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Brooklyn Photographer Zooms In On Bicyclists

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2011-07-28-sherylbikenyc.jpg

Photo Credit: Dmitry Gudkov/Turnstyle
"This is Sheryl and her Hello Kitty beach cruiser," says #BikeNYC blogger Dmitry Gudkov.
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Originally published on Turnstylenews.com, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.

By: Robyn Gee

According to the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, only .6 percent of New Yorkers ride their bikes to work. Even so, Dmitry Gudkov, freelance photographer in Brooklyn, makes it clear on his blog #BikeNYC that New York cyclists have a wacky, colorful, and bold way of taking over the Big Apple. The site started in February 2010, and the name refers to the Twitter hashtag that allows people to share and discuss information related to  biking in NYC. I interviewed Gudkov (below) and also published more of his bike portraits.

Turnstyle: Where did the idea for the photo project come from?

Dmitry Gudkov: A couple of years ago I started riding a bike in New York and fell in love with the freedom of it. It's a really great way to get around and really opens up the city. I didn't have that many friends who rode, so I became curious about the other cyclists I'd see during my commute. I'd been kicking around the idea of doing a personal photography project, and suddenly had this idea of a portrait series of New York cyclists. I wanted the portraits to be very simple and direct - just the person, their bike, and the city. I also decided to write a short profile of each subject to show their experience of riding in the city.

TS: Tell me how it works - you go up to someone and say..."Hi, can I take your picture"?

DG: Yeah, pretty much. Its even trickier with someone on a bike, because they're mobile. I'm on my bike too, so I often just pull up alongside, or else wait for a red light, and then just say hello and give a quick pitch. I have a card, my camera is ready, and I assure them it won't take more than a minute or two of their time.

TS: How do you choose your subjects?

DG: Often people contact me through my blog or twitter and ask for a portrait, so we meet up and take the photo. If I approach a stranger, it's usually because something distinctive caught my eye - a bike that looks well-used, interesting clothes, a bike that matches the rider, or perhaps a bike and rider that totally don't match. I've got a soft spot for dogs on bikes. I should do more of those.

TS: What do you hope people get out of reading through your portrait collection?

DG: I try to make every portrait as visually compelling as possible, and purposely shoot them very simply and directly. I hope the viewer will feel a connection with the subject, find out something about the person, or maybe want to know more.

On another level, the anti-bike crowd in New York and elsewhere like to paint easy caricatures of bike riders as elitists or hipsters. I hope that the bike portraits can go some distance in showing that many people in New York ride a bike not for a fashion trend but because it's the cheapest/easiest/healthiest way to get to work, or school, or to spend time with their kids.

As for the subjects, they hopefully get a really nice photo of themselves with their beloved ride.

TS: Do people like telling their stories?

DG: They usually do. Especially since I'm asking them about their bike. People tend to really love their bikes.

TS: What makes a picture in this series really great, in your opinion? Are there any bikers you remember in particular, and why?

DG: I think it's a combination of a visually compelling image and an engaging story. A good example is the portrait of Sheryl, a popular blogger. She's a beautiful woman with a distinctive bike in front of a striking backdrop. And her bike has real meaning to her: her new-found love of biking was one of the things that helped her lose 70 pounds and completely change her life. It also shows that you don't have to have the "right" equipment to ride in New York. Sheryl rides for miles all over the city on a heavy single-speed bike with coaster brakes, in heels.

TS: What is your intent for the future of this project? An exhibit? gallery? What else do you like taking pictures of?

DG: I'd definitely like to do an exhibit of some of the portraits, and hopefully collect them into a book.

A trip overseas was the occasion for my picking up a camera for the first time, and I still love to take photos when I travel.

I also photograph these crazy obstacle course events for a company called Tough Mudder. Stylistically it couldn't be farther from the bike series, but I really enjoy it.

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