Profile: The Grand Depart’s official photographer (behind the scenes)

Photographer Jude Palmer. (Picture by John Eckart)
Photographer Jude Palmer. (Picture by John Eckart)

It’s less than four months until the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire. But Jude Palmer has been in the thick of it for nearly six months. As the photographer appointed to capture the build-up and the legacy for Welcome to Yorkshire, Jude is rising to the challenge, reports GRAHAM CHALMERS

It’s taking a lot of hard work and a lot of people to bring the Tour de France to Yorkshire this summer - from council staff to the many volunteer marshalls and helpers - Le Tour Makers, as they are to be known.

With the exception of Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, and Henrietta Duckworth, the Grand Depart cultural festival’s director, few of them can have a much of an overview of this exciting build-up as a whole.

One person who is obliged to see the bigger picture is Jude Palmer, the all-action Harrogate mother-of-three and dedicated photojournalist.

Having been chosen by Welcome to Yorkshire as the official behind-the-scenes photographer for the Grand Départ in this summer’s Tour de France, the talented Jude is certainly in the thick of it.

Five months into a momentous project to capture on camera everything behind the scenes to do with Yorkshire’s once-in-a-lifetime role in the world’s biggest cycling event, the scope of Jude’s task seems to grow daily.

“My role isn’t to photograph the cyclists themselves it is is to document the legacy that Welcome To Yorkshire are delivering with The Grand Depart.

“I’ve taken thousands of pictures of the build-up already. To do it justice the final selection of photographs has to flow. They have to tell the story all the way from the day Yorkshire first won the right to host the Tour.”

The goal is to present a major selection of Jude’s pictures for both a book and a series of exhibitions in Harrogate, Sheffield and London - once all the hullabaloo of Le Tour has calmed down.

As a true practictioner of the art of photojournalism Jude has to get up close and personal, capturing the reality of the moment at its most human level.

Often the end result is in beautiful, but gritty black and white, the subject being the object, if you know what I mean.

In point of fact, Jude doesn’t even decide on the colour of any picture until she’s taken it.

Jude said: “I take the image first then decide later whether it will be mono or colour. I’ve got to be faithful to what Welcome to Yorkshire and everyone else is doing but it’s got to capture the essence of who I am as a photographer aesthetically.”

All those familiar with Palmer’s own story as a home-grown photojournalist will know that if anyone is equipped for the job it’s her.

Just over a year ago, Palmer was knocked off her bicycle at Harrogate’s busy Empress roundabout.

Then, a couple of months later, she suffered a series of illnesses.

This testing time for her health showed Jude’s mettle.

She turned near disaster into a plus point, using the incident to increase her motivation to turn her dream of being a top photojournalist into a reality.

“The bike accident and the illnesses changed my life radically, ” she said. “I had to have months of physio on my lower back. My friends all told me I should be taking it easy but what had happened made me want to live in the moment more.”

Since then, the inspirational Jude, who was a consultant in the TV industry for many years, has also opened her own art and photography gallery in Princes Square, in the heart of Harrogate.

Her debut exhibition, Reality of a Moment, included her own stunning photographs - both cycling and otherwise - plus archive shots of the original Yorkshire cycling legend, world champion Beryl Burton who pioneered the sport in the 1960s.

But it was one of Jude’s memorable black and white pictures of two recent British champions - Mark Cavendish and Tour de France winner Chris Froome - that impressed many visitors in particular.

Jude said: “I took them at the press announcement about the Tour de France at Paris in October.

“There were literally hundreds of other photographers jostling and pushing for the best views. It was a very gladiatorial experience.”

Jude’s first steps on the road to ultimate success in her bid to be the official Grand Départ photographer began three years ago when she asked Harrogate Theatre if it was okay if she could create a photographic document of its popular annual pantomime.

Several other community projects ensued, including one at Harrogate Hospital, followed by the occasional exhibition and a potentially foolhardy trip to Morocco - everything building quietly towards something.

Jude said: “Despite the odds I have overcome many challenges to reach this point in my life. I feel honoured and privileged to have this role.”

Jude’s ultimate aim was to win a coveted place on a prestigious photography course with Magnum, the famous international photographic agency founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa and others.

In the face of massive competition, she made the top of the shortlist, being chosen after a fellow photographer pulled out.

It was a success that was well deserved but, as the Grand Départ, which will take place on July 5 and 6, grows ever nearer there’s one thing worrying Jude slightly.

“I think I’m supposed to be everywhere that weekend - Leeds, York, Harrogate, Sheffield, the Dales all the time making sure I’m in the right place to get the best picture. It’s quite a tight schedule. I don’t know if there will be a helicopter involved!”