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The In-Camera Cover Shoot

Words & photos: Gary Inman

I kid myself that I’m anti-Photoshop, but Sideburn uses it all the time, and has done all through its lifespan, usually more subtly than not. It’s a struggle to make a magazine without it. Photoshop brightens gloomy indoor short track images to bring out the detail. Photoshop wipes away a distracting telegraph pole in the background of a cover shot. It stretches the blue sky up to make a photo the correct shape for the space we need to fill.


Sometimes, in the case of the cover and lead feature of Sideburn 23, I thought it was over-used, but the shoot was so over the top we weren’t trying to fool anyone into believing it was real. Still, I wasn’t keen on that direction. I’m happy to remove a blemish or to enhance the colours, but I never wanted to go too far and was unhappy about it when we did, even if it was so convincing I didn’t even know it had been done. My feeling was always, and had been all through my magazine career, if you start faking photos, the real ones lose impact because the trust is gone (moon landings, anyone?).


For the first few issues of Sideburn we’d find a photo that summed up the magazine then make a story around it. But I never wanted Sideburn to be simply a backward looking classics magazine, however good those early covers look. So the most important page in the magazine has developed.


From the time Kar Lee became Sideburn’s art ed, for issue 24 in February 2016, we experimented a lot more, but still struggled with some covers. Sometimes we had two strong options for the same issue, SB25 stands out in my memory. The Rusty Butcher edging out a Leah Tokelove shot. Sometimes I feel we’re scratching around at the last minute to find something that we (me, Kar and Mick) agree on. Sideburn 29 was a late decision that paid off, the shot of Roger Goldammer doing a mini power wheelie, a big fella dwarfing his little Yam two-stroke, sold very quickly and is now sold out.


Sideburn 30's cover was an idea I’d had for five or six years, and fellow DTRA racer Bram De Roeck made it happen. Sideburn 31 wasn’t a commissioned cover shoot, but as soon as I saw it in the package of images from Raffaele Paolucci I thought it would make a great cover. And that brings us to Sideburn 32.


I’d been asked to talk to students and magazine nerds as part of Raw Print’s regular monthly seminars in Nottingham, last autumn. The other speaker was Kayti from Caboodle magazine. I started following Caboodle on instagram and loved the colourful shoots Kayti directed and photographed. I wanted to do something similar. Then I thought Sideburn could shoot a whole image and print it exactly how it came out of the camera, an in-camera cover. Doesn’t sound a big deal, right? It meant that all the words had to exist in real life, they couldn’t be added later. The same day I had the idea I loaded my own race bike in the SB VW van and drove to the nearby photo studio of my old mate Paul Bryant (who had previously shot SB6’s cover). We took a snap for me to use as a mock-up (at the top of the page) to run past Kar and also to use as scale for the cover, because we would need props. We decided it would work.


I had the sign company I’ve been using for years CNC-cut the individual letters of the logo from 5mm thick, black plastic. Paul the photographer ordered a huge roll of yellow paper that would be suspended from stands in his photo studio to form the bright background. It’s conceivable, relying on Photoshop, to shoot on a white background and change its colour later, but obviously not this time. The price, the logo for the spine and Dwayne the SB mascot, were made into rub-on stickers. I went to Coleman’s, the stationers, for large sheets of thick black and white paper. My son, Max, and I made the speedblock pattern the night before the shoot, simply cutting the widths after scaling up a pattern we found in Google images, then stapling the white on the black, and the black blocks on top. Mrs I, Debbie, dyed a set of overalls bright yellow. Dave Skooter Farm visited his mate, Alan Woods, and borrowed a load of vintage and retro Yamaha yellow kit, while I ordered black and yellow socks and dug out an original 1980s official Yamaha turtle neck jumper I’d bought from Don at Metro Racing a couple of years previously. I also ordered one of our number plates with the issue number, 32, to fix to the side of the bike.


Those little details were important to get right, but I was already really happy with the big things we needed, bike and model, and they had fallen into place with nothing more than a couple of text messages. Kye Forte’s big-bore Yamaha XS650 DTRA Thunderbike, a bike I’d had good battles with during the 2017 season, would be the cover bike. Next I contacted another fellow racer, Lucia Aucott, to ask if she’d be the cover girl. Both Kye and Lucia said yes and the date was set, a Wednesday in January.


Dave and I got to the studio early. We cut two 1in-square dowels of wood to length and wrapped them in a strip of the yellow backing paper, before hot gluing the logo letters to them. With fishing line we hung the logo from the ceiling. Next I stuck the spine letters on another piece of the yellow paper then stuck that to a spirit level and hung it from the ceiling. Lucia arrived with an Ikea bag full of shoes and we decided on black and white Vans.


Kye and his dad, Rick, arrived from Devon, five hours drive away. We pushed the bike into position and it already looked good, but the paddock stand was well-worn orange, so Rick and Lucia set about covering it in black gaffer tape. The cover price was stuck to a piece of white paper and leant on the front tyre.


Then it was a case a lining everything up. Normally this would be important, but not crucial, because the bike could be zoomed into or out of at the computer design stage and the words positioned later. This time we had to get the words on the spine in the middle of the image and be happy everything looked fine. It took well over an hour to get it right, checking on a laptop connected to the camera as we made adjustments.


Dave pulled on the yellow overalls, we clipped two clothes pegs to the back of Lucia’s jumper so it was closer fitting, Dave got his borrowed fishing rod, to make it look like the spine words, stuck to a spirit level remember, were hanging from the rod. We couldn’t actually do it, because it kept spinning. The spirit level was tied to the swingarm to stop it swinging. I’d forgotten to get the website name made into stickers or the cover number for the spine. I wrote #32 in marker pen.


An hour later it was done. Paul sent the images then next day. Kar laid it out, but he spliced two images together IN PHOTOSHOP, Lucia in his favourite pose of the options he was given and Dave pulling a great face on the back. I reminded him of the whole idea was to use no Photoshop manipulation and he reminded me of the phrase cutting your nose off to spite your face. I made it clear than even if my rigid demand to make it one image meant the cover wasn’t as good as it could be we had to stay true to the original concept. The concept was king. With some reluctance Kar reverted the cover to the same Lucia with Dave blinking.


The colour levels were tweaked slightly, but none of the structure of the shot was monkeyed around with even 1%.


Other than the bright colours of Caboodle, I’m not sure where the idea originated, or why I made it matter so much that we’d didn’t tweak the image to have the ideal Dave with the ideal Lucia. No one outside of the mag staff, need ever have known, not even those who were in the studio on the day of the shoot. It would have been an invisible fix. I suppose, after ten years and 32 issues I need to make the covers exciting for me, as much as for the readers.


I really hope you like this cover. It took quote a bit of effort. Thanks to Kye, Rick, Lucia, Paul, Dave, Susie and Kar for helping make shit happen.

You've read the story, now, please, 


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