Danny Lyon: The Bikeriders, Exhibition Review

40 modern prints from Danny Lyon’s The Bikeriders series, have been exhibited at the Atlas Gallery, London, marking the first time these prints have been shown in the UK. The photographs illustrate the four years he spent in the Chicago Outlaws biker group, showing a different side to the group that had never be seen before.

Upon entering the gallery you are immediately stuck by the small space, with room for no more than 20 people to move around the exhibition with ease; I questioned the practicality of the exhibition and why this particular space has been used. After observation of some of the photographs and reading about his work, I began to understand why a small space may have been chosen. The close proximities echo his journey within the group of bikers and how he got to know them on a personal level; the viewing of these photographs echo his journey and allow the viewer to each have their own personal experience with the photographs, instead of being lost in a large gallery space.

Unlike some documentary photography, these photographs show a more personal level, being photographed from an insider’s point of view, instead of just photographing from afar. Unlike street photography where the photographer photographs from afar, Lyon got to know his subjects and became part of the group, he cared about them and even saw them as his friends. A street photographer does not care for the subject, nor their ‘situation’, whereas Lyon took time to live their lifestyle and to get to know the people on a personal level, showing a different side to photojournalism.

Lyon was accepted into the group and became one of them, with photographs echoing this; you can see Lyon’s involvement in the group, with a combination of group and individual shots, he got to know each person on a personal level as well as the group as a whole.

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Route 12, Wisconsin

‘As Ben Burdett, Director of Atlas Gallery, explained during our tour, “Danny is not behind the camera. He is between the camera and the subject of the photo. He is present.” I would also say that he’s even in the pictures, as it’s easy to spot his reflection in several chrome details of the bikes.’- Prominent Monkey Blog. This quote made me think about the work and I agree you can see the involvement of Lyon in his photographs, whether it is a photograph while riding on the bikes or when they have stopped as a group. The camera has become Lyon’s eyes and the photographs show what Lyon experienced and saw throughout his journey. The exhibition takes the viewer on this journey, through the photographs the viewer can see Lyons journey and the journey of the bikers, where they go, what they do, their lifestyle.

Lyons and the viewers journey is summed up well by this statement; ‘You can almost feel the wind in your hair and the freedom of the road, in these captivating images of 1960s biker culture taken when the New York photographer befriended the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club.’- TimeOut. The photographs show the involvement of Lyon in the group and the viewer is taken on a journey through the exhibition.

When at first I realised that the exhibition was on two levels, broken up by a staircase, it seemed a shame, to be on a journey though the photographs but then to be brought back to reality by having to walk down some stairs in a gallery. However after experiencing the whole exhibition, I feel that these stairs echo Lyons journey and how it had stop starts, from one location to the next or even from turning the bikes on and off.

Lyons aim was to show this group in a new light, showing a different side to the people, not echoing the steriotype and what everyone thought of bikers. Lyon achieved this well by showing a softer side to the group by individual portraits of bikers, stripping the bike away from them they look ‘normal’ or of a relationship between two people, showing the emotions and love towards one another that everyone can feel. I agree with the statement, ‘Danny Lyon’s exploration of American 1960s biker culture helped to demystify preconceptions surrounding this edge of society.’- Alto Magazine; he showed the bikers in a new light, making them relatable to everyone. Yes they have a different lifestyle, which Lyon captured, but he also captured the people and how they are just ‘normal’ and even an outsider like Lyon can become part of the group and create relationships and friendships with the people.

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Detroit, Michigan, 1965. Renegade’s funeral

The simple framing enabled full focus on the photographs and the people, clearly showing the viewer the bikers in a different way to the stereotype, and who they really are. The photographs are not ‘glammed’ up, they are simple and to the point, showing the real life of the bikers and what’s really there. This is truthful photography, which is important for Lyon as he wants to show these people in a new light and change opinions on bikers.

On the lower level, one wall was completely different, with a different background colour and framing, I questioned why this was like this? It seemed out of place and a bit odd, the photographs seem to have no particular importance, they were similar to the rest and fitted into Lyon’s journey, however they are highlighted and stood out to the viewer, why? Personally I would not have chosen to display the photographs like this as it seemed an irrelevant detail, and very distracting, the only reason I could think of as to why this display had been chosen was that maybe it could be echoing the bikers place in society. The bikers are often seen as outlaws and outsiders, standing out from the crowd and other people on the roads, maybe this display is highlighting this? However personally I feel it is not needed especially as Lyon wants his photographs to show how these people are just ‘normal’ and that the stereotype shouldn’t always be believed, this display contradicts this idea and so I feel is not needed.

Overall I feel this is a strong exhibition, addressing and showing an interesting issue. Lyon highlights a group that is often stereotyped however he shines light on who they actually are. In general the exhibition comes together well to echo Lyon’s ideas and his own journey.

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Crossing the Ohio, Louisville

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