NEWS: Commencal Media Crew: Chapter #1 - JB Liautard
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
If you follow our sport, you'll notice that Commencal leans heavily towards competition. In particular DH racing, the Formula 1 of MTB! This is the most demanding practice, not only for the rider, but, also on the gear and equipment. Through both performance and reliability, it's our way of developing the best bikes and proving it to the world.
In addition to the energy we devote to performance we also spend an enormous amount of time producing images. Throughout the year there’s loads of photo and video shoots going on all over the world. Sometimes product oriented, sometimes rider oriented. We are constantly posting content.
For several years now, in order to carry out these shoots, we have our own media department. Today it's made up of 4 artists. Artists who live the brand from the inside, who know our riders better than anyone and who participate in the genesis of the evolution of new bikes and new ranges.
We decided to take advantage of this period of relative calm to put a spotlight on their talents.
This first chapter is devoted to JB. Capable of making incredible videos too, photography remains his favourite field. Rewarded at RedBull Illume, winner of Photo of the Year on Pinkbike, his talent is undeniable. We asked him to select his 25 favourite shots from the last three years and to tell us the story behind each of them.
I've been working closely with Commencal for the last 3 years, travelling around the world to shoot new bikes, adventures and documenting some rider's lives. During these years, I took a countless number of photos and even narrowing them down to 25 was pretty hard. So here are my favourite images that I've shot during this time.
Rémi Thirion - La Palma
I took this photo during my first assignment for Commencal Bicycles on La Palma Island in 2016. We spent our first day there exploring the island as we didn't know anything about it. Luckily we had a guide and he told us there has been a huge forest fire in the area a few months before and the zone was still burnt to ashes. We decided to go there and scout the zone to see how it looked. The forest was totally burnt and black for most of it but some zones were covered with these orange needles. This was some kind of unexpected and surreal landscape, right in front of us! There wasn’t any trail in the forest so we had to find our own lines to shoot. I remember I put so much pressure on myself as I knew I had to take a good photo in this unique and ephemeral landscape but I had no idea about how to make it. I think Rémi did all the magic when he started riding this gully and scrubbing this little dome. I wanted to keep the natural color contrast of the area so I didn’t use any artificial light and we just waited for the sun to disappear behind the clouds to shoot.
Louis Hamilton - Coronet Peak
Coronet Peak might be one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. We travelled to New Zealand to shoot the new edition of the Furious back in 2017. It was my first time there and the first thing we wanted to shoot was this hip, hidden somewhere on the side of Coronet Peak's famous trail near Queenstown. Louis flew from the North Island and he'd never hit this jump before, but the goal was to start the shoot at sunrise. We woke up really early and started roaming in the area with our headlamps to finally find this hip. We thought the struggle was over but after a few whips, Louis crashed and broke his saddle right before the sun peaked over the mountains. That was definitely not ideal and after 5 minutes of reflection, we headed back to the car thinking the day was over. On our way back, we crossed paths with 2 other guys going to the jump. They kindly accepted to lend us a saddle, and even if the tube was too small, we made it bigger with tape and finished our morning shoot thanks to these guys.
Cécile Ravanel - Tasmania
This was the worst shooting / riding day ever for a lot of people. In 2017, the second round of the EWS happened in Derby, Tasmania, and after ten days of perfect weather, the finals day might have been the worst in a long time. A big storm hit the area and it was pouring rain the whole day, until the very last stage. While I was trying to cover all my gear with my umbrella, I had the idea to use my flashes under the rain during the race run. I had to build the setup under the rain and ran to a tree in the middle of the track to hang my flashes together under a plastic bag. Luckily, everything went well and they didn't die. I waited for Cecile and took the photo while she was hiding the flashes in the background.
Yoann Barelli - Squamish
The Canadian west coast hides some of the most beautiful forest I've seen. But you know the reason why everything is so green if you've ever been there during fall, winter and spring. It's raining most of the time. I took this photo in Squamish in 2017 I think, we were coming back from a shooting day in the forest with Yoann and his dog, Jackson. This was shot just on the side of the shuttle road, just before we headed back home. British Columbia is really alive at this time of the year, salmon head up river and you can easily see hundreds of eagles fishing for them.
Rémi Thirion - La Palma
Forest fires are one of the worst things that can happen to nature, but amongst all their bad sides, they leave behind them a blank canvas. The colors are gone and ashes cover everything, which makes the zone really photogenic. I took this photo on La Palma Island, shooting for the new META V4.2 back in 2016, in the same forest as the first shot of this article, just a couple hundred meters away. Our bike was grey and so was Rémi's outfit, which made the whole scene almost look like a black and white picture.
Antoine Clément - Ardèche
I spend a lot of time in my car, driving to shooting, riding or camping spots and I saw this rock during one of those trips. After many times passing in front of it, I realised that the sun was going down in a perfect position from my point of view but only during the winter. So I called my friend and we decided to go their with our bikes and check this out. I had to be really far away and use a long lens to make the backdrop look closer. We were lucky with the weather as the sun set exactly where I imagined, giving this warm look to the picture and only showing shadows and mountain layers.
Jeremy Berthier - Bourgoin
Two things that I love when it comes to photography are silhouettes and reflections and I wanted to use both in a single frame for a long time. After a lot of drawings, I knew what I wanted but it took me six months to get the perfect conditions and final ideas. Jeremy‘s trail is a piece of art and this jump is definitely a highlight. I knew I wanted to shoot it from the side and get that reflection but it was really dry at this time of the year and of course there was no water around. When I saw a wheelbarrow hanging around by the jumps, I had the idea to fill it up with water to create a mirror. We didn‘t have any water hose that day, so I had to do round trips with water cans to a little ditch by the road. After spending a lot of time adjusting the wheelbarrow and cleaning the water in the afternoon, my mirror was finally ready for the evening shoot. We were lucky enough to have a few friends helping us with the fire that night and adjusting the smoke just as we needed. The hardest job was Jeremy‘s as he had to ride the trail almost blind. Riding bikes at night is so scary and I can‘t thank the athletes enough when they are in these kinds of conditions. After a few attempts, we got this one, just as I imagined it at the very beginning, and it was a great feeling to finally see the image I had in my head for months, displayed on the back of my camera.
William Robert - Green River
Utah is probably one of the most iconic places in Freeride history. When you're driving on the highway through this state, it seems to always be the same landscape on the side of the road, but the desert keeps changing the further you go, the color of the dirt is different, the shape of the rocks is not the same and the weather is different almost every mile. I've seen so many images from Green River over the years and as a photographer it has always been on my go to list. We had the chance to do a trip there last spring with William Robert and we were all impressed by those brown rocks standing on top of big piles of black dirt. The one in the picture was maybe the most beautiful as it looked like a meteor. There was nothing really rideable or fitting the framing I wanted around it so the only way was to shoot from the bottom with a very long lens, and William was riding a ridge a few dozen meters in front of the rock.
Jéremy Berthier - Lyon
When I found this forest not too far from my place, I immediately wanted to take a riding picture in there, but I also wanted to preserve it as it’s not the usual landscape in France. That's why Jeremy built a special wooden kicker for this shot, so we didn't have to dig in the forest. It was really hard to find the perfect run in for the jump and the timing was tight. The weather wasn't on our side at first as it was supposed to be really foggy in the morning. We waited under the clouds for maybe an hour and a half before the fog barely came in and stayed for 10 minutes.
Andreu Lacondeguy - Barcelona
I've known Andreu for a few years now, but this was the first time we had the chance to properly meet as he signed with Commencal earlier this year. We went to Catalonia to shoot a welcome edit and some photos in March and after spending a day in Osor at Pure Riding Bike Park, we moved to his house, closer to Barcelona. This photo was shot in his yard at the end of the day. I asked Andreu if he could hit that jump which is at the very bottom of his line, while he was shooting some video clips at the top. The trick wasn't hard to choose as Andreu might have some of the best superman in the game. There are usually insane sunsets there but we were not that lucky with the weather on this trip so a cloudy sky had to do the trick, which wasn't too bad in the end.
Kilian Bron - Lipari Island
This image makes me smile every time I look at it, probably because we were all laughing during the whole ride to our shooting spot. We were in the Aeolian Islands with Kilian Bron last December, and our only transportation and hotel was a sailboat. This meant we didn't have any transport to the shooting zones, so we had to walk, call taxis or even better, rent scooters. The trail we were about to shoot at sunset was on the other side of the island. We were running a bit late, so the only way to be there on time was to pull Kilian with one of the scooters, which was already pretty heavy with 2 guys carrying a photo bag each. We weren't as fast as it looks!
Jéremy Berthier - Bourgoin
There are some places where you've been so many times that you think you're done with shooting them. That's what I was more or less thinking after spending hours and hours at Jéremy's jumps looking for new ideas over the last 3 years. I never shot this jump before as it's the last one of the trail and it's not in an area directly hit by the evening sun. But this time there was a really big puddle on its side. Jéremy forgot to turn off the water the night before so it filled this big hole made by the rain. There was a lot of dead leaves on the surface though, so I spent a good part of the afternoon removing the leaves, and we started shooting at the end of the day with a small group of riders. The sky wasn't looking that great right after sunset so we waited a little and it suddenly turned pink. I asked the riders to do a few more tries in the dark. In the end, this one was the best image.
Daniel Fleury - Vancouver Island
My relationship with fog and flashes is pretty strong I would say. I shot this image during a trip to Vancouver Island with Brendan Howey and Daniel Fleury as we were shooting the new Furious BC edition. At the end of the day, we decided to shoot a trail in a clear cut. The weather was so foggy we couldn't even see 15 metres in front of us, I remember Brendan and Daniel had to remove their goggle lens’ to shoot because of the rain. Once we were done with the riding, I saw those trees, standing in the middle of nowhere so I asked Daniel to sit there for a second. I used a flash to illuminate the whole scene, as we couldn't see much without it.
Paul Couderc - Figeac
When we talk about mountain biking photography, we often see action pictures. While action is great to shoot, I love documenting what's happening before and after the ride as well. In this photo, Paul was washing his bike under the rain in front of his house. We all know that feeling, when you're tired from your day of riding in bad weather conditions, and you still have to clean your bike before you can even take a shower yourself. I used two flashes with orange gels to create this back-light effect and colour.
Paul Couderc - Figeac
I've been trying a few concepts with Paul over the last year and this was one of the last things we tried. We had the idea of using flour on the kicker to add some texture to a classic jump shot. After a few tries, we noticed that the flour on the kicker wasn't enough and Paul's brother, Adrien, helped us by throwing some flour in the air just before the jump. We did a few tries and we got this one on the last try with the end of the flour.
Jéremy Berthier - Bougoin
The moments before sunrise are often as good as the sunrise itself. We decided to try a morning shoot at Jéremy's jumps but we didn't really know what kind of weather to expect as his trail is at the bottom of a valley. I live half an hour away from his place and during the whole drive, I couldn't see anything because of thick fog. It suddenly cleared up when I arrived on location, but there was still some low fog banks over the fields surrounding the jumps so we tried a few shots there before the sun came up.
Myriam Nicole - Morzine
Fall season is my favorite. I never had the chance to shoot in Chile or Colorado at this time of the year, but the Alps aren't bad either. We decided to go to Morzine with Myriam for a week last October. With the world cup season, it's really hard to find time to shoot with downhill racers during the year, and it was only my second time shooting with Myriam outside the tape. The bike park was obviously closed but we still managed to get a few photos on the main lines. Those are not the easiest to shoot as the track is most of the time pretty wide, but at least it's fast and we didn't have to build anything. The orange trees all around the place made a classic trail look kind of special.
Paul Couderc - Figeac
Some jumps are perfect for riding but hard to shoot. This one is at the bottom of a field, with a forest on its side hiding the sunset light. The are not a lot of ways to get good light on it, that's why I chose to shoot it after sunset with a few flashes. I wanted to use smoke again to hide the dark background but covering such a large frame with smoke is not easy at all. We had to set up a good number of big fires all lined up on the side of the jump and then Paul's brother helped us creating the smoke by throwing some green grass on the fires.
William Robert - Les 2 Alpes
We worked on this project for 2 years. I've dreamt of a big hip jump in the mountains, with perfect evening light. This is pretty much the dream set up for any mountain bike photographer, but it's definitely not easy to make it happen. Thanks to Les 2 Alpes, we were able to dig a line on a perfectly exposed field up in the mountains. Due to some technical and logistic issues, William and two friends only had 4 days to dig the whole line and they didn't have time to make the hip as big as we wanted but in the end, it wasn't too bad anyway. A few days later, we went up there with William and the other guys from the media team for a week of shooting. A dream line, perfect light and William Robert, everything was in place to produce beautiful content. We had a whole line to shoot and to ride but we couldn't get enough of shooting this hip, which was obviously the highlight of the build.
Nicolas Mazzoleni - Grenoble
I've passed by these big walnut fields so many times and I always thought they were potentially interesting for a photo shoot. After spending some time on a map to find the perfect spot, I found this small and straight road right in the middle of a field. Then I asked one of my friends to meet at this place on a winter morning to see what was possible or not. I brought a big mirror with me to get this reflection at the bottom of the frame. This was just more or less a scouting mission, but in the end I like this photo and I never came back to shoot some action there.
Quinn Hanley & William Robert - Kamloops
In 2018, right after Crankworx Whistler, we went on a 7 day trip in BC between Spences Bridge and Kamloops. There was a huge number of forest fires all around the place, leading to a smoky atmosphere in a huge area. I remember landing in Vancouver without being able to see the ground from the plane until the very end. The smoke was so thick it blocked the sunlight and the only thing we could see in the sky was a red sphere. At least the smoke in the air was good for photos and that's why we went to Kamloops bike ranch on the last evening of the trip to shoot a little bit in those conditions.
Paul Couderc - Figeac
It took us 3 evenings to get this photo because we didn't calculate how hard it would be. The timing of a shot like this one has to be really precise as Paul had to hit the jump when it was getting really dark, but he could still see a little bit. Our first struggle was the smoke, even if there was no wind at all, we noticed that the smoke was going up the hill for the first ten minutes, and then in the other direction. It was super hard to control and the smoke was staying way too low on the ground. The next day we made bigger fires so the heat would push the smoke higher. Unfortunately the wind was blowing sideways towards the camera and it was impossible for Paul to see anything. On the third evening, we were lucky and as we learned from our previous errors, everything went smoothly.
Jéremy Berthier - Lyon
What I love when it comes to photography is uncertainty. Earlier in the afternoon, I had asked Jéremy Berthier and Nicolas Terrier if they were up for a sunset shoot on their home trail. We all thought it was a good idea as the sunsets are often crazy up there, with golden hour sun facing directly at the jumps. Once I arrived, I started to look for one or two photo ideas but in the end, none of them worked as big clouds arrived and we knew the sunset wasn't going to happen. I was a bit lost but just before the night, it started to rain and we focused on a single hip. I love shooting under the rain with speed lights but it's always challenging for my gear and the athletes. One of my flashes, the one on the right side, wasn't firing for most of the tries for no reason, but I couldn't loose time and solve the problem. I got lucky as it suddenly started to work again just for this photo. It wasn't an easy one for the riders but they know how I like to work in bad weather conditions so I guess they're used to it now.
Kilian Bron - Lipari Island
After a 5am alarm call on our sailboat, we had to reach the top of this hill for sunrise. Going up a sand pit 100m high at night and in the rain wasn't the best commute to a riding spot, especially when you're expecting good light for a morning shoot. Once we reached the top of this pumice quarry, we had a few minutes to breathe before the sun finally peaked under the clouds. It was still raining and rainbows started to appear in the background. The blue sea in the background is not a lagoon, but its color is due to the white pumice sand going down the quarry into the sea. I shot this photo after Kilian's first run down the hill, as he was going up for another one, out of breath, on uneven ground that could collapse at anytime.
Hugo Frixtalon - Sunshine Coast
This was for sure my favorite shooting day from last year. We were lucky enough to witness an entire day of thick fog on the Canadian Sunshine Coast. It was hard to pick a single photo from this shoot but as this one scored Pinkbike Photo of the Year, I thought it deserved its place here. We went down this trail during the whole day while shooting and this was pretty much the last section because the light was fading away. It was getting too dark to film so I tried to shoot this shark fin with flashes and we came up with this result after a few tries.
Words & Images: JB Liautard