Wimbledon photographer Duncan Grove on capturing the tennis
From Monday 24 June, New York Times-published Wimbledon photographer, Duncan Grove, will be showcasing his body of tennis photography for the sixth free exhibition at Wimbledon’s Hotel du Vin
Arriving at Duncan’s studio on a rainy day in April, the proximity of the Wimbledon practice grounds to his office window is startlingly close – the gleaming lawn still pristine despite grisly weather. “We’re just 500 metres away from Centre Court,” he proudly discloses. Being so close to the lawns is an ever-present reminder of the photographer’s inspiration and is handy for the self-confessed tennis photography obsessive: “I managed to shoot Andy Murray in practice from my window once,” he tells me. Duncan’s time photographing the most famous tennis tournament is full of excellent anecdotes – and it’s this fun side of Wimbledon that he likes to capture – from the cheeky tennis bums of the Williams sisters he has framed in his office, to his shot of Andy Murray’s wedding ring tied to his shoe – stories that narrate and capture the personal – and what will be hanging at Hotel du Vin come late June.
Duncan’s upcoming AELTC-approved exhibition is a culmination of 10 years of work, with some key Wimbledon moments, like Murray’s first Wimbledon win, documented. Year on year, Hotel du Vin hosts over 100 of Duncan’s fine art limited edition prints as part of the summertime buzz, the great and the good often staying within the esteemed hotel’s walls and players like Novak Djokovic visiting and signing prints. This year’s exhibition will be no different, with the addition of Djokovic’s 2018 win documented on the walls.
So how did Duncan go on to shoot some of the most spectacular sporting moments in tennis history? “Well I’ve got a couple of yarns which you need a bottle of wine and an hour for but I’ll give you the shortened version,” he laughs. Duncan’s palpable passion for photography started out as a mere hobby, after capturing a shot of an opulent hotel in France that propelled him into a life-long love of photography. After joining the Malden and Kingston camera clubs and winning a competition, Duncan took his love for photography professional. “I became obsessed and read every photography magazine. I really taught myself.”
A Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, Duncan was first accredited in 2010 but was shooting Wimbledon tennis long before. He remembers fondly: “I used to get a ground pass and walk around Centre Court. This allowed me to build a portfolio, which wasn’t easy. When you’re shooting from public seats you can’t use a long lens because it blocks other spectators’ views.”
Turning his attention to sports, how does he pick the photos to display at the exhibition? “I have stock which I’ve built up over the years. Each exhibition, probably 10% of the images are new from the previous year and all for sale.”
After 10 years, Duncan has been there for the sporting highs and lows. “The atmosphere for Murray’s Wimbledon win in 2013 was the most amazing atmosphere I witnessed.” In terms of his favourite moments documented by his photographs, he remembers: “In 2012 I had one match where I was shooting Serena Williams. She was wearing a purple headband which I don’t think you’re allowed to wear now, but it was just one match where all the shots seemed to come out well.” He also nods to an aesthetically satisfying photograph of Roger Federer on the wall where his hands and feet are perfectly framed in a star shape. Another is a series of shots he enthusiastically shows me of a chuffed Murray gazing in adoration at his trophy and dropping the lid on the floor. “That trophy is kept in a hermetically sealed cabinet for 364 days of the year, and there’s Andy dropping it on the floor!”
“The atmosphere for Murray’s Wimbledon win in 2013 was the most amazing atmosphere I witnessed”
Duncan’s shots are characterised by bright sunshine and strong shadows that highlight muscular definition on the players’ bodies. “You do know when you’ve taken a good shot, but it’s actually the time of day which makes the difference. When it’s a really sunny day, like last year’s tournament, it’s great. There is one photography position,” he describes, “called ‘up in the Gods’. It’s right in the top and looks right down onto Centre Court. At about 5pm it’s the golden hour and you get that lovely light.”
It’s not all plain sailing though and there are plenty of challenges to shooting at Wimbledon. “I’m taking around 1,500 photos a day and the background can make or break a photograph.” Duncan iterates his desire to capture sharp eyes in focus on the court. “I work on the basis that if you get the eyes sharp, nothing else matters. If you try to get very close up with a long lens it’s difficult as you can chop off half a racket, but if you shoot wide, you don’t get the high quality. I shoot to print large so quality really matters.”
And does capturing the best moments detract from his enjoyment of the sport? “I can’t properly follow a tennis match when I’m at Wimbledon – I’m only looking at one side of court most of the time so I do make a point of putting my camera down just to try and watch the game. It’s very hard but sometimes you need to be able to watch the players.”
For Duncan, what makes Wimbledon stand out from the crowd is the overwhelming atmosphere. He reflects with a great anecdote. “I shot the 2013 final when Murray won and I shot the trophy shots on court and was working my way around the outside of Centre Court to get to the balcony. I had three cameras – a big heavy one under one arm and another one around my neck and it was a blisteringly hot day. The crowds were so dense that I couldn’t move. Someone came with what I thought was a punch at me, but he was actually grabbing hold of his sleeve and dabbing my brow. I thought to myself – that’s the difference between a football match and a tennis crowd!”
Visitors to Duncan’s exhibition can browse the images at Hotel du Vin from 24 June – 14 July. “Hotel du Vin is a nice place to go and have a glass of champagne on the terrace you never know which celebrity player you’re going to bump into. It really gets people into the spirit.”
Images can also be viewed at www.duncangrove.com