Photographer Larry Chen on Capturing Rally Driver Ken Block’s Life and Career
Motorsport photographer Larry Chen has captured thousands of photos of the late Ken Block, a rally car driver best known for his viral gymkhana videos and founding DC Shoes.
Pulling over to the roadside to speak with PetaPixel, Chen says that his job “shouldn’t exist.”
“I just travel the world taking pictures of cool cars whether it be collections, races, festivals, garages, homebuilt cars, new cars.”
Chen has over three-quarters of a million followers on Instagram, over 76 million views on his YouTube channel, and is arguably the biggest motorsport photographer on the planet.
He recently shared a photo of himself posing with all of his camera gear as part of his association as a Canon Explorer of Light.
“I wanted to display how much gear we actually need to be car and motorsport photographers,” he says.
Chen has been “grinding” for 18 years and says he didn’t make any impact for 10 of those.
However, Chen got a big break when he began working with rally legend Ken Block who he met for the first time in 2007 at a local race meeting on the start-finish line.
“I let off the clutch early because I wanted to beat him to the first corner,” Chen says. “But of course, because he had five times the horsepower he beat me to the first corner.”
Chen says he had wanted to work with Block when he was given the opportunity to be on set for Gymkhana Four.
“I have a very special relationship with Ken, it’s me and three other photographers that have captured hundreds of thousands of photos of him and his family when they’re at play when they’re pushing hard when they’re at their limit,” says Chen.
“For many years I was basically an embedded photographer with Ken so I would travel with him, we would stay in the same hotel we would go out to dinner, whatever he’s doing I was there.”
Ken Block, who tragically passed away in a snowmobile accident aged 55 earlier this month, spotted talent in Chen and his photos.
“I’m definitely going to miss him,” says Chen poignantly. “It’s scary in a way because I have so many photos of him and video. Nobody has ever passed away who has helped me so much in my career and in my life.”
Go Big or Go Home
Ken Block left an indelible mark on the world and has given Chen the photographer’s best-known shot.
“My most famous picture is the one on Pike’s Peak with Ken sliding off of that corner,” he says.
“There’s no way to have any reference to that corner because there’s no guard rail, you don’t see anything else but sky, and there’s just no way to know that you’re at the edge.
“You can see in my photo the front tire clawing its way on the pavement making a lot of tire smoke trying to make traction to get back onto the road.”
Chen had the foresight to make it a stitched shot resulting in a remarkable panoramic made up of 25 pictures.
“I shot it with my Canon 1Dx Mark II on a 135mm f/2 and I shot it at f/2.8. I locked focus and just prayed that he would go into my focal plane because at the time it was just so wild you don’t know where he was going to go,” he says.
“To this day I think that is still my most famous shot and maybe that will be my most famous shot moving forward.”
Gear Gear Gear
Chen says it took him a “few hours” to get out all of the gear for his Canon Explorer of Light photo.
“The funny thing is, a lot of people are like ‘Oh, you can’t even carry that much gear.’ Well, that’s true but it’s not just me. Our team is six of us and we all have different responsibilities,” explains Chen.
“One of the things I always like to talk about is having an unfair advantage over the competition.”
Chen says the Canon R3 is like “cheating” because the camera comes with a car-shooting mode.
“It can tell if you’re shooting a car, truck, a drag racer, an off-road vehicle, or an open-wheel race car,” he says.
“It even has a sub-menu that lets you choose if you’re shooting a motorcycle or if you’re shooting a Formula 1 car, if you want it to lock onto the nose of the vehicle or if you want to lock onto the helmet of the rider.”
Chen describes himself as a “car culture photographer” and when PetaPixel interviewed him he was supercharging his Toyota truck by adding 150 horsepower before flying off to Indonesia for a car show.
“It just shouldn’t exist, it doesn’t make sense why it exists but I’m glad it does,” he says of his job.
More of Chen’s work can be found on his Instagram, YouTube, and website. His adventures can also be followed on the Hagerty YouTube channel.
Image credits: All photos by Larry Chen.