Sport and art are very much intertwined. As any athlete can relate, their stories are often expressed through their sport. Photographers have long since been capturing the creative spirit of athletes through their art. For Australian photographer Paul Harris, the interconnected nature of art and sport has been captured in his latest project In the Long Run. “As a runner myself, I know we all have different reasons to run but there is definitely a common bond. And as a photographer, I’m also inspired to capture the strength in people who push themselves,” says Harris. :It’s this determination and grit that I set out to showcase in my latest series.” Initially connecting with runner marathon runners at the Gold Coast Marathon, in Queensland Australia, his project has grown and taken on a life of its own with runners now contacting the photographer, wanting to share their stories. “We’re still really engaged in other people’s stories, it helps us to understand ourselves,” says Harris. “Sport can have incredible highs and terrible lows, and plays out over a finite time and can be as expressive as any artwork.” We caught up with Harris to find out more about his project, which was part of the ASICS Sport & Leisure Expo at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre last month.
iRun: Tell us a little about In the Long Run: how and why you started this project?
Paul Harris:I loved the idea of celebrating the journeys runners have and sharing these stories with fellow runners for inspiration. I have a picture in my portfolio that I love of the pre-start of the Gold Coast Half Marathon in Queensland Australia the early morning darkness is pierced by a floodlight highlighting hundreds of faces with so many different expressions. This made me realize that to even get to this point—the start line—all these runners have had a huge journey of preparation and training, overcoming injuries and other obstacles just to be there. I wondered about those stories and what drove each and every one of them to run. I had always thought of races as being about the time between the start and finish lines but at that point, I realized journey to get there was also incredibly important.
iRun: How did you come to connect with these runners and select them for this project?
PH: Initially Events Management Queensland connected me with runners they knew to have interesting stories. Some of their ambassadors were also approached and keen to be involved. Since then, it has grown organically, now I’m getting approached by people all over the world who have seen the project and want to share their story which is exactly what I want.
iRun: What intrigues you most about the sport, on a personal level and in speaking with marathon runners particularly?
PH: Marathon runners impress and amaze me. There’s no need these days to run with all our clever technology, like self-driving cars, but people still choose to run incredibly long distances – for personal reasons. I find people who have the drive to run a marathon inspiring – not necessarily being on the podium, just turning up and giving it everything they have.
iRun: Running is such a simple sport, yet the people you photograph have very deep stories. What do you think is the appeal of this sport for so many?
PH: One reason is because running is so accessible. You just need a road and the drive to get started. In such a busy world we often don’t have time to just think, but when we’re out on a run, we find our rhythm and the thoughts start to wander. Before you know it, a problem is solved or some inspiration has hit. Clarity comes through running. Another factor is the running community is incredibly welcoming and supportive.
iRun: Who has been your favourite or most inspiring runner you have had the opportunity to work with through this project?
PH: This is a super tough question – maybe impossible. Honestly, I have found every single person I’ve photographed for this project inspiring. There are a few Australian superstars who are so humble and who are using their achievements to help others. Some are overcoming larger challenges than I’ll ever see, and some are raising money for great causes. Some are battling mental health or recovering from illness. Some are just trying to be the best version of themselves. Regardless of the motivation behind each person’s inner drive, I’ve come away from each session feeling inspired.
iRun: What is the one thing you want others who see your work to walk away having discovered?
PH: In spending time with each runner and hearing their stories I’ve learnt that there’s a hero inside everyone. They all have a really strong “why” that drives them. Sometimes they’re along the journey to find their reason but running helps them unlock it.
iRun: How long have you been a runner and can you tell us a bit about why do you run?
PH: I’ve run for as long as I can remember. For me it’s a really meditative experience, finding the rhythm and some headspace. It started by being for fitness but grew into pastime of discovery. When I’m in a new or different city for a shoot I love that I can hit the streets, explore and see where I end up. I enjoy the smells of a new place and the early morning activity as well at the knowing nods of fellow runners as if to say, “How lucky are we to be out here while everybody else is in bed?!”
Interested in sharing your story through as a runner or simply want to check out Harris’ work? You’ll find out more @projectlongrun on Instagram or paulharrisphotographer.com.