RR Interview: Iain Weir of Rowing Photography UK and Rowing Journal

Weir (center) and father (right), LRC chief coach Paul Reedy (left), Image: © Iain Weir
Following a successful career as an oarsman that included a Henley Royal Regatta victory in the Thames Cup, photographer and entrepreneur Iain Weir has found a number of ways to stay involved with the sport that he knows and loves so well. Having begun as a photographer while competing for the London Rowing Club on the Putney Embankment, Weir has since established himself as one of the premier rowing photographers in the U.K., as well as taken on other ventures, including his most recent creation, RowingJournal.com. Here, Weir shares a little about his background, how he got started, and how you can get involved with Rowing Journal, as it continues to grow worldwide.

RR: How did you get started in the sport of rowing? What was it about the sport that captivated you, and what has sustained that interest in the sport?

Iain Weir: I couldn't tell you exactly at what moment I decided that I'd give rowing a go. I'm not from a rowing family and so I'd watched the occasional boat race on TV and would always watch the rowing coverage at Olympic Games. I think my earliest memory of it was my gran laughing hysterically at Gary Herbert bawling his eyes out in Barcelona... She still laughs at the "greetin' wee man"...

Having played golf at a good junior level I actually intended to play golf when I went to university, but the guy recruiting on the stall was such an obnoxious arse that I decided against it. (Being honest I'd already lost interest in golf having discovered cars, beer & women.)

Determined to join a sports club, I thrust myself into the arms of the rowing club who promptly pushed me away telling me that they were full! Rejected! So in my first year I did no sport and just had fun.

But then the BBC series Gold Fever happened following Steve Redgrave et al., and I got hooked on the idea of rowing. I proceeded to spend the summer on an ergo ingraining the bad habits that have taken an entire rowing career to shed, so that I'd be so strong they'd have no choice but to take me on the following year. And it worked... Through nothing more than hard work, always being there, and being vocal I won myself opportunities to occasionally sit in the University first eight when they needed a sub, which they must have hated (I earned the nickname 'the dredger'), but it gave me a taste for speed and of what rowing 'could' feel like... With the sporting equivalent of heroin pumping through my system I simply got hooked.

Since that time I've just loved racing, I actually don't care that much for training, in my opinion it's the most evil of necessary evils but there's no way round it if you want to win.

I've actually struggled to maintain an interest in training over the past season or two because there's not been a goal in mind that's excited me. I've wanted to want to, but that's not enough - you can't fake hunger.

RR: What's your favo(u)rite memory of racing?

IW: So many... Every time I think of one I remember another.

The realisation of self-belief is probably one of the greatest events that can happen to anyone in any walk of life, and I've been lucky enough to have won a few races that really mattered to me.

My father was diagnosed terminally ill in 2006 and during this period we talked about a lot of things and in hospital. He once asked me what my dreams were. Rather depressingly I answered "to win Henley." I say depressingly because I suspect there is probably more to life than rowing - like being happy, healthy, having a wonderful family... but no, for me at that time all I wanted to do was win Henley and it was something I'd wanted to do since I first stepped in a boat (I had an argument with the club president at Loughborough Uni because he wouldn't let us try to qualify our novice 4+ for the Brit. B@stard...).

So to have my father on the riverbank, fresh from the operating theatre to watch me win the Thames Cup in 2006 was pretty amazing, it's the only time he ever saw me row.

That said, the best racing I did that season was the seat racing to earn a spot in the boat in the first place - from a squad with real depth with many, many guys who could easily have been in the boat and it still won, it was savage & brutal and amongst the crew we still talk about it from time to time.

RR: How were you inspired to take up the camera? Were you always interested in photographing rowing?

IW: From an early age I owned a camera, I got my first new camera aged six. It was a blue Kodak disc compact and from then on I was where cameras went to die–any relative who upgraded their camera gave me their old one to bash and bruise taking photos of whatever museum or classic car fair I was going to that weekend.

So from an early age I think I learned a considered approach to photography. Film wasn't cheap and getting it processed wasn't cheap either, and so you had to think about what you wanted to take a photo of and ration your shots.

That said, throughout my teenage years and university it wasn't something I paid a lot of attention to. I was too busy doing other things, it was only when my father took ill that we'd spend time together taking photos, during which he actually suggested that I give photography a look as I clearly enjoyed it - a suggestion I dismissed at the time but after he passed away it was something I decided I wanted to investigate.

Too exhausted from the combination of my fathers illness and being an unwilling passenger in the early stages of credit crunch (I was a junior accountant working on trying to value complicated portfolios of sub-prime credit including Bear Stearns and some Icelandic banks - dark times) to be rowing myself I picked up my dad's digital kit and started photographing my friends rowing and things just grew from there. It was the first time I'd actually combined the interests and let's just say I'm glad I did!

RR: Having had success as an entrepreneur and an artist, you've already carved out a niche for yourself in the rowing world. What was it that gave you the idea for Rowing Journal?

IW: The Rowing Journal was born out of several things really.

The first thing was just a personal desire to start writing a bit more about rowing, my personal opinion is that rowing has been taking itself too seriously for too long and I wanted to make the rowing community examine itself a bit more closely, and enjoy a bit of a belly laugh at its own expense.

The "Don't be 'that guy'" article and the ongoing "Stereotype in profile" (click here for an example) series really helped kick things off but the subsequent "Gym Rowers" and "I just need to move my footplate, hang on" from fresh contributors really highlighted that the rowing world was not only ready to take an honest look in the mirror but that it was bursting with creative talent.

Since then we've had contributions of all types, including inspiring first steps back in a sculling boat following a brave battle with lung cancer, profiles of national team athletes as well as perspectives on the sport from not just rowers but from parents & supporters. It's early days with the site but it's really exciting that so many people have got involved.

RR: How should people go about getting involved?

It's dead easy, just visit rowingjournal.com and click on the Facebook logo and your account will be created in seconds.

I had strong views that I didn't want Rowing Journal to become a free for all forum complete with anonymous trolls, so the FB link is a way of making sure that people can be held to account in the unlikely event that anyone posts anything offensive/illegal.

That said, the site does allow people to contribute posts under a pseudonym so you can conceal your identity like the mysterious 'Insanity Melchett' or 'RowingMum' - although despite RowingMum's best efforts to conceal her identity her daughter was on the phone within minutes of the post being published!

If you want to post a comment and get involved in the debate however, it's linked to your Facebook account.

RR: What has been the highlight of your venture into the rowing blogosphere to date? I have to say I am fond of the caption contest on the RowingPhotography Facebook page.

IW: Ha, I love the caption competition too, it gave me the first glimpse of the creative talent that was bubbling under the surface of the rowing community.

I'd say the highlight for me is getting to meet the real people behind the usernames, blogs and Twitter accounts. Since I started rowing I've been fairly active within the online rowing community - if any of you remember "theangryferret" from the University Rowing League - that was me. I actually bumped into two guys yesterday at Notts City Regatta who I was introduced to via the U.R.L. (HP and Stelph) back in the day which was good fun... They've all moved on but I'm still posting stuff online about rowing... I like to think it's a bit more credible these days though!

RR: What regattas are on the schedule for you, and where should people look for rowing images?

I'm hoping to be at the National Schools Regatta in a few weeks and there is a possibility that I may try to get out to the Munich World Cup in mid June although I'll probably prioritise HWR and HRR. I don't currently have accreditation for the Olympic Rowing, which is really disappointing, but being a relatively new kid on the block this isn't really surprising, I was delighted to have a commission for the Boat Race this year and to get a photo printed in The Sunday Times - even if it was of that prat Trenton.

My images all go onto http://rowingphotography.co.uk, and I post links to them via the RowingPhotography Facebook page. I sometimes throw the odd photo on there to test the water and see what people think.

RR: What's the next idea you have brewing?

IW: I imagine my brain to be like a room with loads of closed doors and behind each of those doors is a guy working away on something.

The way it's meant to work is that only one guy is allowed out of his room at a time but from time to time it gets out of control and some of the guys get so excited about what they're working on that they rush out and compete for attention and the result is that nobody gets anything done... The plus side of this is that when one of those guys produces something good, he convinces the others and they accept defeat and go back to their room and things like the Rowing Journal get created with reckless abandon.

The Rowing Journal is still less than a month old and with over 40 contributors currently writing and more signing up each day I think it's going to be keeping me busy, so for the time being the other guys are locked in their rooms - who knows what they're up to?

Thanks very much to Iain Weir for taking the time! To get involved with Rowing Journal, simply follow the links and instructions above.


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