Natasha McKittrick is the publisher/photographer/artist behind Beer. Cupcake. Mustache. A chronicle of the New England cross scene. She is able to capture in both photography and words the passion and mud and grit that makes cross so addicting. In her book you find both the individuals and the passion that make up the unique culture that roams cross courses from NJ to Maine each Fall in pursuit of the perfect remount or the glory of the holeshot. After a few read throughs it becomes much more than an anthropological chronicle and almost a zen-like manifesto of why you MUST love cross. Natasha is herself a very talented bike racer and is able to catch perspectives that you rarely see in digital celluloid. Natasha was kind enough to answer my awkward attempts to understand her art and how she set about to capture the cross scene that we know and love in New England. Her website is Pedal Power Photography
1. Last season I saw you taking pictures all over the place. You'd pop up in trees, under course tape with a pbr in one hand and camera in another, you were everywhere what inspired you to start trying to capture the cross scene and how long have you been doing photography?
For as long as I can remember myself my Dad has always been photographing. He is an engineer, so he had a regular day job, but frankly I don’t recall a single weekend without him snapping pictures – of the family, of friends, anything, really. He had a Zenith (a landmark Russian TTL) and developed and printed all of the photos he took. On certain nights bathroom would turn in to a truly magical alchemist place – darkroom. I was allowed in to watch, learn and even – oh, no!really??? – assist.
Photography was so inherent to my life that I didn’t even consider it as my specialization in college. There is no photography degree diploma framed above my bed, but you may be damn sure that my shelves are stocked with all kinds of film and digital equipment, and that there is a special bag that’s ready in 2 seconds, that has all the essentials.
Now, to the ‘cross scene. My at that time boyfriend (and now husband) convinced me to try racing, and, having closed my eyes and taken a deep breath I jumped into mountain bike racing, which is a short hike to CX. Shortly after I started racing mtb, I joined the illustrious Cambridge Bicycle Team and that was the stream that brought me, half-conscious, to cyclocross.
I don’t think that I would get into photo-documenting ‘cross if I did not race. It’s just not the same. When you race CX, you know the pain points, the joy, the frustration, the shortness of breath, the mud, the sand, the “it’s-the-best-beer” post-race relaxation. So when I photograph fellow cyclocrossers I want to show what I feel when I race and to maybe attempt at showing what the ‘cross is about.
2. What inspires you? Because if I was to say the book is one thing it is both inspirational while also being aspirational...it makes me want to get on my cross bike and get bloody and dirty.
What inspires me in general? Or in relation to ‘cross photography? Maybe, just like I said above, knowing what they are going through because I went through the same shit earlier in the day and trying to establish my relationship to those I photograph, through blood, mud, suffering, pain, joy and relief. It’s like that special nod you give to the cyclists-in-training (going uphill during hill repeats, or on trails, or on those long “way-the-f-out” rides).
A good remount inspires me like a good ballet flip would inspire a ballet photographer. Honestly, a perfect remount mesmerizes me to the point I sometimes forget to photograph.
3. What is the performance advantage of the mustache? And does full on playoff beard ala Wilcox and Bramhall trump handlebar mustache?
Ha! That’s what I was trying to find out in the book. I don’t think it will be fair to reveal it to those who haven’t read it yet, but I will say that there are certain trends concerning facial hair fashion among male cyclocross racers.
4. I know its loaded you have friends feelings to consider but who has the "best" mustache?
David Wilcox hands down owns New England Cyclocross in that sense. But! He does have a competitor (I don’t know if that guy races CX or anything at all, but he had a bike and a mustache so I took a picture) who I ran into at Wells Ave one Sunday… I had asked his permission to take the photo, so I hope he won’t mind too much if I attach it to this interview.
5. The cupcake has infiltrated our cross culture over the last two years or so who do you think started this cupcake revolution? And who are the cooks behind these tastey confections
I will second Hannah Kirshner (who I interviewed in the book). She thinks that the sport implicitly called for a sweet treat, and cupcakes, being quite popular among the non-CX crowds, were a natural response. Speaking of herself, the cupcake tradition began for her when she brought a few for the friends at a race. The rest, as known, is history.
Besides Hannah’s famous cupcakes (and they are delicious; I am a huge hater of frosting, but that airy whipped stuff she puts on her cupcakes…I don’t dare call it frosting, therefore I adore it), I know that Mo (Maureen Bruno-Roy) makes exclusively the best veggie cupcakes (gluten-free, too), and she can artfully stencil practically anything on the frosting. If you attend cyclocross off-race events in or around Boston, you have tried them and you know what I am talking about (here, I am giving you the cyclist-in-training nod).
I want to say that Rebecca Wellons makes cupcakes, too, but I am not 100% positive.
6. Is there a preferred cucpake for cross? Obviously cupcakes come in many sizes and forms for a handup one probably would go mini cupcake...but post race team love fest maybe a giant cupcake with sprinkles and frosting is best.
Oh, for cyclocross purposes, I think the more frosting, the better. Among those interviewed who responded “cupcake” to “waffle or cupcake” question, I think most were strongly favoring the ones with “lots and lots” of frosting.
As a photographer, I support this wholeheartedly. You can’t even imagine the joy I will be experiencing looking through the viewfinder at a racer shoveling that sugary slop in their face while racing. Can’t wait, really.
7. Beer handup or cupcake handup?
Both, but strategically located at the opposite sections of the race course.
8. Do you embrocate?
I was rocking this “tough Russian chick” image during the first two CX seasons. Then, one spring day, while my husband was out, I dug into the sacred jar. Can’t get enough of it now. Yes. I am a converted believer.
Perhaps a few more serious cross questions:
1. Who is your biggest rival? victim/nemesis?
2. Clincher or tubular?
Clincher for me so far. I am already possessed in terms of photo equipment, so trying to keep up with the hi-tech CX fashion is going to make me even more of a wacko than I am already. Clinchers have been working out for me just fine and as a racer I am not at the level yet when tubulars vs clinchers are going to cost me a podium spot.
3. Is there more glory beating a loved teammate in a race or using team tactics to get your teamate on the podium?
Well, as a female racer I can tell that there are not as many women racing (left alone racing CX) to begin with. Another point (which will perhaps sound amateurish which I guess is quite fitting to me as a ‘cross racer anyway) is that I don’t really believe there is much that team tactics can do in a cyclocross race. There are just too many factors that you cannot really count on while planning the strategy, beginning with slipping on an icy run-up and losing 2-3 places and ending with a knock-out someone may unintentionally give you while they are running a sandpit with their bike on the shoulder.
When it comes down to racing against teammates…”you go first”, “no, you go first”, “no, I insist, after you” –kind of tactics seems to be designed more in favor of racers wearing other team colors.
I am not saying that there is particularly some glory in beating a teammate. There is satisfaction from racing well and if I beat someone who I normally cannot outrace, hell yeah, I’m gonna be beaming with pride. If it happens to be a teammate I just hope they will be as happy for me as I am for them when they have a great race.
However, if you are talking about road racing, I’ve seen it many times over how CB dudes drag the whole peloton on their back while their teammate is resting up in the middle of the peloton for the final sprint. That’s art. And as such it is inherently captivating to me.
4. What is your favorite thing about cross?
The challenge: of a course, of the weather, of competitors, of luck. To me there is no better feeling than the one you get right after you have done something you thought you’d never be capable of. It’s like a first proper remount (have I mentioned already I am mesmerized by a perfectly executed remount?).
Cyclocross provides for plenty of opportunities to get to that feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction with which you put a mental “check!” against one more challenge. It often comes in one package with blood and scrapes and bruises and cold wet clothes and frozen fingers and toes… but that’s what makes it feel like a real accomplishment, not just “oh, I raced hard and smart and placed well”.
5. What are your top five race courses in New England
1. Shedd Park (Lowell)
2. Northampton, both days
3. Amesbury (I likedthe mtb nature of the course)
4. Ice Weasels (the most fun one. Ever.)
5. Gloucester’08 day 2 (going in reverse of the usual course)
6. What is the craziest thing you've ever seen or heard while racing cross?
Elite racer Pete Smith (currently racing for Embrocation) jumping over the barriers backwards. And also Robert Tyszko smashing his nose broken (?) and still racing till the finish with the face that looked like he just ate a baby.
And David Wilcox racing dressed up as a shark, smashing his lip face on over a barrier while racing.