Friday, March 30, 2012

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Danny Lyon & Motorcycles


       “Crossing the Ohio”
   From The Bikeriders. by Danny Lyon

Bridges of steel and concrete suspended above a mighty river, connecting an endless highway. A young man rides solo atop a Harley-Davidson hard tail, two-wheeled trophy of independence and mobility, unbridled freedom steeped in danger. An iconic image of American counterculture in the 60’s.

Though he is moving forward the rider’s torso is twisted as he looks behind him. We do not know the object of his gaze. Our imagination tries to extend the frame, mentally panning the camera in hopes of revealing the object of his rearward glance. Something on the river may have caught his eye or he may be looking at another rider but whatever the case, he is not looking where he is going, instilling a sense of uneasiness in the viewer.

The bike wears the helmet just above it's  Conquistador headlight while the rider’s head is exposed. He is dressed in black. White lettering on the back of his shirt tells us he is a member of the Louisville Outlaws motorcycle gang. The insignia, a skull and crossbones, only the crossbones are pistons and rods. We are not able to make out his facial features; this is not a portrait of a gang member but an effigy of all gang members.

The photograph is grainy black and white, most likely Kodak Tri-x in a Leica range finder or a Nikon F, fitted with a wide-angle lens. Though it is a still photograph motion is evident in the blurred asphalt, the spinning spokes of the motorcycle wheels and the riders wind blown hair. Hair protrudes from his forehead like horns. The photo could have been shot from the window of a moving car but I’m inclined to believe Mr. Lyon was on the back of another motorcycle traveling at the same speed as the bridge surface is blurred but the rider is sharp.

 In this horizontal photograph the subject occupies only the right half of the frame. This composition allows room to imagine the continued forward motion of man and machine. Multiple diagonal lines imply motion and imbalance as they lead our eye from left to right. Painted highway stripes, rectangular concrete barriers, metal railing, large girders and a distant bridge, all lead our eyes to the triangular form of bike and rider. The wheels of the bike are made up of concentric circles. In keeping with the rule of thirds the image is 2/3’s foreground, 1/3 background.

The light is soft and diffuse; there is no visible sun or shadows making it diffucult to determine time of day. A blanket of thick fog in the distance obliterates the sky adding an ethereal sfumato quality. 

The "These Are A Few of My Favorite Things" posts will feature images that inspired me and re-affirmed my choice of profession and obsession .

The Bike Riders is available through Amazon.