Through the lens of a 104-year-old camera
That’s because, unlike his contemporaries on the F1 circuit, the American photographer uses a Grafex 4×5 view camera from 1913.
While the rest of the permanently accredited media shoot up to 20 frames per second in a bid for the perfect back page picture, Paul actively embraces the imperfections in his black and white portfolio.
“I just want to make it more emotional,” he tells CNN, explaining it takes at least 30 seconds and he’s limited to 20 photos in a shoot.
“Across Formula One there are so many guys just shooting news — what happened in the race or who won the qualifying — but that is arbitrary to my project.
“My project tries to capture images that invoke the heritage of the sport. The sort of images that make you think of the early 1920s, and even the ’50s and ’60s when it was all black and white.”
‘Recreating the past’
You’d be hard-pushed to find a greater contrast between a camera and its subject.
Before making the transition to F1, Paul used his 104-year-old device to shoot firefighters coming out of the rubble of Ground Zero for the New York Times, in the aftermath of 9/11.
Now he spends his day capturing the world’s fastest drivers, following the likes of Lewis Hamilton around the world.
“I was inspired to pick up the camera again ahead of the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix,” Paul explains, singling out the street circuit as his favorite race on the calendar for its accessibility and atmosphere.
“Most of the images I got from that shoot were blurry, out of focus and didn’t quite work.
“I think I’ve taken the camera to maybe 30-40 races around the world in the last four years, and now it’s coming together.
“I’m really used to it, I’m anticipating the focus and it’s more like an extension of my body.”
The photographer has to be proactive, anticipating a situation before it has occurred.
While he accepts it can be frustrating to forgo many of the shots a modern day camera could obtain, he’s gradually catching the eye of F1’s leading stars.
Paul regularly gives out prints of his favorite images to the drivers, mechanics and team principals he depicts — something he says other photographers simply don’t have time for.
“A lot of the guys are like ‘Nobody’s ever given me anything before!'” he laughs. “I just say ‘Thanks for letting me walk into your garages and pit lanes.'”
“I try to let the drivers know I’m trying to do something different and often they’ll indicate they like what I’m doing,” Paul adds. “It could just be a nod or gesture, but it means a lot to me.
“It takes years for a team to say yes to a portrait, so I just thought: ‘Let’s take beautiful pictures that might appeal to someone that’s not necessarily a racing fan, but who might then take an interest and see [F1] through childhood eyes.
F1 cars to cameras
Having grown up fixated by the “magic” of F1, the photographer will never forget the moment he first felt truly embraced by the sport.
“The camera broke in 2015 during my second season when I was in Budapest,” Paul recalls. “One of the Lotus mechanics asked to see the camera and I said ‘sorry it’s broken.’
“He said ‘Oh bring it in, we’ll fix it.’
“The Lotus mechanics took the camera apart and we found all sorts of different pieces, tapes and screws, and we basically rebuilt the camera.
“In the meantime, Pastor Maldonado had crashed his car in one of the pre-practice sessions so it came in damaged and basically had to be completely rebuilt for the next morning session.
“But for about 30 minutes the Lotus guys and I hung out and talked about the shutter curtain and what it’s made of, what the best tape it would be for it, and then he took some out…
“It’s been working ever since!”
‘Romanticizing the sport’
Midway through Paul’s fourth season in F1, his project is gathering pace.
For him, it’s all about “romanticizing” the sport, making it “more about the people than just the cars and the racing.”
“Some people don’t get what I’m doing,” he says, “but it’s not about perfection. It’s about what might make you smile.”
Scroll through the gallery at the top of the page to see a range of Joshua Paul’s favorite images.