THE LEADER OF THE PACK
Valley of Fire, Nevada 2019
The Harley-Davidson is a heavyweight brand - like Coke and McDonalds, it was integral to the flourishing of the American Dream. The brand is emblematic of the post 1945 roll out of the US highway network that offered the American population the freedom to travel for travel’s sake. As Robert Louis Stevenson said: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”
My preconception was that if we were to use Harley-Davidsons for our “Road Trip” series in America, we needed a visual template that was “bad ass” from every perspective. We could not do this in a half-hearted way - there was a responsibility to kill it.
All the bikers clearly had to be dudes and my preference was for the bikes themselves to be from the late 1930s through to the 1970s. I wanted choppers that aficionados would recognise and celebrate as I was determined that seasoned bikers could love the image as much as my followers. My hunch was that this might be the first and only time that these two demographics would met. There was a required level of authenticity and attention to detail, but nothing insurmountable. My production team - Brawler - is first class at looking after that and indeed sourced the famous 1936 Knucklehead Chopper and a 1946 Harley Davidson sidecar.
The location was key. We had to find somewhere that complemented the bikes and romanticised the freedom of travel that the Harley-Davidson brand evokes. This instructed towards depth in the image, as the longer the road, the more emphatically it conveyed the sense of a journey. My intuition was also that this was a shot that needed to be in California, or at least in John Ford’s American West, as the topography and sense of place reinforces the brand.
The creative prompts were movies like Easy Rider - the classic 1969 Dennis Hopper film starring Peter Fonda. America is the home of big scenery and we needed big scenery. Our internet trawling finally led us towards the Valley of Fire in Nevada - a remote park one hour’s drive north east of Las Vegas. It had depth and the moon like rock structures either side of the road continually drag the eye back to that road. If any vista could be described as “bad ass”, this was it.
And so it was that the crew assembled in the modest “Breaking Bad” village of Overton, Nevada last Tuesday night - the bikers from California, my usual five wolves and of course the delightful Bryana Holly - who agreed to come and work with us on this assignment. I think she might have been used to slightly nicer accommodation, but it was a joy to work with her.
Photography can often be about maths as much as it is about inspiration and my deliberations on site the previous day were all about the need to compress distance, but also offer decent depth of field. The lens choice - my old reliable 85mm was key - nothing else in the camera boxes worked.
The result is a blowout image and I think everyone involved should give themselves a pat on the back (and that is a big number of people). I look forward to Harley-Davidson’s reaction. It really is a monster of a photograph - far better than I had hoped for. I looked at in LA for at least an hour on Friday.