Riding With The Dirty Dozen

April 20, 2016 ·

Patrick Ward
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979

At the age of 38, convinced I was still a teenager, I bought my first motorcycle. Biking can make you feel immortal but can also give you painful reminders that you’re not. My final fall from grace, well, the saddle, came in 1985. Etched in my memory because following day I flew to the USA to take part in the “Day in the Life of America” book shoot, with my fingers skinned and a nasty hole in my leg. Fortunately, being among some 200 of my very competitive peers seemed to provide a speedy remedy!

The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979

A few years earlier I’d decided I just had to do a photographic book on biking. At the time there were great journalists, mostly working with California based magazines, who were writing about biking as a philosophical journey, almost a religion. They inspired me to shoot a dozen essays on different aspects of biking and to ask the writers whom I’d come to admire to provide the accompanying texts. I began by shooting stories in Britain but eventually added further essays shot in France, Germany, Thailand and three in America.

The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979

With half the book completed I approached a book packager in London and my eventual editor there was sufficiently encouraging that I felt able to press ahead on the more distant and expensive shoots. However, the one story that was still missing was coverage of the American outlaw bikers. At the time I had a good friend in America, Bill Jay, who was then professor of Photographic History at Arizona State University. Back in the 1960s he had edited both Creative Camera and Album magazines in Britain and had been instrumental in helping the careers of many young photographers, myself included.

04 DIRTY DOZEN

05 DIRTY DOZEN

Bill offered me a deal. If I’d come out and spend a week with his students he would introduce me to one of them who had a close friendship with the president of the Dirty Dozen Motorcycle Club, based in Phoenix. So, some weeks later I found myself giving a work in progress slide show to 30 eager young students and three rather jaded bikers, one with his leg in plaster. After the show I approached the riders and told them I’d really like to have them in the book and, as you can see from these images, they agreed and invited me to join them on the road the following weekend.

06 DIRTY DOZEN

The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979

I think I struck lucky with the Dirty Dozen. Their President, with whom I rode pillion, was a man of character and humor and the riders, despite appearances, and guns, were a surprisingly disciplined group. They gave me complete freedom to shoot and I took full advantage, working as hard as possible to capture such a fleeting opportunity. I think it also helped that, having seen my work, they knew that I wasn’t just along for a joyride.

The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979

The book, BikeRiders, was published in 1981 in English, French, German and Dutch editions and reached a big audience, mainly fellow bikers, which was very satisfying. The pictures were shot with two Olympus OM2 cameras and Tri X film.

10 DIRTY DOZEN

A few years ago I was contacted by the Arizona student who had originally introduced me to the bikers. Could I find a copy of the book for her to give to the son that she and the Dirty Dozen president had produced some twenty years before? I found her a copy and later heard that the book had brought the estranged father and son closer together. Thundering through the Arizona desert, the wind in my hair, trying to make visual sense amid the rolling thunder of twenty Harleys, I could hardly have dreamt that the echoes would persist for so long.

The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979
The Dirty Dozen motorcycle gang on a weekend trip into the desert, near Phoenix, Arizona, in 1979

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Patrick Ward
March 2016

 

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Patrick Ward

Patrick began his freelance career in the 1960s, shooting for the newly created colour magazines of the Observer and Sunday Times, and later for the Telegraph. In the 1970s he began his still continuing record of the English at play, which has produced three books, with the latest, “Being English”, published last year. In 1981 Patrick spent a year traveling and photographing across America on a Bicentennial Grant and these pictures led to assignments with the Smithsonian and National Geographic Traveler magazines. While Patrick has enjoyed a long career shooting for European and American magazines he still feels his best work springs from self assigned projects. He is presently photographing a book on Londoners at play and a second project on life on the River Thames, the latter inspired by the fact that his home is a houseboat on this great river. mail@patrickwardphoto.com http://www.patrickwardphoto.blogspot.com

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