Back in October, when cyclocross started to take over my news feed, Peloton Magazine contacted me to hand off an important mission: photograph a few of the most prominent framebuilders in New England. Sweet!! That’s exciting! Originally the hopes were to get 7 of them in front of the lens, but with the time frame (one week) this soon proved to be impossible, so we settled on just three - but what three!
I’ll go in the order I’ve visited the shops:
Firefly Bicycles (also, Tyler is my landlord and I really want to keep living in this awesome house).
I have been to their location before, once at their official opening party, and, second time, to borrow a wicked big pair of compasses for a project, so I had a clue or two about the image I wanted to produce. The big animal sculls on the walls definitely steered me in the direction of “wild wild west”, with some “badass” and “cool” flavor to it, all in all linking back to the art of bicycle building.
Being still a very new shop, albeit run by seasoned industry pros, Firefly crew is constantly reinventing, redesigning, and generally moving in all three dimensions of the bicycle framebuilding.
It’s only three of them: Tyler, Jamie, and Kevin (the latter wasn’t there on the photo day), so the work is often shared across the board even though each of them definitely have specialties in which they would easily qualify as magicians.
Technically speaking, I normally try not to post two similar photos, especially of the same subject, but the light in the above one is so magical, I would feel like I’m ripping myself off by not including it. Of course once I took this shot and felt all biggity about it (look at the light! and the outside ambient light coming through the garage door opening!), Jamey whipped out his pink respiratory mask… Now how do you resist that? You don’t.
The below very geometrical composition is so descriptive, in my opinion, of someone who is a designer/constructor/builder by nature. And Tyler is exactly that, to me.
Seriously, he was a perfect model! Executed exactly what he was asked to, up to the very look in the eyes. Tyler, if you ever decide to add a little modeling career on the side, and need a recommendation, you’ve got it.
In our closing arrangement at Firefly’s own mini photo-studio, Jamey was just as awesome, and I was definitely grateful for the availability of studio lights and modifiers that Firefly had invested in pretty much at the same time they got their first machine. Smart move if you ask me.
Smart, badass, and cool. Can it be any better? Probably, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see what future Firefly will have to show off.
Unlike my connection with Firefly, about Parlee I only knew from looking at their bicycles and a few story bits here and there from teammates that used to work there. When I arrived at the Parlee Cycles headquarters in Beverly, MA, I knew I would have to come up with the idea(s) for the photos pretty quickly. allow me a small lyrical digression here.
It is pretty curious that most people who don’t photograph professionally, may not even realize how much goes into a good non-studio photograph. Forget the composition, the light, background difficulties, etc. When a photographer comes to shoot an assignment, an environmental portrait in particular, it has to have a plot, a story. It is one thing when you are working with a familiar environment and a totally different situation when you are thrown into something completely new. You know the general subject and who your subject is, but what’s available in the environment to tell their story is not always going to be “cooperative”. With Firefly the “story” was already in my head, I just had to deal with the technicalities of telling it, whereas at Parlee Cycles I am trying to weave the story while frantically setting the lights up and moving them around as I go. Meanwhile, the “candid” phase of work is going at a very candid pace, which means that if your subject is very good at what they do, the time to capture that perfect shot is exponentially decreasing.
Here are a few of the examples of the “candid” photos that I took (and you’ll be able to notice, there is big window light and remote lights set up and moved around, if you watch light/shadow carefully).
The real beauty was to watch Bob Parlee do the work on the fork: focused, concentrated, yet seemingly relaxed and very calm, reminded me of a fine woodworker. At one point I caught myself wanting to put the camera down and just watch there, unnoticed.
The natural lighting at Parlee space, plus the train tracks right outside (literally two feet from the shop), put me in “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” mood, stylistically speaking. This I will again return to in composing Bob’s portrait.
And here’s the perfect example of how your story line depends on what’s the environment got to offer. There is table football in the middle of the shop - of course I am going to use it!! Such a candy. And there is your story: bicycles we have hung on the rack behind Bob, windows showing a peak of outside environment, and this table football/game table. What is business if not a game and what is this pose that Bob is holding, leaning ever so slightly onto the table if not inviting you to take up the challenge if you dare? My storytelling is done at this point, what you pick up at is up to you, and your end or beginning of the story.
Here’s a closer look at Bob Parlee for those of you who don’t see him often. If this face doesn’t speak “persona” to you, I don’t know what does.
My history with Seven began with shooting for Matt Roy and Maureen Bruno-Roy (collectively known as MMRacing). I hopped on their Crew list for a couple of Matt’s Ultra Endurance races and record attempts, and since Seven sponsored both of them, the photos were used by both Seven and Ride Studio Cafe (a joint venture between Rob Vandermark and Bloc 11 and Diesel’s owner Jennifer Park). Later Rob hired Pedal Power Photography to do some specific photographs for the 2012 Seven Cycles brochure as well, so I’d say this is as up close and personal as it gets in business relationships.
When I came in on the photo day, my designated guide was Matt O’Keefe, who I know from past bicycle-related events and MMRacing awesome parties, and from photography circles as well. Matt and his wife Susi (Susan Margot Ecker) both work with black and white photography, still regularly shooting film, which is rare. All of this is to prepare you that you will see a lot of Matt in the pictures to follow
Seven is very well known for their design work, and ability to successfully work with weirdest and toughest requests. No wonder that some parts of their shop would feel like a science R&D lab, complete with bunny suits and safety goggles.
Both Rob and Matt treat bicycle framebuilding much like a science, and are very serious about precision and adherence to specifications.
And this is just a cool, through-the-frame shot.
For the portrait shot, since my time was practically unlimited at Seven and Rob was so accommodating with his availability, I allowed myself to just explore the different spaces at their shop, including their own photo studio, managed by Skunk (another person I have known long before and was excited to see working at Seven!) and finally settled on the background of many Seven frames that apparently were all the prototypes ever made by Seven since Day 1.
Another big props I have got to give to Seven is that they are so damn loyal (and so as a matter of fact about it) that it gives me hope for more businesses with a human attitude.
To conclude this long-winded bladibla, here are some photos of the article in October 2011 issue of Peloton with the photos that ended up being published.
Hope you enjoyed and see you next time!