BRISTOL, Tenn. – For the past three years, the King College Photography Department has worked for Bristol Motor Speedway to capture the NASCAR racing events held at the world's fastest half mile. In addition to photographing the races, a main focus for the students has always been to document – through the lens - the BMS NASCAR fan experience.
King's Photography Department was tasked by BMS with shooting in a very different way from the other photography teams covering the events. They were asked to capture something that speaks more to the experience of Bristol rather than just the race of Bristol.
"The partnership with Bristol Motor Speedway began in the same year King's Photography Department began accepting its first students - fall 2010," said Chris Stewart, program director for photography and chair for the department of performing arts. "Since that first August night race, we continue to photograph for BMS twice yearly, the August night race and the spring race in March. The idea behind what we try and capture is not so much that the race is an action event, but rather a social event. The Bristol race is as much about the social scene as it is the race itself. Our approach in working with BMS's marketing and public relations departments is that they recognize very well that the fan experience is as marketable as the racing action."
King's photography program teaches that photography is first and foremost about telling stories. Photography can be many things, but the stories the photos tell have the real lasting effect. "We remember when someone told us something through the photos," said Stewart. "We want to create images that, later on, people will look back on and will view them as a story. We want to tell the story of fans – now."
It was evident to the participating students that the fans are the real story that lasts. As sponsors change and racers change and as their colors and paint schemes change, the fans remain the same. The fans are the real story that has existed at BMS all through the years and will continue to do so.
"Prior to the weeks' events, we spend a lot of time discussing what it was that defined the experience of Bristol," commented Stewart. "It is about fan events; it's about the campgrounds; it's about the driver appearances; and it is about all the corporate sponsors selling their wares so well. You add these all up and it looks like fans having a fantastic time. During the race, it looks the same, fans having a fantastic time."
In addition to capturing the fan experience, the students also cover the racing action on the track. "It is great experience for the students," said Stewart. "This style of journalism is one of the many aspects of photography for which we prepare students."
King's Photography department has full access to the racetrack, from pit row, to driver access, to the stands, to the campgrounds. The project is supervised by both Stewart and Tammy Mercure, assistant professor of photography for King. The students included in the week long project range from sophomores to seniors. As the students gain more experience, the students' tasks escalate. In addition to photographing the event, students have responsibilities in both time management and equipment management.
The photography students who participated in the week long events included King seniors Nicole Poyo, Clint Warmoth, Blake Patrick, Brandon Reese; juniors John Brasher, Jesse Cheers, McKay Pruitt; and sophomores Jessany Bowman and Colton Dickenson.
> "Bristol Motor Speedway does a fantastic job at facilitating what we do," said Stewart. "BMS helps to steer us about what is new, they give us specific ideas about shots they would like to have, and then they provide us with the freedom to do what we need to do to get the best shots. Each year our focus transforms a bit. One year may be focused completely on the grandstands; some years it is more about the campgrounds. They give us freedom while facilitating our work. They give us a great workspace - a suite space at Thunder Valley drag tower. They also provide us with golf carts to assist with movement of equipment and students throughout the event space. It is both an honor and a privilege to work with BMS each year. The experience our students garner from covering such an enormous event is immeasurable."
The coverage of the race by King's Photography Department began Tuesday, Aug. 21 and continued through Saturday night, Aug. 25.
"On the big race days, we are in by 9:30 a.m. and work all day and into the night," said Stewart. "On Saturday for the night race, we were in at 9:30 a.m. and finished up at 3 a.m. after all the fans had left and all the after post events are finished. We cover everything from the winners to the press, the post interviews, as well as sponsorship parties. We also provide BMS with daily's – a best-of collection from the event images each day. This year we ended up with around 26,000 event images. After the editing process and final cuts, we end up with around 4,400 finished images."
The master files are then provided to BMS for their use. BMS has used the students images in a wide variety of ways including billboards, fan publications, souvenir programs, BMS Facebook and Flickr sites, BMS website, elevator towers images, wall images at the track, photos in the suite level area, as well as in the media center for BMS.
"This event not only give the students hands on, team oriented experience, but also helps them determine quickly whether or not a career in photography is indeed for them," said Stewart. "Photography is not typically a nine-to-five job, and this event helps the students understand this concept. Students also have the opportunity to interact and work alongside internationally renowned photographers associated with such organizations as Sports Illustrated. Even though these professional photography teams may have better equipment and more experience, a good image is a good image. Our students are getting some really great shots that are just as good as any of the professional photographers covering the race."
> For more information about the King College Photography department, visit http://photo.king.edu.