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CROSS IS HERE

Nobuhiko Tanabe, or Nobu for short, has been a friend of ours for quite some time. Every time we’ve done a story based in Tokyo, he’s been our go-to person for research and preparation, especially when it seemed a bit daunting for foreigners like us to break into the inner circles of Japan.

We’ve known that Nobu has been working on his project “CROSS IS HERE” for a few years, but this year we finally got our hands on a physical copy of one of his books. Every now and then, we come across a photo book that’s beautifully edited and printed, and they remind us why we originally chose print as our medium for Far Ride. “CROSS IS HERE” definitely does that.

We reached out to Nobu for an interview while he was shooting the 2020 Cyclocross World, and he was kind enough to finish the interview for us while on the road. A 2020 version of “CROSS IS HERE” is definitely in the pipeline, and while the buzz from the Championship is still very much present, we wanted to introduce you to Nobu and his ongoing photo project.

Interview by Sogon Yoon, Nobuhiko Tanabe  /  Photos by Nobuhiko Tanabe

Tell us about yourself.

I started riding about fifteen years ago on a fixed gear bike. The fixed gear culture was fun, and it was great to meet friends through cycling. That was amazing. Many of my cyclist friends at that time were photographers, so I started taking pictures, too. MASH SF was a big presence for me, and I got into riding bikes thanks to them. It was also their influence that introduced me to cyclocross.

I worked as a photographer, event organizer and distributor at the bike shop
Blue Lug in Tokyo for about ten years. Part of my job included photographing bicycles. In 2018, I became a freelance photographer. As a photographer, I take photos focusing on sports. I shoot cycling for Rapha, Bridgestone and The North Face, and the fishing industry for Daiwa Japan.

I became a photographer as the result of cycling, so it’s important for me to work to make more people aware of its appeal. A big part of that is my cyclocross-focused project "CROSS IS HERE".

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How did you become fascinated with the European cyclocross scene and, in particular, the World Championships?

I always enjoyed following the European cyclocross scene through YouTube. But the world you see on video and the real world are completely different. I first shot a European cyclocross race at the 2017 Luxembourg World Championships and was shocked by the enthusiasm of the audience. Tens of thousands of spectators going crazy for cyclocross, feeling the ground shake with cheers—I was overwhelmed.

I was also shocked to find that the courses in Europe were much harder than I’d imagined from watching only videos, and that the race speed was completely different. It was completely different from the cyclocross we knew in Japan. It’s a world of hard courses, mud, high levels of energy and enthusiastic crowds. It all seemed more beautiful than any cycling event I’d experienced.

On video, you only see the top competitors racing, but there was so much other drama, an entire world that I couldn't see on video. It felt like art. I thought I could capture this world with my photos.

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You’ve published a new photobook from the World Championships every year for the past three. Tell us about what made you want to publish the photos in print.

At first, I didn't think I would publish a photobook. But the impact and excitement that I received at that first cyclocross World Championship was the trigger. I thought that I should share this experience instead of keeping it to myself. I wanted more people to know about the beauty and the harshness of the European cyclocross scene. When I thought about the best way to show this world, a photobook seemed to be the best. It was good to post photos on Instagram or the web, but photos get lost in the timeline. I thought that if I dared to publish it as an analog book, I would be able to take a closer look at the photos and convey the air of the European cyclocross scene.

Most photographers might cover an epic event once and move on to another race or genre, but you came back twice more to do it. Why?

That's because I am a cyclocross racer and I love cyclocross. I also thought I would make just one photo book, but I didn’t. I got a big response from those who saw "CROSS IS HERE". Although you can watch European racing videos on Youtube, almost none of that culture makes it to Japan. People wanted me to show them the culture of cyclocross that couldn't be seen on video.

I was so happy with this reception that I decided to make "CROSS IS HERE" a series. I go to Europe every year to shoot. The "CROSS IS HERE" project is to shoot the World Championships and create and archive one photobook each year. I want people in Japan and around the world to know the beauty of the cyclocross world culture. When I make ten books, I want to make a hardcover photo book that covers all ten years.

In the end, I hope that cyclocross photos can be elevated to the level of art.

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Is finding a cover photo for the book a difficult task? Why have you chosen this specific photo for the cover of your 2019 collection?

It is very difficult. I try to select the most memorable scene of the year.

I chose this photo in 2019 because MVDP became the World Champion for the first time in four years, so I wanted to make his photo first. I stayed in Europe the week following the World Championships. I was able to shoot van de Poel wearing his new rainbow jersey at another race, the Telenet Superprestige Hoogstraten. This is the first day his rainbow jersey got muddy. It was so impressive that I thought it had to be the cover.

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What’s been the biggest surprise? 

I got a bigger reaction than I had imagined. Cyclocross racing is popular and exciting in Japan, but there are few people who go to Europe every year to take pictures. This means there are no people who convey the culture surrounding the race, so I got a lot of comments from people who want to see more of this world. 

Thanks to that, it became a photo book series project. I’m happy to have had a good influence on the cyclocross scene in Japan.

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