Not everyone has a treasure trove to fall back on when caught in a sudden corporate bloodletting. Luckily for him and for fans of Formula One and historic racing and fine art aficionados, Dick Kelley did. A thousand or more unpublished photos from 12 years covering Formula 1 were waiting for a curator and presentation to the public. None have been published before, even though he has provided photos for more than 600 Car and Driver feature stories and for multiple international auto publication and helped found two car magazines. The ones he chose to post on his website are works of art. And there is little doubt those that follow will be any less so.
He has an “eye” that was quickly detected by a journalism professor at Indiana University who was in the habit of giving students entering his non-verbal communications class a roll of film and telling them “go take pictures.”
After Kelley turned in his assignment the professor hunted him down and insisted that Kelley buy a camera and take a job as staff photographer for the student newspaper.
He did and like the professor, became a devotee of the early “masters” of still photos. Kelley recalls “their point of view became my mantra: make photographs that tell a story; remove yourself; disappear; leave out the vanity; and, make emotional and elegantly composed images that point to a truth about your subject.” He did that in compiling his Formula 1 documentary from 1972 to 1984. It was a period when it was easier to get close to his subjects, “be there without being there,” and capture their emotions and reactions: Niki Lauda communing with his “race Gods,” Francois Cevert patiently letting his mentors discuss a suspension adjustment but eager to get back to the track where minutes later he was in a crash and died. Jackie Stewart “zoned in” on capturing the pole at Watkins Glen in 1972. There are racing shots and podium shots but the emphasis is always on the emotion in the moment. They are accompanied by generous captions that will rekindle memories or introduce fans to an unrivaled period of Formula 1 racing and racers.
Kelley stepped away from Formula 1 in 1984, unable, he thought, to get the kind of “honest” shots he had been taking. That led to more work as a media and marketing content producer (writing and photography) at one time or another for most of the carmakers operating in the U.S.
Later, he served as Mitsubishi’s Senior Manager of Media Relations and then, manager of the company’s North American Motorsports. This was followed by eight years as Toyota’s Southeast Regional PR Representative until the unexpected purge that left him on the beach and prompted the publishing of his Formula 1 photos that, he says, “gave him back his soul.” And, hopefully, another run of outstanding photos.
Updated to correct some horrendous typos!