About The Project
This project began, somewhat serendipitously, with a charity bike ride. In 2015, David Bracetty volunteered at the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer (PPRAC) where, to raise money, riders pledged to cover up to 100 miles a day. As he watched the cyclists come in at the end of those wearying days, looking utterly raw, David thought, “I need to capture this.” With scant resources at his disposal, he duct-taped some paper to a brick wall, mounted a single light, and grabbed riders just as they were dismounting to snap their photo.
By the end of this project, he knew what he wanted to do next: Capture the rawest moments of the 2016 Track & Field Olympic Trials—that is, the moments just after the athletes stepped off the track.
In trying to capture athletes virtually the moment their competition was over, Bracetty’s goal was to put the spotlight on who the athletes are—what they think and feel—rather than turning them into a time result. That vision resonated with Matt Taylor, the CEO of Tracksmith, who hired Bracetty to do a feature for the company’s publication, METER Magazine. The plan was to specifically capture the juxtaposition between the 3rd-place finishers, who just made the Olympic Team, and the 4th-place finishers, who just missed out.
Of course, very few things in life go exactly according to plan. After some credentialing issues and travel adventures, Bracetty finally made it to Hayward Field, only to face pushback from USATF officials: No, he was told, he could not set up to shoot photos at the exit to the track. Instead he found himself in the back of the media tent. Was it ideal? No. Was he still going to get the job done and tell these athletes’ stories? You bet.
When the trials began, Bracetty had to learn quickly how (and whether) to get athletes’ attention as they walked by. He faced the constant dilemma of whether or not to capture pictures of athletes who were visibly upset. Yet even as he learned on the job, his confidence grew day by day, and memorable photos and stories followed suit. Some athletes were thrilled just to be at the trials. Others were crushed as they failed to advance to the next round. For some this was their very first trials, and for others these were the final laps of their careers. Reactions were strong. Emotions were complex. This is what Bracetty was there to capture. In all, he photographed more than 120 different athletes at the event.
THE 4 YEARS AGO PROJECT
Beyond the METER Magazine spread, Bracetty’s plan for his photographs was to bring them to the 2020 track and field trials, where they would be displayed as poster-sized prints accompanied by audio recordings. In this way, fans and athletes alike could look at the portraits and hear, in the athletes’ own words, their recollections of 2016. But then COVID-19 happened. So, as with many things, Bracetty decided to bring the exhibit online. His reasoning? “These are micro stories that athletes need to tell themselves and hear themselves saying. It’s super powerful for other athletes to hear, too, and it’s what fans need to stay engaged.”
THE ARTIST’S OWN WORDS
“I think it’s really easy to judge a lot of these athletes from the outside. From Instagram you think you know them. They’ll share a lot of X’s and O’s, weekly mileage, etc. But I think what a lot of what track and field is missing is digging deeper into how this sport has changed people’s lives and what sacrifices people are making behind the scenes to chase this Olympic dream.
Fans aren’t following a team or brand, they’re following a person. So any stories that shed light on who these people really are are important.”
Photos by David Bracetty
LIKE THE WIND MAGAZINE : EXPANDED FEATURE
THE AM SHAKEOUT PODCAST FEATURING DAVID BRACETTY
Host Mario Fraioli goes way back to Bracetty’s first encounter with racing and early memories that formed his career as a creative on podcast episode #122 of THE AM SHAKEOUT