One of the perks of being a Rouleur member is getting a magazine through your door with a classy, cool and collectable cover. Our talented contributors give you the back story on each creation. For issue 20.5, our Tour de France special, we set longtime Rouleur regular Sean Hardy the task of representing the ‘strange times’ we’re living in.
It all started with [Rouleur Executive Editor] Ian Cleverly getting in touch to ask if I was up for going for the cover.
The New York Times Magazine had done one that was just a mask with an “I voted” sticker on it. We had the idea of tying that to cycling with a 60s-style helmet and sunglasses.
Rouleur wanted to see one just with the mask, so I took a few shots but it just looked too similar to the inspiration. A bit clinical, really.
The way we created that shoot, the one that’s now the cover, began with a mannequin that I picked up from a mate down the road. We thought we’d put the mask on the mannequin and Photoshop it out, to make it hollow, like the invisible man, or rider in this case.
Although I can use Photoshop, I’m not an expert. Removing a mannequin just bent my head. I asked myself if we could include the mannequin. Would it look good with that? It didn’t. Then we thought we’d try it with an inflated balloon, which we’d pop, leaving everything in the same place. We filled the balloon with confetti, because we thought it might be good to have an explosion. Again, that didn’t work: nothing ever stayed straight, the glasses ended up looking like someone had taken a punch, and the mask didn’t look like a face.
We ended up shooting with the helmet and the glasses attached by wires, before removing them in Photoshop. The mask was on my partner’s face, which we cropped out and added in the bits round the ears. The hand is actually mine. I have super hairy arms, like Robin Williams, which I would have looked really bad in shot, so I shaved my arm. It itched for days. The hairs are growing back now, but they’re not the same as they were.
The arm wasn’t in the original brief, actually. The reason I’m holding a banana is because riders cycle with bananas, and it’s yellow, and I wanted to run that theme through. There was an edit where the banana had a phone cord that ran down the bottom. The reference was that when I was shooting we were still pretty locked down, and by phone and internet was how I was connecting with everyone. We tweaked it a bit, did it in a few different colours just to see what it looked like.
There was also a blue one, a faded pink one and a red one. For me the blue was the one. I’ve always been anti cliché. You knew that you were going to take a shot with the yellow, but as a photographer, you’d want it to be the one that wasn’t. We didn’t want it to scream cycling but with the Tour de France coming up, of course it made sense to go with the yellow.
There were a lot of 4am finishes on just that one photo, just to get the perspective right. The cover is something I will always be hugely proud of. I like that it’s arty but that it hasn’t gone too far, and that it’s different to the kind of thing I’m known for. If I put it on my page, you’d have to tell people that I took that photo.
I think it was important to acknowledge everything that’s been happening. The mask is like a timestamp. There’s countless Rouleur covers that I love, but most of them could be from any time, any moment.
I have copies of all the magazines I’ve shot for but this is a Rouleur cover and that’s huge for me. It will probably be the one that we frame, because it felt like it was done by the family, it wasn’t a photo that I went out to take. My stepdaughter held the wire, my son broke the glasses, the mask was on my partner’s face. That’s our lockdown, that photo.