his moment very carefully. In the case of 35mm, he was limited to rolls of film with 36 exposures. The closing photograph of the book shows Schlegelmilch with a Hasselblad over his shoulder; that medium format camera was limited to 12 exposures per roll and had no motor drive of any kind. It took incredible skill to capture Jackie Stewart's BRM nearly a foot in the air cresting a hill at the Nurburgring, and see Stewart's eyes in perfect focus.
The 1960's had some of the most beautiful Formula One cars ever built. The engine was moved midship from the large rounded front engine cars of the 50's. With the engine in the rear, the nose was lowered and narrowed. These were much more graceful cars. There were no sponsors plastered all over these cars; these were not rolling billboards of the NASCAR world. Near the end of the 60's sponsor decals started to show up along with ungainly aerodynamic additions (wings everywhere, rear, front, and on the nose). The 70's were sponsor and wing crazy.
I have a predisposition to loving these particular cars and this book. The first wide screen or Panavision film I ever saw in a theater was the 1966 John Frankenheimer film Grand Prix. At the time, races were rarely televised, in car cameras did not exist, and the world of Formula One racing was an international mystery to a boy growing up in Northwestern Indiana (Eva Marie Saint was what dreams were made of). My most cherished Matchbox car was a blue 1960's BRM (I still have the tireless, driverless car today). Grand Prix was the most remarkable film I had ever seen, it started a lifelong love of all things racing, film, and photography.
The reason the film Grand Prix doesn't age very well, melodrama, is exactly what is absent from The Golden Age of Formula 1. These photographs are taken more from the point of view of a driver, crew member, or very close companion, than an outside spectator. They have an intimacy I have never seen in racing pictures. Racing is a chaotic business, very little is predictable. But yet Schlegelmilch manages to make taking those pictures look routine.
The foreword by Jackie Stewart does a nice job of setting the historical context of this book. It is easy to forget how far racing has come from those early days. There are many pictures of Stewart in this book, including his first win. The book ends as Stewart becomes a well known great Formula One driver. He would go on to have an amazing career in television broadcasting and a spokesperson for Ford and automotive safety.
Before seeing this book I was unaware of Rainer Schlegelmilch's photography. Given all the magazines and Formula One books I have read, it surprises me I have not seen his name credited. After scratching the surface of his website, it is clear Schlegelmilch has embraced the latest technology and continues to be relevant today. He is a master photographer.
The Golden Age of Formula 1 is a remarkable, beautiful, intimate view of Formula One racing.
A copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher.