The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay
Apr 2016 back issue
Riding with the Dirty Dozen
by Patrick Ward
A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous! Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
At the age of 38, convinced I was still a teenager, I bought my first motorcycle. Biking can make you feel immortal but can also give you painful reminders that you’re not. My final fall from grace, well, the saddle, came in 1985. Etched in my memory because the following day I flew to the USA to take part in the “Day in the Life of America” book shoot, with my fingers skinned and a nasty hole in my leg. Fortunately, being among some 200 of my very competitive peers seemed to hasten a speedy recovery! A few years earlier I’d decided I just had to do a photographic book on biking. At the time there were great journalists, mostly working with California based magazines, who were writing about biking as a philosophical journey, almost a religion. They inspired me to shoot a dozen essays on different aspects of biking and to ask the writers whom I’d come to admire to provide the accompanying texts. I began by shooting stories in Britain but eventually added further essays shot in France, Germany, Thailand and three essays in America. With half the book completed I approached a book packager in London and my eventual editor there was sufficiently encouraging that I felt able to press ahead on the more distant and expensive shoots. However, the one story that was still missing was coverage of the American outlaw bikers. At the time I had a good friend in America, Bill Jay, who was then professor of Photographic History at Arizona State University. Back in the 1960s he had edited both Creative Camera and Album magazines in Britain and had been instrumental in helping the careers of many young photographers, myself included. Bill offered me a deal. If I’d come out and spend a week with his students he would introduce me to one of them who had a close friendship with the president of the Dirty Dozen Motorcycle Club, based in Phoenix. So, some weeks later I found myself giving a work in progress slide show to 30 eager young students and three rather jaded bikers, one with his leg in plaster. After the show I approached the riders and told them I’d really like to have them in the book and, as you can see from these images, they agreed and invited me to join them on the road the following weekend. I think I struck lucky with the Dirty Dozen. Their President, with whom I rode pillion, was a man of character and humor and the riders, despite appearances, and guns, were a surprisingly disciplined group. They gave me complete freedom to shoot and I took full advantage, working as hard as possible to capture such a fleeting opportunity. I think it also helped that, having seen my work, they knew that I wasn’t just along for a joyride. The book, BikeRiders, was published in 1981 in English, French, German and Dutch editions and reached a big audience, mainly fellow bikers, which was very satisfying. The pictures were shot with two Olympus OM2 cameras and Tri X film. A few years ago I was contacted by the Arizona student who had originally introduced me to the bikers. Could I find a copy of the book for her to give to the son that she and the Dirty Dozen president had parented some twenty years before? I found her a copy and later heard that the book had brought the estranged father and son closer together. Thundering through the Arizona desert, the wind in my hair, trying to make visual sense amid the rolling thunder of twenty Harleys, I could hardly have dreamt that the echoes would linger on for so many years.
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