Motorsport is all about the image. Whether televised or a still, it's what we remember, that split second when it all comes together. Formula One offers plenty of drama for a photographer in motorsport. UK-based Sutton Motorsport Images is the largest independent supplier of motorsport shots throughout the world. Keith Sutton is at its center.
ec: What was the first race you attended with a camera? And at which point did you decide to turn pro?
KS: My first event was a small national racing fixture held at my local circuit, Oulton Park, in the northwest of England. I was 17 and legally too young to shoot, but was given the chance by the circuit manager Rex Foster, a good friend of my father, Maurice. At that moment, I knew I wanted to become a professional motorsport photographer and set about writing to all the circuit managers, asking for permission to shoot.
ec: It's difficult to get any kind of credential from the FIA these days, how did you introduce yourself to the establishment when you started out? What was the scene for a young race photographer back then?
KS: Although it was, to some extent, easier when I started out, it was by no means easy to gain a pass. To get accreditation for national events, you had to work for a publication, which could be your local newspaper. Mine was Cheadle Today. Despite the paper not having a motorsport correspondent before, I was fortunate that the editor was keen to help out a local lad and he wrote a letter, stating me as their official motorsport photographer.
My first proper accreditation came through a chance association with Rex Greenslade, a touring car driver who happened to like some shots I took of him on two wheels through Lodge at Donington Park. He explained that they could be published in his magazine. He was also the sports editor of Motor magazine. This led to work with the publication and I went on to strike a great relationship with his successor, Mike Doodson.
In 1980, Mike produced a covering letter, allowing me access to the national circuits. Back then it was IRPA (International Racing Press Association) and its leader Bernard Cahier who managed the distribution of F1 media passes--not the FIA. With that letter, I was able to cover the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. I also covered the British and Dutch GP that year.
In the early '80s, you had to cover 20 races in three years to get a permanent IRPA armband, which I attained in 1985 after years of covering grand prix where I could fit in between national racing and the European Formula Two Championship. Coincidentally, it was then that IRPA ended and the FIA took over in the distribution of passes.
ec: Did you start out in the junior ranks of UK motorsport, BTCC, Formula Ford, etc? Or did you try and cover everything, including F1?
KS: Yes, I concentrated on European F2, British F3, BTCC, Formula Ford and 2000 and 1600 until 1985, when my brother Mark and I formed Sutton Photographic. In 1986, I attended all the F1 races and the events abroad, and Mark concentrated on national racing. To this day, we still cover a wealth of formulae other than Formula One.