For the artist Bijou Le Tord, the Tour de France is more than an epic bicycle race; it is a creative conduit to her childhood in France, and more specifically to her father Jacques, an illustrator and avid cyclist, who died when Ms. Le Tord was 7 years old.
Ms. Le Tord’s captivating new series of photographs of the 2009 Tour entitled Going the Distance: Blurring the Lines Between Art and Sports, currently on view in Amagansett, NY, reflects a personal immersion from a unique point of view: a darkened studio in a village just outside Lyon. Last summer, Ms. Le Tord used four tripod-mounted cameras to capture digital images of the Tour as it unfolded before her, stage by stage, on an old television set. Pixelation gives the resulting archival prints a visual texture that resembles that of a painter’s canvas and aptly amplifies the grit and grace of this grueling sporting spectacle.
Ms. Le Tord, 64, who left France at age 16 and now divides her time between Sag Harbor, NY, and her home country, is best known as the author and water-color illustrator of several popular children’s books about artists who include Claude Monet and Henri Matisse.
Although she is not a cyclist herself and had little command of the Tour’s technical details, Ms. Le Tord found inspiration in cherished memories of riding to school on her brother Yvonne’s handlebars at full tilt along forested roads, and of stories that her mother told about her father’s love of bicycle racing, and of his daily long-distance rides to secure food for the family during wartime.
“I grew up with the Tour,” she says. “For French children at the time I would say it was the equivalent of what baseball is here.”
“It was just part of the things you lived with,” she says. “At a certain point this just clicked.”
Ms. Le Tord set out to make entirely new and personal images from the TV broadcasts of the Tour using her own camera lenses, selective cropping and digital manipulation. For example, in a work entitled Train, Ms. Le Tord anticipates the acceleration of the peloton, which had been stopped at a rail crossing. Opening the aperture of her lens enabled the artist to capture the blur of the riders after the train’s passing. In another photo, Flag Waving, she focuses in on the vigil of a French fan who stands on a wind-swept plain. Selenium tones lend the patina of a bygone era to several images of racers.
The project took on an even more nuanced dimension as Ms. Le Tord learned that her brother had cancer. After shooting an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 photographs, she says she discovered in her editing process that Lance Armstrong emerged as the series’s unifying character. “I focused on Lance because I thought at the time ‘he’s the one who’s been through [cancer],’ ” Ms. Le Tord says.
The process yielded not only satisfying discoveries about memory, perspective, form and color, but also about the Tour and its remarkable competitors. “I quite like Contador,” she said with a laugh as she mingled recently with friends at an opening reception for her show.
Would she consider attending the Tour to photograph it from a fan’s point of view? It turns out that Ms. Le Tord and her brother had joined the cheering crowds along a leg of the 2008 race.
“You stand there for so long, and then the peloton passes by in an instant — whoosh!” she says. And so for Ms. Le Tord it’s on to the next creative pursuit.
The photo series is on view through July 27 at Sylvester & Company at Home, 154 Main Street, in Amagansett, NY.
Top photo: Lac D’Annecy, Bijou Le Tord, 2009