Danny Lyon – Atlas Gallery

An exhibition of the iconic ‘Bikeriders’ series An Outlaw motorcycle group park on a field as one mans reflection is caught in the wing mirror of his bike. A member of the same group is found in an American dinner, intently waiting in his Chicago outlaws bomber jacket for the waitress to catch his eye. These are just some scenes captured by well known documentary photographer Danny Lyon. Lyon shared the lifestyle of the Chigago Outlaws from 1963-1967 in an attempt to glorify their lifestyle. In order to truly understand behaviour of motorcycle clubs you had to be a part of one. They were seen as an ominous group that scarred the landscape wherever they went, causing havoc and chaos. This subculture had their own set of bylaws which went against the American Motorcycle Association. Non-members had to prove their allegiance to the club by passing a vote of membership which was swayed by their pranks and acts of violence. Lyon was member, but he remained an observer and didn’t submerge himself too much into their works. You see the images from the perspective of an active observer, someone who seems a part of the bikers lifestyle, but also somewhat disconnected through his dedication to photography. Lyon joined them because he wanted to make photographs, their subculture interested him but didn’t submerge him. You get a feel of that through the images, they always seems to be a distance between Lyon and the actions of the riders. I was aware of Lyon’s work before the exhibition and I wanted to see the prints in person. I saw Lyon as a photographer who is famous for his access to the iconic bike rider cult at the right time, not because of the quality of his images. They provide a documentation of their coterie, they give the viewer a taste of what its like. The exhibition in the Atlas Gallery brought together such famous photographs in such a small space. It gave me time to appreciate the images and consider them as series and a moment of history. I really came to appreciate them; they showed the bikers with humanity. You would expect outlaws to act more aggressively in front of the camera, but Lyon was able to capture images within the cycle, and bring out their unaltered personality. There is a portrait of two bikers wearing the stereotypical jackets with the stereotypical badges, but without the menace associated with their lifestyle. You see the man on the right with a comfortable face, engaging with the photographer, while the man on the left tilts his head as part of a shy gesture. The images show the way the bikers have effected the landscape in their seemingly brief encounters. They show green fields with motorbikes parked while their owners relax, smoking cigarettes and talking to each other. Although in appearance them seem menacing, they act like countryside walkers, loitering in peace. Understandably you can’t ignore their wrong doing, and some of his images you see that. But the togetherness of the group makes them a family. To the unrelated observer there is menace, but to the brother with a camera, there is acceptance.


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