Ben Garvin was at the finish line of the Twin Cities and Boston Marathons this year. Here’s what he saw
By Leah Etling
Crossing the finish line is perhaps the single most powerful moment in our sport. Capturing it in a split second is a real challenge.
Minneapolis-based photographer Ben Garvin has been shooting the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon for years. This year, he traveled to the Boston Marathon to capture its historic finish line as well.
“In truth, the Boston Marathon is a more difficult race to photograph. In part because it’s enormous and media is more cordoned off. But beyond that, runners are far more competitive,” Garvin shared. “They often cross the finish line while looking at their smart watch to check their time, reacting not to finishing but to whether or not they beat their PB. This is not their first rodeo.”
Nor is it Garvin’s. But this year’s events were special, he told us. “There was a tangible sense of relief and togetherness in the air, making it hard to snap a bad photo.”
Read on to find out why race photography often moves him to tears and what he admires about every participant.
RDM: Runners get emotional. As a photographer, how do you most effectively capture that emotion in just seconds?
Garvin: Most of the time I don’t! Truly, I miss 95% percent of the photos I take. Please don’t tell anyone! But if you keep at it something beautiful inevitably happens. Marathons are a nonstop cascade of fantastic human achievement, an unrelenting moment-driven playground for photographers. Sometimes I almost feel guilty, sitting there on my lazy bum all day complaining about soreness in a single finger. Boo hoo.
RDM: This year was especially significant for our industry as races made a comeback. Did you see evidence of that?
Garvin: This year‘s marathons felt especially celebratory after real-time events were canceled last year. There was a tangible sense of relief and togetherness in the air, making it hard to snap a bad photo. The variety of bodies and abilities streaming across the finish line often moves me to tears and this year was no different. I try to remain a neutral party but often end up cheering, high fiving, congratulating. It feels like a real honor to be there to witness thousands upon thousands of these moments within a few hours, and I do my best to capture a few and share it with the world.
RDM: What was the first running race you ever photographed?
Garvin: For years I’ve worked as a newspaper photographer and have shot the Twin Cities Marathon dozens of times. Shooting a marathon along the route is exhausting and stressful and I never felt all that great about the work. I remember taking a few finish line photos and having this realization that nothing can compare with that moment. Finishing running 26.2 miles is a truly epic achievement. People are putting everything out there and feeling such pure and raw emotion. Sometimes it almost feels like cheating as a photographer. It’s so simple, to sit calmly and shoot thousands of photos that are so full of emotion and true depth of feeling. It’s great fun.
RDM: Was there any one photo you took at these races that stood out to you? If so which one, and what made it significant?
Garvin: I often cry when I shoot marathons. Just out of sheer joy and admiration for the pain and suffering and achievement I get to witness. During the Boston Marathon I remember seeing a woman who was clearly pregnant–what a feat! I remember laughing out loud as I snapped shots of her crossing the finish line, lost in her emotion and achievement. Wonderful.
I’ve been contacted by so many random people telling me how deeply moved they are by these finish line photos. Somehow they strike a nerve that feels universal. Even people who don’t run are moved to tears. That’s as much as any photographer could hope for.
RDM: What’s your best advice for civilians attempting to take photos of their loved ones running?
Garvin: If there’s any advice I have for aspiring photographers it is to look for moments. You don’t need a fancy lens or even a fancy camera. Some of my best photos were taken with my smartphone. Just use your feet to get close, fill the frame with what inspires you and look for genuine moments.
Editor’s note: Ben Garvin is hoping to shoot more marathon finish lines around the U.S. next year and in the years to come. Reach out to him at bengarvin.com for the chance to have him at your next race.