'You don't have to make a choice' - Jojo Harper on life as a working mother
New mum Jojo Harper was determined to shoot all eight stages of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes. And so the Trek-Segafredo photographer took her eight-month-old daughter Winter along with her for the journey
This article was originally published in Issue 114 of Rouleur.
Over the course of eight years, Jojo Harper has become one of the most recognised and celebrated photographers in cycling. From the team bus to the finish line and everything in between, her work depicts the human side of the sport in its rawest form.
For the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, however, Harper put herself on the other side of the lens in order to portray her day-to-day life as a working mother to her daughter, Winter.
Harper has worked with WorldTour team Trek-Segafredo since 2019 and although she works with both squads, it is with the women’s team, with whom she has been involved since their inception, that she feels most at home.
“They’re comfortable with me, and they see me as part of the team,” she tells Rouleur. “I know the women’s team better. I am female. Which makes a huge difference. I can say to Ina [Teutenberg, Trek-Segafredo directeur sportif ], ‘Can I come on the bus?’ or, ‘Can I go into a team meeting?’ She’s like, ‘You’re part of the team, of course you can.'”
When she made the decision to have a baby last year, Harper knew she wanted to come back to work after giving birth. Her last race with the team, at seven months pregnant, was the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes in October, won by Trek-Segafredo’s Lizzie Deignan.
“Honestly, it was the most amazing day of work I’ve ever had,” she recalls. “Partly because it was the first one ever; it was historic. And partly because the team I work for won it and I had as much access as I wanted. Then and there I was like, ‘I want to come back for Roubaix.’”
That’s exactly what she did. Winter was born in December 2021 and by April 2022 Harper was back on the cobbled roads of Northern France for the second edition of the last race she shot before be- coming a mother.
Thanks to the help of Oliver, her husband, and the support of the team, Harper was able to bring Winter along. There she captured another Trek-Segafredo win at the Roubaix velodrome, as Elisa Longo Borghini took over the mantle from a now-pregnant Deignan.
However, one of the most powerful shots to come out of that day was not of the racing, nor was it taken by Harper herself. The image in question features Harper sat in one of the iconic Roubaix shower cubicles breastfeeding her daughter.
“I’ve always been so British, in that I don’t get naked in front of people,” she explains. “But when you have to breastfeed, you have to breastfeed. We were waiting for Elisa and the only quiet place was the showers, then [fellow cycling photographer] Ashley Gruber was like, ‘Do you mind if I shoot you?’ And I was like, ‘No,’ and then her and Pauline Ballet came in.
"I’m really glad I let them do that. Because I don’t know how many years ago it was probable that females weren’t even allowed in the Roubaix showers and now someone who works in the race is feeding in there.”
With Roubaix having been a success, Harper knew she wanted to cover the Tour de France Femmes three months later. “I think, as a mother, to bring your baby to the first Tour de France is pretty cool if you can make it work,” she says. The difference between a one-day race versus a stage race, however, brought its own set of challenges.
“It’s not just looking after myself. It’s looking after myself, doing a job, and looking after a baby,” she explains.
“I feel l can exhaust myself for one or two days, because then I can recover. But with a stage race, you’ve really got to pace yourself.”
Pre-baby, Harper’s schedule involved being embedded within the team, staying at the same hotels and structuring her day in line with the staff. Now, Harper, her husband and Winter stay at separate accommodation near the team in order not to disturb the riders.
On top of that, instead of being able to edit whenever she likes, she has to prioritise her daughter. “Now it’s: wake up – or not wake up because I haven’t really slept because Winter has been feeding all night – and then it’s making sure that Winter has her nap, making sure she has everything she needs for the day as well as me,” she says.
“Obviously Oliver helps as well, getting her nappies ready, changing her nappy. I can’t just make breakfast and chill out, she’ll be screaming, so I’d probably be feeding her, while making breakfast, while packing, while trying to pack my own stuff.”
While Harper is working, Oliver takes Winter for the day. Would it be possible without him? “I could try, but I don’t think it would work. But also there’s a safety aspect, I’m not going to race to the finish with her in the car – it’s just not going to happen.”
The team’s support is also a crucial element of Harper’s ability to balance work and motherhood. “They have been amazing,” she says. “Whatever I’ve asked and suggested they’ve said, ‘We love your work, we love working with you and we want to work with you. We want you to be able to be a mother and to do your job.’ And I said, well the only way I can do that is to bring her with me.”
And make it work she did. Harper’s images from the race were some of the most striking and impactful. In particular, a shot of two young girls watching stage seven, excitedly hugging each other while wearing polka-dot t-shirts, was widely shared on social media – a symbol of the legacy of the race.
Harper’s own legacy, she hopes, is to set an example to others who work in the male-dominated sport of cycling: that it is possible for women to start families and continue their careers.
“The point I want to get across is that you don’t have to make a choice. You can be a mother and still work in the sport and you shouldn’t be penalised for wanting a family and being a female,” she says. “At the beginning a baby needs their mother. And, you know, a male soigneur or DS can leave their baby after two days and go on the road. As a female you can’t really do that, the baby comes with you.
“It’s possible and I think all teams should do what Trek does. All companies should do what Trek does. Because for sure you feel in quite a vulnerable position and it’s quite easy to be pushed out. Because a single man with no dependents is an easier option.”
While she wants others to be able to follow in her footsteps she sums up the reality of the task by warning that: “It’s amazing to be able to do both, but it is exhausting.”