When BRAVA Triathlon launched last year, they announced themselves to the triathlon world with compelling and unique teaser images of their first collection on social media. Offering up a new and fresh aesthetic, the photography of the first collection gained good traction on social media and breathed new life into the consumer side of the sport, which was increasingly feeling more and more stale and outdated. It’s no surprise that the founders feel that most of their early success is thanks to this stand-out social media presence. Who is the creative mastermind behind this? Cedric Bonel, known by his nickname Gophrette, has been an instrumental part of BRAVA’s marketing success but has been making a name for himself in the greater endurance sports photography scene for quite some time now, shooting iconic races such as the Red Hook Crit and Ironman Mont-Tremblant. His slightly quirky and off-beat race shots continue to turn heads.
Bonel, originally from France, got his start in photography decades ago as an adolescent immersed in the rising skateboard and BMX scenes in the ’80s. “I drew inspiration from the magazines of these sports, but also everything that touched the punk and hip-hop cultures, which were closely linked to these new urban sports,” he says. “The arrival of snowboarding in the early 90's just confirmed my interest in this type of imagery and that's when I discovered computers and started doing photography.”
The more traditional endurance sports were not foreign to Bonel in his youth, as his father, a former swimmer himself, coached his brother to a high level in the pool. “I think the hours spent on the sides of the pools watching them… I’d take those images away with me in my mind and it would turn into hours at my desk drawing surfers on huge waves, that sort of thing… It was that which led me to want to really play around with this type of photography.”
A move to Montreal over a decade ago brought all sorts of new inspiration to Bonel, who began to get involved in cycling and running and hone in on his personal style as a photographer. Looking at sport from the inside as a participant gave him an entirely new perspective, prompting him to try new things in his craft — focusing in on the little details, finding beauty in the mundane aspects of training and capturing races from a range of unexpected angles.
“It is very important for me to practice the sports I photograph because it allows me to better understand them and to anticipate the important moments that could make a good pic,” he explains. “Using a wide angle and fisheye allows me to be really close to athletes and to catch beautiful actions. These optics allow for viewing angles that the human eye doesn’t have naturally… it allows us to capture a lot in the image without paying too much attention to the framing of the shot.” Bonel inserts himself into all types of scenarios to capture the shot he wants in sport, keeping his gear on him during commutes, training sessions and trips. “This has naturally provided a routine for my photography that I can summarize in three words: observation, adaptation and improvisation,” he says.
When BRAVA founders Jacinthe Lachapelle and Stephanie Jamain came around to looking for a photographer to shoot their line, Bonel, who they knew from their swim squad, was an obvious choice despite not having much commercial photography experience. “Having been exposed to Cedric’s work at the local level, we saw the potential in his work,” says Jamain, calling the creative fit “natural.” “Cedric is an extremely artistic, talented, humble and fun-loving individual, and when we shoot with him it never ever feels like work. We don’t take each other too seriously which lends itself to a very pleasant and trusting team dynamic.”
The inspiration for BRAVA’s first collection was Tucson, Arizona — a well-known triathlon training Mecca. It made sense to shoot the clothes in action, against the landscape that inspired them. “The strategy for shooting the line is very simple — take pictures during real training situations,” Bonel explains. “During these sessions there is only 10% staged moments, the remaining 90% are completely random. I only watch the athletes and try to catch the good times and it works pretty well because we know and trust each other. I'm on the bike too when we shoot. Sometimes at low speed and others at very high speeds. Same for running pictures, I run with my camera alongside the girls.”
For the first two main collection shoots (the second being in Maui), this strategy has worked well — so the team will apply it to the 2019 game plan, in works right now in a brand new destination. As Bonel continues to be an integral part of the BRAVA team, he also spends many of his summer weekends shooting local Quebec races and naturally developing new partnerships in the world of endurance sports. It’s only a matter of time before this quiet and humble photographer’s work gains international attention, but for now Bonel is busy enough.
“At this point, I’m training not for competitions but so that I can keep up with the athletes I shoot during training,” he concludes.
Written by Claire Duncan,