Influences: The Bikeriders by Danny Lyon

Look what I got from the library!

The Bikeriders 01

The Bikeriders by Danny Lyon.

I’m just going to stop right there and say, Please support your local library!  Free knowledge!  All manner of information, truth and beauty from over all this world and it’s right at your fingertips.  Despite what Tyler Durden says, I believe that libraries are the true yardstick of civilisation.  So, please get out there and support them.

Now, back to The Bikeriders.  I’ve written before about the impact Robert Frank’s The Americans had on me.  I would come close to saying that, if The Americans was the photography book that had the most influence on me, then it should follow that The Bikeriders is a very close second.

In fact, The Bikeriders contains probably my favorite photo of all time, “Crossing The Ohio River”

Danny-Lyon Crossing The Ohio

The very best art moves you.  It forces it’s will upon you, it makes you think, it makes you feel.  And that’s exactly what this photograph does to me.

I can’t get it out of my head that it’s nothing less than Devil himself chasing this Outlaw.  And that the Outlaw will most surely outrun him.

This image is as iconic, and as American, as anything Dorthea Lange or Ansel Adams ever produced.  This is America, where steel, concrete and flesh all collide.  This is about the fears of what’s behind you, and the promise of what’s ahead.  It’s about engineering triumphs that conquer the natural world, but still leave us vulnerable.  It’s about rebellion, and culture, and style, and what cool really means, if it means anything at all.  And why it just might not matter.

This is what photography is all about for me: capturing one fleeing moment in time, and preserving it for years to come.

The Selfvedge Yard does a great job of recapping The Bikeriders, with many great shots from the book, if you are interested in viewing more.

ICONIC AMERICAN IMAGES BY DANNY LYON | THE BIKERIDERS AND BEYOND

What is great about these images is that, first of all, there are many that are not at all, what photographers would call, “tack sharp”.  Having things be “tack sharp” is a disease that infects photographers, and I am afraid I have caught this sickness as well.  I love having lenses that are sharp, I have learned post-processing techniques that enhance the sharpness of a photo, I often choose camera settings that ensure maximum sharpness.  It’s all a farce.  I look at some of these pictures, like “Big Barbara, Chicago”, with this dreamlike quality of the girl, her tenuous grip on that beer bottle, her jacket, the brightly lit jukebox, and there is no way any of that would work if it was “tack sharp”.  It wouldn’t come close to being as evocative, or effective.  It would simply look like any other ad for Abercrombie & Fitch.

There are multiple levels here, as there is with any great art.  This is a fantastic documentation on a very specific group of people during a very specific time period.  But, there are also these themes that saturate this photos: love, death, fun, worry, trust and mistrust, what is it to belong, and what is it to never belong.  To anyone or to any ideal.  Who really, truly, has our backs, and who is just coming along for the ride?

And, on this huge, big world, is there anything more beautiful than a black and white picture of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle cruising down the highway?

When they finally lay me down, and I’m on that bed, the bed I will never get up from, and I’m looking back on my life and my work, I will be thankful for a wife who loved me more than I ever deserved, two children who are wonderful beyond description, knowing many great people who I can call friends, and, if at some point I can also produce a work that is even a fraction of the quality of The Bikeriders, then I will die truly blessed and content.

This book is the benchmark that I work towards.  Daily.

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