Bike Messengers for The Washington Post Magazine

This was certainly one of the more physically demanding projects I’ve ever done, not to mention dangerous. It all started with a simple idea to reach out to any bike messenger that I could get in touch with and ask if they would be willing to sit/stand for portrait. As a portrait photographer, I’m always fascinated by all different types of people and want to learn more about them. Seeing messengers in the past, I’ve always been drawn to their gritty looks and the dangers they face.

As luck would have it, my first phone call was returned after leaving a brief voice-mail explaining who I was and what I was hoping to do. Gerald called me and offered to meet me on Massachusetts Avenue just a few blocks from Union Station. To my surprise, he met me there with two other riders and we got underway. I was so thrilled with the portraits that I shared them with The Washington Post Magazine. I would have been happy with a response like, “These are really nice, but no thank you.” Instead, I was asked to come in and meet with them to discuss the photos more. This ultimately turned into several more meetings and days out following the messengers through the city over the next four months.

Photographing the messengers was a huge challenge that involved a lot of trial and error. My first day riding with them, I rode on the back of a rented scooter. This proved to be the most difficult and possibly the most dangerous way to try and get the photos I was looking for. Any time I would want to take a photo, I had to let go of the seat handles and pray that the driver wouldn’t hit a pot-hole. If that happened, I would have quickly found myself laying in the middle of the street. Being on the scooter also meant that I couldn’t keep up with the messengers as easily, and we would have to really work to catch up with them. For the remaining shoot-days, I decided the best way to go about this was by putting my out-of-shape self on a bicycle.

I dusted off my bike, strapped all my gear on and double checked to make sure everything was secure. Oh, and I definitely wore a helmet. Nothing could have prepared me for that first day riding along with them. I did my very best to keep up with them and was quite surprised with myself. I’ve ridden my bicycle in D.C. in the past, but never quite like these guys. Their speed was quite impressive, even while riding uphill, and they honestly seem to ride with no fear at all as they navigated through traffic. While sitting and waiting for delivery calls, they would laugh with each other about past times they’ve been hit by cars. Trying to photograph them on days during the Polar Vortex last winter was also a major challenge for both me and the messengers. Each day with them was a pure adrenaline rush. It was such a great experience because with this project, I got to actually live the life of my subjects while photographing them. Normally, I meet people for only a few minutes while photographing them, and I don’t really get to experience what their life is like. Although it was physically draining, I really enjoyed it. The great thing about this project is that I came out of it alive and with a handful of new friends.

The Washington Post’s online image gallery can be seen here.

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