Saturday, March 12, I rode down the coastal highway A1A to make my yearly pilgrimage to Daytona for the 75th Anniversary of Bike Week. This year the Committee estimated that over one million mototcycle enthusiasts converged on Daytona for this event, a week of fun, expensive fabulous food not on the American Heart Association list, and a whole lot of debauchery, which would put Roman Bacchanalia in the teaparty category .
Photographing an event like this that has been a yearly ritual for so many years is much like visiting Paris and you are confronted with the conundrum that everything you photographs is just a huge cliche and has been photographed millions of times, most often in a more artistic way. So what do you do? Look for somethiung or choose some vantage point or use a perspective that people have not seen before.
The first part of my Bike Week Journal will be a some images of people and bikes that caught my attention. Bike Week is all about diversity. You see get to see $100.000 custom built motorcycles by sculptors and artists whose work has appeared New Yorks's MOMA. Actually a few years ago the Museum of Modern Art staged a large show on The Art of the Motorcycle.
At Bike Week is often the premier for a bike that's been on the drawing board for months and out in the garage back of the house, slowly emerges from raw metal and rubber and stuff into something new, never seen before.
This is like my own Harley Tri-Glide but I bought my ride off the self, so to speak, from a dealer. Merlin, here took an old Wolkswagan and through some of his magic sculpted this unusual trike.
Often bikers will take a dealer bike and customize it with a unique new paint job. The guy who owns this model Harley took the model from the dealer and tore out the back end and redesigned the read half to create something with his own mark. He even used a paint mixture quite personalized. Julie, the owner, did all the work herself, except when done with her cusomized body changes, sent the bike out to an expert painter who helped her design a bike with a color that was her own.
Bikers Gather From All Points
MAIN STREET is actually a very long side street off Highway A1A (north/south) that actually is one of the two divider streets in Daytona. Main Street is about 4 miles long and houses a permanant roost for biker companies (like BMW, Indian, Victory, Boss Hoss, to name a few) For us Iowa-born, Victory is a division of Polaris (famed for snowmobiles) and made their first motorcycles in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
From all over the US and Canada and Europe people join in on this gigantic migration to a warm place like Daytona in early March. They come to see the new models of bikes, admire custom-built rides, drink enormous quantities of beer, act stupid for a few day away from their lives, oggle bikini-clad women and buff guys in biker haute couture, or just wander around like me and watch an incredibly intreresting yearly spring rite. Here motorcycle nuts get a chance to be with their kind for a few days and enjoy and color and $15 sandwiches and where beauty and bad taste converge for a week at Bike Week, Daytona, Florida.
Frank did not have to come far, an Atlanta native, was in line at the $15 sanwich vendors. Yes, the's a dead pig over Franks's right shoulder, symbol of what you'd expect from a place that specialized in Bar-B-Que.
Main Street is never silent, 24 hours a day, your'll hear the thunder of biker pipes, music from bands up and down the street, and the constant banter of beer-bellied men talking about, no surprise, motorcycles. Budweiser kind of owns Bike Week. You can't walk ten feet without seeing their logo. But Bud sub-contracts with oufits like Dirty Harry's, a company that is sort of like a carnival, with tents, a basic crew, signs, stages, lights, etc, and manages a lot of the entertainment for all the major rallies all over the country, including Sturgis.
This is Main Street. 10,000 bikes parked ass-end on the curb. Part of the ritual of Bike Week, as part of any ralley, is to ride down Main Street, and get your picture taken. Some prefer to walk. She also has a vintge Minolta film camera, so she is hard core. My kind of people.
Bike Week is a spectacle and many of us just like to sit on the curb on Main Street and watch the parade.
Of course, under Dirty Harry's Stage tent there is much to drink and see. On the stage right now is a very irritating guy trying to incite the crowd from its beerzy lethargy to focus on the main state and the Wet T-Shirt Contest. Interest sort of petered out by Tuesday. You can't keep it up for seven days. And the supply of women who are willing to allow the Budweiser girls to pour ice water over them seems limted to girl friends of employees, exhibitionists who should have closed shop 10 years ago, and drunk girlfriends from places like Gatar Snout, Alabama who grunt their way up onto the stage, stagger around a bit, wave at Willie Bob and his friends, and get soaked. (Ice water for the uninitiated will perk up certain parts of the female chest). Everyone girl has to wear a Dirty Harry's white t-shirt, thread count nothing over 50.
Love and Hate at Bike Week: A Personal Essay
Photographing Bike Week is difficult since there have been millions of photographs taken of this event. Anything you take is mostly redundant. Susan Sontag was right: We are so over-saturated with images in our culture they no longer have the impact they once had. Now, many disagreed with Sontag and her assessment but I believe that we often photograph the obvious and fail to see what is right under our noses and we miss seeing something significant. Emerson (that's Ralph Waldo, the writer--not the guy who invented TV or radios that came in colors) noted that art is a combination of mastery of craft and perspective. It's the perspective part that's the hard part. We look a lot but do we see? For me it was at Dirty Harry's that I saw something that caught my attention as well affected my blood pressure and how I photograhed the rally for the rest of the day:
Here is a loving couple waiting for the next wet-t-shirt contest. Bumper Stickers and T-shirts are a way of life in America. But at Dirty Harry's I saw a lot of T-Shirts that got me out of my comfort zone. Many were about anti-gun control. Many were about taking America back from "Pussies" who have lost their good old American balls. Here is a loving couple and the guy is wearing camo hat and his t-shirt about Muslims from a good old fashioned true-blue American. For those who cannot read the last word of the sentence: it is "Laid!" Of course, it is a pun, made explicit for those who do not get puns with the rifle image. On the front of the t-shirt was a small link address which I think was something like: "AmericanLiberty.com," something of that nature. Most of the people I saw were celebrating bikes or beer or Florida, but remained in my mind was the notion that living among us are people who can love a girl or celebrate motorcycle culture and at the same time bare great hatred.
That moment early Saturday morning, altered my perspective, the way I saw the rally and what I chose to take photographs of. So the remainder of my time I focused on what symbols I saw of love and acceptance and people who seemed to give of themselves and also bore symbols, ones that didn't make me shiver.
Krishnas: A Series
The rest of my images are a series on a group dancing and singing and making music, passing out flyers which I read later and the theme was love and peace. Sounds dopey but I'd hang with them in a second before I'd want to be near the guy in the black shirt at Dirty Harry's.
Buried in the middle of Main Street, down the street from Dirty Harry's, across the street from the Buffalo Chip Beer Garden where you can plunge a $10 or 20 bill down a Budweiser Beer Girl's bikini bra or thong, I found this group of people who sang and danced and smiled real smiles and offered little booklets to passer's by. Among the ugliness that can be found at Bike Week there is beauty too. I tried to capture that with my camera. The man in the black shirt and the Krishna devotees are symbols. My series of photographs shows my choice of what symbols speaks to me. Phil