Jody Bailey: Setting the Stage

This story is from Like the Wind #16 – Words and Photography by Jody Bailey 


For me, running photography is ever-evolving. As is the case for all artists and their own muse and mediums.

When I start photographing running and runners, I have one aim; it is all about that perfect portrait. Tight crop. Perfectly even exposure. Peak action. My sports photography heritage showing its form.

This drastically changes as getting portraits becomes easy. I get bored. I want more.

I am inspired by some amazing photographers in NYC – like Fred Goris (*@fredgoris), Jason Suarez (@notafraid2fail), and George Grullon (@gnp_photos) and the likes of Ashley and Jered Gruber (@ashleygruber and @jeredgruber) of cycling photography fame. I begin to play with capturing my own scenes; setting up shots like a stage for runners to pass through.

I credit unsanctioned race directors – like Joe DiNoto (@orchardstreetrunners) and Darcy Budworth (@takethebridge) – for setting some of the most amazing stages I’ve photographed; like the 2017 OSR10K in the pouring rain on a freezing cold November evening Manhattan. Or just across the East River under the shadows of the Williamsburg Bridge at events such as Take The Bridge 03.4 Williamsburg.

This is what I seek: the ultimate stage on which to capture running.

Above: Amelia Bourdeau asks me to take some portraits and photos of her running in New York for her website and social media. She wants to capture the energy of NYC. I’ve wanted to get this shot for a while, so we head up on to the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s fun seeing a shot you want, and having the opportunity to get it with an athlete.

There is something about this stage; the strength of the bridge and the power of traffic passing underneath. This is the exact shot I had in my mind’s eye ever since crossing the bridge on one of my first runs in NYC.

Above: Peak bromance with Matt Meyer and NYC are achieved in a single photo on a casual 8km run around lower Manhattan while capturing promo shots for The Speed Project team.

Above: Nothing tops the energy, or scenes of athletes racing all-out on the streets and bridges of New York City during unsanctioned OSR and TTB street races.

Above: Stages aren’t always provided by a race director; sometimes the weather sets up a photo that simply can’t be planned. While documenting an 800m repeat training session by Katie Michno (@boltlittlelady) and Molly Shiroishi (@mshiroishi), the skies open up over Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NYC, providing the ultimate scene of athletes out grinding.

An unidentified runner hunches over; hands on knees, searching for breath among a light snowfall in an industrial park at the south end of Edmonton, Alberta. Headlights provide the only light at the unsanctioned mile race in this northern most Canadian city on the longest night of the year – the winter solstice. These are the scenes I seek.

Below: I love to capture a city’s icons in the backgrounds of the scenes I document runners in. The Lions Gate Bridge hangs overhead while Rob Watson (@rwatson26point2) makes his way around the iconic Seawall on his way to winning the 2018 BMO Vancouver Marathon in Vancouver, British Columbia. A special day for both of us.

Above: Early on in my run photography while documenting the River City Runners crew in Edmonton, Alberta, I start to find these scenes. On a bike, riding up ahead of the group on their training runs, I climb fences and bridges to get angles. I feed off the energy of the runners I document and often work just as hard as they do.

Race day is the most demanding and rewarding for me. Like the runners on the course, I control no variables, and there is a chaotic energy to the whole day. I’ve trained hard and race day is the chance to prove myself.

I set up just past the November Project cheer station at mile 14 of the 2017 New York City Marathon. I’ve got my scene; outstretched faceless arms from the energetic cheer station provide a perfect frame. Emma van Emmerik is exactly who I am waiting for as she comes flying through with arms outstretched, leading the horde of runners coming around the gentle bend, soaking up all that energy. Not every stage I see pans out, but this one does with spectacular results.

I almost feel sorry for Moe (@elginsdiner) and Jess (@jessmelville) after this run session with the pair through the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. They have no idea what they are in for when I offer to photograph their training run in April 2017. I rip around on my bike like a drunken bee on a bender. Zipping through traffic, climbing overpasses, and jumping on garbage cans to get set up the scenes while the two of them put in work. After our run Moe and Jess are smiling ear-to-ear talking about how they would see me out of the corner of their eye, then lose me again, only for me to emerge from behind a car two blocks up. My goal in photographing runners is to capture them running, not posing. In order to achieve the results I want, I have to work. These two have a new appreciation for the effort I put in documenting a run session, joking that I worked harder than them.

Above: The culmination of more than 700km logged on a bike photographing run crews around Edmonton, Alberta through the summer of 2016 can been seen in the photo above. Cassandra Churchill runs along Saskatchewan Drive during a Run Collective training run with the downtown skyline as her backdrop. This photo is taken from more than a block away, standing on a railroad track, with the heavy lens I force myself to carry. This photo has never been taken before. I feel like an explorer finding a new island. The combination of my gear selection, all-out effort, and exploration lead to a stage that no one has seen in a photo before. I’m fortunate to have such beautiful cities to use as my playground as I search for scenes to capture running in. My only goal is to do them justice.


Jody Bailey is a photojournalist forever searching for stories to tell.
Run photography and stories at run.photography.

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