News Column

Ringling Museum in Sarasota features famous photos of outlaw bikers

July 27, 2014

By Marty Clear, The Bradenton Herald

July 27--It was the Golden Age of new Journalism. It was also, Chris Jones said, the Golden Age of the American biker.

Photographer Danny Lyon was at the center of both.

In 1968, he published a book titled "The Bikeriders" It featured portraits and candid photographs from the outlaw motorcycle subculture. It was a world that fascinated middle America, but one that few Americans had contact with.

Some of Lyon's photographs from the book are now on display at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, in a new exhibit titled imply "The Bikeriders."

"One thing Lyon wanted to do was to humanize these people," said Jones, the assistant curator for the Ringling Museum who put together this exhibit. "In some ways, I think he's interested in heroizing them."

Lyon had first gained fame as a photographer a few years earlier. He was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and he photographed key moments and people in the civil rights movement while he was a student at the University of Chicago.

Soon after, he started working on the photographs that would become part of his first book, "The Bikeriders."

"The overriding theme, the connecting theme, I think, was that he was interested in documenting people who were outside of the mainstream," Jones said.

When Lyon became interested in photographing bikers, he didn't shoot them from a distance. He befriended them to gain their trust, and eventually even joined the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Gang.

Although his medium was photography, he was working very much in the new journalism style, pioneered in that era by such writers as Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, in which the journalist became immersed with his subject and his story.

It was a "golden age" for bikers, Jones said, because they had developed a mythological image, through such films as "The Wild One" and through such books as Thompson's "Hell's Angels," but they hadn't yet built a reputation for serious organized crime.

"Easy Rider," which appeared about a year after Lyons' book, further solidified the image of the counterculture biker as an adventurous free spirit.

The Ringling exhibit came about after two independent gifts of Lyon photographs were donated to the museum.

It's not a large exhibit. It's housed a single museum gallery.

"It's not exhaustive," Jones said. "It's just a sample of his work."

But it shows the scope of Lyon's work in "The Bikeriders."

"It's that new school of documentation," Jones said. "There's an iconic photograph taken as Lyon was riding his motorcycle across the Ohio River. There's a lot of excitement in these pho

tographs. But there are also photographs of bikers hanging out in bars, or sitting at home with their friends. He's interested in recording their private lives."

"The Bikeriders" was considered almost radical when it was released, but it has come to be considered an essential piece of photojournalism. A new edition of "The Bikeriders" was published on May 31.

The exhibit opened Friday and will be open through Dec. 7. The Ringling Museum of Art is at 5401 Bayshore Road, Sarasota, Admission is $25 for adults, $20 for seniors 65 and older and $5 for children ages 6-17. Call 941-358-3180 or go to

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow


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Source: Bradenton Herald (FL)

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