Notes from the field: ‘I loved witnessing that obsession’

By AG STAFF 28 June 2024
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When it came to assigning a photographer to cover the World Solar Challenge, from Darwin to Adelaide, we had to have Thomas Wielecki!

As well as being a long-time contributor to AG, Thomas has been shooting for motoring magazines and auto companies for the past 20 years and few photographers capture cars as brilliantly as he does. And, as you can see here, Thomas’s photos have caught the pace and excitement of the challenge just as if it had been the Dakar Rally.

“The first time I met the ANU Solar Racing team was on a cold, wet Friday night in a Canberra campus shed, about six months before the race, and I was instantly blown away,” Thomas told us. “It looked like a scene from the TV series Thunderbirds. Everybody had a notepad, or a computer. There were whiteboards and all sorts of equipment, and there was a flurry of activity around the partially disassembled solar car.

A photograph of a solar car driving taken by Thomas Wielecki
One of the solar cars driving down the Stuart Highway. Image credit: Thomas Wielecki/Australian Geographic

“Next thing I was on the side of the Stuart Highway somewhere south of Alice Springs, it was well past curfew and the Japanese team was whispering. The lid of their solar car was open and facing the red ball of the sun that was hanging in a thick smoke haze just above the western horizon. To me it seemed futile, but to them every last scrap of light mattered. It felt wrong to have my shutter clicking – like I was interrupting. But it had to be done. They were so absorbed in sucking every last bit of energy before dark that the flies didn’t bother them and neither did I. Happy to get away with a few shots, I got a sense of how serious this event was.

“Next morning the Dutch team had their cells pointed eastwards well before sun-up. The only sound was the Barrow Creek generator – the irony was palpable. I was hissed at when I walked across the front of their car as my shadow briefly glided over their solar panels. It was moments like these that made you aware that, for the teams, every single photon counted – and I loved witnessing that obsession. It’s precisely those times that make my job so rewarding.”

Read the story featuring Thomas’ photographs:

Related: Chasing the Sun