Having worked as a photographer for over 30 years, in 2013, Indira Flack decided she needed a new challenge. After photographing various people from politicians to actors, Flack felt it was time to put those in the motorsport world in front of her camera and created the Great British Racing Drivers Exhibition. Her work was unveiled towards the end of 2019 with portraits of 121 of the UK’s most inspirational and successful racing drivers. I spoke to her about her interest in photography, her project and her hopes for the exhibition.
After leaving school at the age of 16, Indira began a 2-year art foundation course. “It was brilliant, it was very broad and included photography. I really enjoyed photography but it never even entered my head to make it a career,” she said. However, Flack’s love of sport was also something she had never considered would become part of her future career. “I’ve always been interested in sport, I played netball for my school and hockey for my house. I loved watching lots of different sports on TV and listening to Murray Walker’s commentary. The Lombard RAC rally used to zoom past our house in Worcestershire in-between stages which was always exciting but I didn’t have a particular interest in motorsport,” she explained.
The role Indira did see herself doing was as a Fabric Designer after enjoying exploring the subject at school. “My degree course was in Surface Pattern. I thought it sounded interesting to be able to print on a variety of surfaces like fabric, glass and ceramics. My course was a multi-disciplinary design course, which was lucky as it turned out. The first term was like an extension of my foundation course, with ten different areas. You could try out your main area with two others, one of my options was photography,” Flack told me. After spending her second term focussing on Surface Pattern, Indira realised it was not for her. Having enjoyed photography so much in her first term, Indira’s tutor suggested picking up the camera again. “Best piece of advice I ever got at college,” she said.
After deciding on a career as a photographer, Indira began doing small jobs at home in Worcestershire before moving to London to further pursue what had now become a passion. She became a freelance photographic assistant, working with many different photographers in a range of genres. However, there was one who had a particular impact on her. “The last photographer I assisted was Ian Bradshaw. He was absolutely brilliant; we had the best time. Ian is actually the person who got me interested in being a portrait photographer. He taught me to be able to go into any situation, assess it, shoot it and be finished in half an hour if needs be. Ian liked to play golf, so on occasion when his golf clashed with a shoot, I would go off and be the photographer. The first one we swapped on, I got to photograph Mary Berry. He’d even pay me his photographer’s fee and pay himself my assistant’s fee. My first proper commissioned job was a portrait for a weekly magazine. The article featured a man who, when he died, wanted his head frozen in the hope that he could be resurrected at a later date – very glamorous,” she explained.
Having now worked as a professional editorial portrait photographer for almost 30 years, Flack has had the opportunity to photograph a huge variety of people. “One of the best things about being a photographer is that you get to meet all sorts of interesting people. Sometimes the people you’re not actually photographing are really interesting too. Many, many moons ago, I photographed the footballer Ryan Giggs of Manchester United and Wales. He was very young and quite shy, his manager on the other hand was quite the opposite. Outgoing, with a huge handlebar moustache and a fascinating life story,” she told me. Despite having photographed many sports stars, her involvement in motorsport photography came much later. Her partner Paul, also a photographer, had previously worked for the Duke or Richmond when he himself was an advertising photographer. When he took over Goodwood from his parents, Charles Gordon-Lennox, the 11th Duke of Richmond, then Lord March, created the Festival of Speed. With a passion for motorsport he wanted to organise an event at Goodwood circuit, however was unable to secure the appropriate permits and so decided to hold it on his own grounds. The Duke then invited Indira and Paul to photograph the event. “He asked us to go along to take some pictures, so that was my introduction to motorsport. I had very little idea who a lot of the people were but it was great fun finding out! Having had so much fun with GBRD, I would love to do more within motorsport,” Indira said.
The idea for GBRD came in November 2013 after Flack was involved in a cycling accident. “Paul and I were out on our mountain bikes. A lady in a 4×4 tried to drive over me whilst I was waiting to cross the road! Recovering and dosed up on painkillers, I began to think that I’d like to do something more creative with my photography – it was time for a project,” she told me. Paul suggested racing drivers would make good subjects and as she was returning from a long break from photographing at Goodwood, it would be the ideal place to chat to them and so the Great British Racing Drivers project was born. “The research was fascinating. As a non-motorsport person, I had no idea that there were so many great and inspirational British drivers, so I decided that the public needed to know about them. I would like the portraits to be exhibited at non-motorsport venues after Silverstone so the general public can see them. Right from the beginning, the idea was not only to include champions, I wanted to show that you don’t have to win championships to be considered a great or inspirational driver,” Flack explained.
With over 120 drivers in the exhibition, Indira finds it impossible to pick out any favourites. “Some drivers have been particularly helpful, Mark Blundell and Stuart Graham spring to mind but honestly if I had to make a list of favourites it would end up with everyone on it! I have favourite pictures because they were particularly difficult to organise or they just worked out perfectly. That list includes Kiern Jewiss, Stuart Graham, John Cleland, Louise Cook, Jason Plato, Abbie Eaton, Flick Haigh, Johnny Herbert, David Coulthard, Martin Brundle and the latest addition Michael Lyons. It has been an absolute privilege to spend time with and hear tales from some of the most successful and talented racing drivers in Britain,” Indira told me. After spending 5 years working on the exhibition, Flack is happy with the outcome of all her hard work, though there are some things she would possibly change. “There are always some things you could improve or would have done differently. I had some ideas that just weren’t possible with no budget but who knows I might get to do those one day – here’s hoping,” she said.
With the Great British Racing Drivers Exhibition now available to view, Indira believes the project is the highlight of her career so far. “It’s been absolutely brilliant; I’ve enjoyed the total freedom of not having a brief. Being able to shoot the picture exactly how I want, without the restrictions of layout or style has been great. I’ve learned such a lot about these amazing people, of which I knew very little or nothing about at all. I’ve really enjoyed the organisation, the more challenging, the more satisfying it is when it all comes together. I couldn’t have picked a better bunch of people to photograph. I have absolutely loved the whole process…except trying to secure sponsorship!” she exclaimed. However, this doesn’t mean the project, and her work in general is without difficulties. “Turning up to a location when you’ve no idea what you might find. Sometimes the location is fabulous and you’re spoilt for choice. Sometimes it’s really obvious where it’s best to set up. Sometimes you don’t find very much at all and you have to make something out of nothing and then there’s the weather, which is a whole different challenge all by itself! I don’t really think of it as a challenge as such though, it’s just what I do,” she said.
When it comes to her plans for the exhibition now it is open to the public, Indira still has several things she would like to do, all with the aim of helping a deserving charity. “There’s still quite a lot to do for GBRD. I am putting the GBRD book together. As well as the drivers, it will feature the stories behind the pictures and a peak behind the scenes. GBRD is proudly supporting Sir Jackie Stewart’s Race Against Dementia charity so 10% of all print and book sales will be donated to RAD. I am also working on a limited edition set of prints to be auctioned by Sir Jackie for Race Against Dementia at a special F1 auction,” Flack explained.
Indira’s Great British Racing Drivers Exhibition is now open to the public at the Silverstone Experience, with free admission included in the Silverstone Experience entry price.
For more information regarding prints and the upcoming GBRD book, visit: https://www.gbrd.photos/ or email: email@example.com