This is an interview with Neil Egerton, the internationally renowned action sports photographer, whose images have graced publications the world over. Here, he talks about his passion for capturing the skilled and high energy sport that is polo.
- Explain to us what you do and what “Polo by the Edge” is all about?
I am an action sports photographer, which I have been doing (and loving) for more than 20 years.
Polo by The Edge is fundamentally the representation of my imagery from this dynamic and highly charged ‘sport of kings’, a sport that requires unquestionable skill, fearlessness and steadfast dedication.
To succeed on the polo pitch has clear similarities to what makes a good Royal Marine (my previous career), which is perhaps why I have been drawn to it for so long. Whilst not a polo player myself, I can appreciate the requirements and standards.
The name ‘The Edge’ has been my nick-name for some time – whilst a shortening of my surname, I would also hope that I have been called it because my images have a certain ‘Je ne c’est pas’ about them.
I was interested to exhibit my polo images as well as explain the various ways in which I operate within the sport, be it through the production of books and videos, provide interesting news items and have an outlet for the charity in which I am involved. Hence the moniker and subsequent website, www.edgepolo.com was born.
- You mention on your website that after serving with the Royal Marines you wanted to pursue your other true passion and become an action photographer. When did you first realise that this is what you wanted to do for a living and how did you go about achieving it.
My passion for photography started at a very early age, but like many people of a certain generation, I was not brought up to instantly consider it as a potential career.
Growing up, my hero was always my father, who was a highly decorated military serviceman and whose heroism acted as a ‘bee to the honey pot’ in terms of my decision to enter the armed forces. I loved being in the marines – It made me grow up and I learnt so many disciplines that have held me in good stead over the years, not least of which have been ‘getting the job done despite any adversities’ and being able to ‘power nap’. The latter has proved particularly useful when on an excessively long shoot!
A year after leaving the marines I was at a party where I met a top sports photographer. The next 3 hours would be pivotal as I repeatedly bent his ear, with the result that any previous doubts about making a career out of photography soon vanished into the ether. He had more conviction in my abilities than I did at that point, but he recognized the passion and rather than suggest, he told me to go and buy some equipment. I knew how to follow orders and did as I was told. He gave me my first commission and I will forever be grateful for his guidance and help.
The first sports event I covered was an Arsenal vs Leeds United football match, at which I was able to capture a striking image of Allan Smith, the Arsenal striker, an image that was posted across the UK national press.
Sports photography has been a dream existence since that moment.
- Why did you choose Polo over other sports? Do you have any future plans to expand into other sports?
Over the years I have photographed everything from football and rugby to kite-surfing and lawn-mower racing.
I have covered various Olympics and international sports tournaments across the globe during my 20+ years as a photographer.
I decided to separate my polo imagery from the rest of my sports library (www.neilegerton-photography.com ) in 2013 because I felt that it had the strength to stand on its own and not be diluted by any other sport imagery.
Polo will always be my true passion, but I am always interested in capturing whatever sporting moment I am fortunate to witness.
I was lucky enough to meet Tim Page – in my opinion, the greatest war photographer of all time. This wonderful man instilled in me that we are here to take images, not to judge the actions of others and as a result I will always look to capture the real truth in sport, be it the glory, the heart-ache or even the horror.
As a result, I am continually interested in finding the more bizarre and quirky sports from around the world.
- Polo is played all around the world in some fantastic locations, can you tell us where you have worked and what is your favorite tournament and why?
You are right, polo is played in some amazing locations, but also some that you perhaps wouldn’t expect, which are just as big a draw. Their unusualness, culture and the potential variety on the traditional game of polo is as appealing as the more classic venues, which tend to be stunning in their landscape and based in a world of admirable luxury.
I would always place myself in the ‘very fortunate’ bracket, having had the opportunity to work at the best tournaments throughout the UK, France, Switzerland, Spain, Australia and China.
My favourite tournament is the Gold Cup in the UK. It brings together so many of the top teams, competing on (arguably) some of the best pitches in the world. It is the ultimate tournament that everyone wants to win.
That said, my second home is Spain and taking pictures at Sotogrande, in such stunning surroundings, with deep blue skies and the sun on your back, is an experience that is hard to miss.
This year I am looking at taking in some different, perhaps more avant-garde locations, where either traditional or a different version of polo forms its own challenges. I am drawn to India, where polo is seeing a re-surgence, as well as other regions in the Asian sub-continent and the Caribbean. I am also planning a trip to Thailand to capture traditional and elephant polo.
Polo is also very much associated with the upper classes and Royalty, can you tell us who of note you have photographed?
Known as the ‘sport of kings’, yes Polo has always been associated with royalty and has a long-standing history as such. Its ancestry is embedded with the Chinese dynasties, Persian sultans and Indians princes.
That said. Polo has also been a training game for cavalry units, usually the king’s guard or other elite troops.
Today, its connections with royalty remain – be it the British Royal family or Emirs from the Middle and Far East. That said, polo has also opened its doors to a wider field. It is only one of two sports whereby an amateur can enter the game and achieve almost instant recognition. An amateur player can surround himself with high-goal professionals and within a blink of an eye, his or her team could be attaining global recognition for outstanding results.
The only other sport in which one can enter as an amateur and achieve such results is yacht racing.
Money and skilled horsemanship are still the ‘name of the game’ but the will to win and an understanding of teams-ship are equally important today.
Over the years and 70,000 images later, I have had the opportunity to photograph ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’. Of the most well known, I am thrilled to include Princes Charles, William and Harry, all of the top patrons as well as celebrities such as Jodie Kidd.
- For the camera techie people reading this, can you tell us a little about the equipment you use and why?
I use a Canon 1d mark iii camera and whilst primarily a 400 2.8 lens, I have a variety of lenses that I alternate between. I have been a Canon advocate for many years. One either finds a camera that is right for the job or that one feels comfortable with. I have always found Canon to deliver on both fronts, especially with regard to polo, where razor sharp imagery is key as is great functionality in poor light.
The combination is heavy in weight, which is preferable in this environment.
I sometimes add a 1.4 converter
- Have you ever been hit by a polo ball or had any equipment damaged by one?
I would love to have a more dramatic / amusing story to tell on this … tales of black eyes, having to have equipment surgically removed … well, maybe not the latter! I have certainly experienced my fair share of millimetre near misses – I don’t think the riders were aiming for me, but you never know.
There is always a moment of unadulterated adrenalin (let’s be honest and call it fear) that courses through my veins when thundering hooves from horses at full gallop sound a little ‘too close for comfort’. They can brush so near as to cause a breeze to flow over your body. I have an instinctive survival mechanism when this happens – to stand as still as I can!
- Can you tell us the funniest thing or incident you have witnessed on a polo field?
I wouldn’t want to cause any embarrassment, so forgive me for not naming names. I almost couldn’t believe I saw this happen, but of course I was thrilled that I did.
A high-goal, internationally renowned patron had demonstrated wonderful skills and horseman-ship for at least half the length of the pitch, to the delight of his team and the cheering spectators, only to subsequently score in his own goal.
Perhaps proof that none of us are infallible and at least he had a great sense of humour.
- I also noticed on your website a link to a charity page. Can you tell us a little bit about the charity, what they do and how you got involved with it?
Because of my military background, I feel very strongly about the support that should be given to those who have shown tremendous courage and dedication to the preservation of our welfare. The heroes on one hand, but just as important are their families, who live with the knowledge everyday that they could lose their loved ones. It is a pressure that to most people is inconceivable.
Families’ Activity Breaks (FAB) is a wonderful organisation that provides fun and challenging activity camps around the UK for bereaved military families. It is a non-public funded, tri Service charitable initiative in partnership with YHA (England & Wales) Ltd.
Too often the bereaved are given instant commiseration and then left alone. For many, the hardship happens at a later date and that is when support is really needed.
I came across FAB via an awards programme on the television and what they do instantly resonated. I’m not sure who had more tears in their eyes – my girlfriend or myself. There was never a question about not becoming involved and even if in only a small way, I am so proud to be associated with this wonderful charity.