Capturing the Spirit of BikeLife: Matthew Joseph’s Urban Photography Series

a man riding a bike on a city street

In the bustling cities of New York and Baltimore, photographer Matthew Joseph embarked on an enlightening journey, exploring the underground world of BikeLife. His recent series delves deep into this community, offering a unique perspective on a subculture that is on the brink of mainstream recognition.

The Inception of the Journey

The seeds of this project were planted during a flight for a work assignment. A colleague suggested Matthew watch the film “Charm City Kings,” which uncovers the gritty and intricate culture of dirt-bike racing in Baltimore. This film resonated with Matthew, igniting his curiosity about this world.

a man riding a bicycle on a city street

The Draw of BikeLife Culture

Matthew was particularly attracted to the cycling aspect of BikeLife, a stark contrast to his own upbringing. Fascinated by human behavior and diverse subcultures, he was eager to understand and document the lives of those deeply embedded in BikeLife. His quest led him to New York and Baltimore, where he immersed himself in the community.

a man riding on the back of a bicycle

Documenting Authentic Stories

Matthew's approach to this project was deeply documentary in nature. He believes that genuine human stories represent the pinnacle of authenticity, a key element often sought after in his commercial photography work. His epiphany during the project was the deep-seated connection he had with bicycles, a part of his identity since childhood, despite the stark differences in his and the BikeLife community's experiences.

Connecting with the Community

To find his subjects, Matthew turned to Instagram, a vital part of BikeLife culture. He initially connected with a rider named Emmanuel, who proved to be immensely warm and helpful. Through Emmanuel, Matthew was introduced to other members of the community, building trust along the way. He emphasizes the mutual benefits of such collaborations, aiming to avoid exploitation.

a person wearing a costume

His journey in the US involved meeting and photographing BikeLife enthusiasts, offering him unique opportunities to capture their essence. Being present on the streets allowed him to get real-time insights and invitations to join ride-outs.

Busting Myths and Misconceptions

Often misunderstood, the BikeLife scene surprised Matthew with its vastness and inclusivity. Previously, he had perceived it through the lens of stereotypes associated with defiance and rule-breaking. However, participating in ride-outs and mingling with riders from varied backgrounds changed his perspective. He realized that, at its core, BikeLife is about a shared passion for biking.

a person standing on a busy city street

Matthew's experiences across different cultures taught him that people generally are welcoming if approached with genuine curiosity. He also acknowledged that being a white British photographer sometimes played a role in how he was perceived and received in these communities.

Despite the positive aspects, he recognizes that every group has its outliers who might create a negative image. He understood the challenges the community faced, such as the need for space to ride and the effort required to build a positive reputation.

Challenging Preconceptions Through Art

Matthew's work often revolves around challenging stereotypes, and BikeLife was no exception. He aimed to present a personal interpretation of this culture, using photo and video mediums with real riders' voiceovers to add a humanizing element. He believes understanding the riders' motivations and backgrounds can foster greater public understanding and empathy.

The Creative Process and Spontaneity

When capturing BikeLife, Matthew balanced planning with spontaneity. He navigated the challenges of shooting in bustling urban settings without the ability to control the environment. His shoots ranged from hour-long sessions to quick ten-minute captures, often relying on rented bikes, e-scooters, or hitching rides with participants.

The audio for the project was captured in a more casual, conversational style, sometimes just recorded on a phone. This required creative editing to ensure clarity and authenticity in the final product.

Impact and Potential of BikeLife

The resulting photo series not only showcases the passion of the BikeLife community but also influenced Matthew's understanding of its potential. He sees BikeLife not just as a street subculture but as a movement with the power to inspire hope, freedom, and opportunity.

a man riding on the back of a bicycle

Matthew Joseph's journey into BikeLife reveals a world far more nuanced and profound than its superficial stereotypes. His work underscores the importance of diving deep into subcultures to uncover the human stories that lie beneath. By immersing himself in the community and building trust, he was able to capture the essence of BikeLife, challenging misconceptions and showcasing the unifying power of this underground movement.

a group of people walking down the street

In this exploration, Matthew discovered not only the diversity and richness of BikeLife but also reconnected with a part of himself, realizing that despite different backgrounds and experiences, there is a common thread that binds people together – the universal love for biking.

The journey of Matthew Joseph in the realms of BikeLife serves as a poignant reminder of the power of empathy, curiosity, and art in bridging cultural divides and bringing to light the stories that shape our world.

a man standing in front of a building
a man riding on the back of a bicycle