If a picture is worth 1000 words then Graeme Murray’s body of work is worth millions. If you’re a fan of mountain biking there is a very good chance you’ve seen one of his photographs. He’s been documenting the sport and some very important events in Rotorua and New Zealand for 20 years. Mountain bike writer Graeme Simpson grabs a coffee with the talented lensman.
One of his most recent images is on the Crankworx billboards at the southern and northern entrances to Rotorua. It is Empire of Dirt trail builder, Adam King, floating in space, with the city and lake in the background, backlit by the sun over Mount Ngongotaha. It illustrates Graeme’s unique perspective, spatial sense and visual genius: where most of us see a view, he sees a rider in that view.
It also shows his commitment to the shot. There was no "client". He did it in his own time. To fulfill his vision took weeks of work and careful planning. A launch ramp had to be built (by Adam and Graeme). Test shots were required and the timing had to be perfect as they chased the setting sun.
The result justified all that work. Photography as art.
“I feel like the camera is an extension of my brain … getting that perfect shot, capturing that ideal moment in time," he shares. "I’m always looking for new ways of telling the story. With mountain biking the inspiration comes on a ride. Until I get the shot I can’t get it out of my head. It’s a never-ending challenge.”
Graeme’s early beginnings as a professional photographer in the mid-1990s coincided with the first boom in mountain biking. Growing up in Rotorua, living an outdoor life, it was natural that he and twin brother, Dave, would be drawn to the sport. Both competed nationally and internationally.
It was also natural that Graeme would start on his journey portraying the sport and recreation as it grew … and grew.
His boxes full of slides (yes, film!) are a chronological history of those pioneering days.
Into a new millennium, the work continued, often for love.
Graeme’s photos were a key component of the promotion of the 2006 UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships in Rotorua, when New Zealand mountain biking first took centre stage, worldwide.
A video he created using a lot of those images resulted in oohs and ahhs from a crowded media room in Livigno in Italy at the 2005 Worlds.
Graeme shot all through the week of the championships in 2006, delivering a heap of images every evening for upload to the event website.
Over the seven days those images were viewed 1.2 million times.
It was the same with the next major international mountain bike event in Rotorua, the 2010 Singlespeed World Championships. It’s a far more light-hearted event and Graeme captured that eccentricity and sense of humour in a series of portraits of extravagantly costumed riders for a feature in Red Bulletin magazine.
And when that same magazine named Rotorua as one of the top 8 mountain biking destinations in the world the photos used to illustrate that were also Graeme’s.
He doesn’t only photograph the trails – he regularly rides them. He’s often out there on the right end of a shovel building and maintaining the trails.
“That’s just giving something back to a place that has given me so much," he adds. "Growing up and living my life in Rotorua is something I am really grateful for – it’s a great environment and community. I can go surfing on the coast or a stand-up paddle on the lake and a ride in the forest, all in a few hours. And then, of course, there’s that massive ‘studio’ called Whakarewarewa Forest.”
To see more of Graeme’s work – not just mountain biking, visit www.graememurray.com