Frozen Moments

Frozen Moments

These are two quite famous and historic motor racing shots that show how misleading still photographs can be.

The first was taken in the first British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1948. On lap 23 Geoffrey Ansell driving this prewar ERA B-Type lost control, went into a wild slide, the tyres dug in and the car rolled several times. From this amazingly clear image it looks as though Ansell is about to be crushed as the ERA rolls — he’s extending a hopeful arm to try and cushion the fall.

The second shot was taken 11 years later at the 1959 German Grand Prix which was held at the Avus banked track in East Berlin. Hans Hermann was given a drive in a BRM, but lost control and crashed with this result. In this photograph, where again the action is frozen by a mix of high shutter speed and pure luck, it looks as though Herman has been dumped from the somersaulting BRM and is crouched on the track looking back up the track to see if there are any other cars coming, while the car disintegrates.

But both incidents feature in a video that’s on YouTube called “Killed Myself When I Was Young” — a song by A.A. Bondy.

In the video, seen from a different perspective, the crashes take on a great deal more violence than the still shorts would indicate. In the first clip, Ansell is thrown out of the car on its first roll and is dumped into the relatively soft bed of straw created after the car demolishes several hay bales. It rolls another couple of times, scattering officials.

And it’s the same with the BRM at Avus shot — another frozen moment in time. The BRM is destroyed as it cartwheels along the track and far from being dumped out to crouch on the track, Hermann is rolled, bowled and bundled along the track at high speed.
In both cases, the drivers survived.

The videos bring a totally different aspect to these almost amusing still shots.

Of course it’s voyeuristic and ghoulish, but the variety of racing is very wide, from early European events, Brooklands to American speedway and there is genuine motor racing history here. But it is tragic that people die in front of your eyes.

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