I began to carry a camera with me on rides last summer but even my smallest, lightest shooter gets in the way of riding. So I wound up stuffing it into a seat bag or – if I happened to be riding a bike with a rear rack at the time – a rear pannier. In any event, it was always too much of a hassle to drag the camera out of the bag at rest stops, let alone the sundry serendipitous image opportunities that present themselves along the route of nearly every ride. As a hiker, the camera is a natural complement to my walking experience. Much to my chagrin, I found that it was much less so on the bicycle.
This realization chafed at me, too. I’m an artist and photographer and I habitually carry both camera and sketchbook with me most places. Part of the common appeal of sketching, shooting, and riding to me is the decided simpleness of each: for many years I carried a vintage Leica around on my tours; I even wrote an article for the December 2002 issue of Camera Arts Magazine about the virtues of seeing the world slowly, and on foot, through the viewfinder of this antiquated technology.
This simple tool has helped me to isolate small slices of life, to savor at a later time and it well serves my personal aesthetic of the “grab shot.” It really seemed unreasonable that I couldn’t find an easy and natural amalgamation of camera and bike.
For about a year now, I’ve used my cell phone camera to snag image ideas that I might want to use later on for a painting. The quality of the cell phone camera image – at least by the mult-megapixel standards of my studio cameras – is not very good at all. Mine is a comparatively very low resolution and it’s pure point-and-shoot. Perhaps, I reasoned, it might suffice for reference shots but it couldn’t possibly be used for actual photographic art… could it?
And that’s when I recalled the lesson learned from my Leica. At one time the professional’s choice, in an age where film had been abandoned in favor of automated digital exposure, the little Leica IIIg – made of metal, not plastic; completely manual – was seen as an anachronism, at best.
Yet it produces images of astonishing beauty and the lens quality is clearly unmatched by any of my contemporary photographic glass. My best images tend to favor a dream-like quality, with a narrowly focused point-of-view; sometimes I even still use a pinhole camera to grasp at that aesthetic. Could one not view this smart phone not as a high tech wonder, but rather, as a quasi-low tech or entry-level camera? It’s lightweight enough to carry in one of the back panel pockets of my riding jersey and easy enough to operate on the fly, with minimal hassle.
I decided to explore this option further over the past couple of months. I began to grab shots on my rides. Images that began simply enough, could be processed further in my digital “darkroom”. For instance, I could open the small .jpg image in Adobe Camera Raw and correct for exposure and lighting defects; I could further enhance the image quality and selectively blur image areas that I wished to remain outside the areas of focal emphasis. Rather than large gallery-sized prints, I instead chose to accentuate the relatively small image size by making more intimately scaled prints on handmade watercolor paper. With a large bordered mat between the image and frame, these images become more personal and – I hope – more cherished.
Although my ouvre really hasn’t emphasized the bicycle as subject matter, that has, in point of fact, become the recent focal point in my recent work and I’m building a body of photographs that continue to acknowledge my interest in “found” and ephemeral imagery. And – fortunately – old roads lead me to new places to ponder.