Journeys from My DoorstepThe Backstory
By way of introduction, my name is Roff Smith. I am an award-winning magazine writer and photographer and a long-time contributor to National Geographic – for whom, over the past twenty five years I have contributed feature articles, photographs, authored books, lectured on cruise ships, and guided expeditions. Before beginning my long association with National Geographic I was a senior writer on the staff of Time Magazine. My work has also appeared in Newsweek, Nature, Smithsonian, Islands, Australian Geographic, Conde Nast Traveller, Lonely Planet Traveller, National Geographic Adventure, Atlas Obscura, and NPR. In addition to editorial work I have shot photographic assignments for companies such as Coca-Cola and Toyota. Over the years my assignments have taken me to every continent and over 100 countries.
Cycling has been something of a coda in my life for as long as I can remember, firing my imagination as a child to get out and explore the world and, later, as an adult, providing a means of release and escape. I have toured all over the world – most notably a 10,000-mile solo trek through the Australian outback, the story of which became a three-part series in National Geographic and later appeared in book form as Cold Beer & Crocodiles. I’ve explored Zanzibar by bike, ridden London to Istanbul, followed the Danube and pedalled the length and breadth of Britain. Once I even rode “round the world” (in less that ten seconds!) while at the South Pole on an assignment for National Geographic. These days I mainly explore the crooked lanes and byways of Sussex, where I live, near the old seaside holiday town of St Leonards-on-Sea.
All of these images are self-captures. For those interested in technical details, they were taken with a Canon 5D4 DSLR camera and, typically, using a 70-200 f/2.8 telephoto zoom although on occasion I use a wide angle. I fire the shutter remotely by means of an intervalometer. My tripod is a MeFoto Globetrotter, a happy compromise which is sturdy enough to support a fairly hefty camera-lens combination yet folds up compactly enough to fit nicely on the rear rack of my bicycle. I have three bicycles but the one that appears in nearly every image is an old-school tourer custom-built for me some years ago by Mark Reilly (now of Reilly Cycleworks) back when he was the master builder for Enigma. Assisting him at the time was Matthew Sowter, now of Saffron Frameworks. So you could say it has a pedigree of the best of British framebuilding.
A further note on the photography: all of these images were not only taken by me but I am also the cyclist in the frame. I make this point because I am often asked who’s the cyclist in my photos. The cyclist is me. Creating these images singlehandedly requires a great deal of patience, perseverance, planning and an almost neurotic obsession with detail. I work entirely alone, in the early hours of the morning, sometimes leaving the house as early as 3:30am in order in order to ride to where I want to be to catch the best of the dawn light. Although I am by necessity my own model, I try to anonymise myself as much as possible. As an artist, I want these images to represent A Cyclist on the landscape – you perhaps – rather than yours truly. A final note: all of these images were taken within a twelve-mile radius of where I live. These really are travels at home.