Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cycling and Self-Portraiture

I have long been interested in the connection between cycling and amateur self-portraiture. Anyone familiar with the world of bicyclists' image galleries is also familiar with the ubiquitous "panda shots," storefront reflections, snapshots of one's bike shadow. Taken quickly with tiny low-quality cameras, these provide spontaneous glimpses into how we move through the world, what we encounter along the way, and how we relate to our bicycles while doing so. Over the years it has become a distinct genre.

But why do it? Looking in from the outside, it is easy to interpret it as a contemporary obsession with documentation, a marking of territory, or in the case of "panda shots" (pictures of yourself taken while cycling) as a showing off of skill. And of course to some extent it is all that. But what makes it bike-specific? I have never encountered another group outside of the art world that is as prone to self-portraiture as cyclists. Joking around with bikeyface, we tried to start a trend for "walk pandas," but somehow pedestrian self-portraiture does not hold the same appeal. 

Last year I wrote about bicycle blogs and exhibitionism - describing a culture among the blogs of beginner female cyclists where women communicate and encourage each other by showing pictures of themselves doing everyday bike-related activities. Outside of the intended audience (for example, when observed by experienced male cyclists), this is sometimes misinterpreted as exhibitionism. But for the intended audience it is in fact a "teaching by doing" sort of tool that can be more effective than any advocacy. 

Still the trend for self-portraiture among cyclists is not limited to this alone. It is more widespread than that and encompasses a more diverse demographic. From racers to retrogrouches to randonneurs to pedaling fashionistas, cyclists just seem compelled to snap pictures of themselves on or next to their bikes.

It is possible that moving around by bicycle, particularly when we are new to it in adulthood, heightens our sense of self-awareness and it is this that inspires the self-portraiture. In a sense, the cyclist keeps a visual diary. And a true diary, be it written or visual, is more than just about what happens in one's environment; typically the diarist also focuses on themselves. 

How well this works as an explanation, I don't know. But as a psychologist and a painter I am fascinated by the tradition of self-portraiture I've seen emerge as more and more cyclists share their images with the world. If you take pictures of yourself on or with your bike, why do you do it?

106 comments:

  1. What I actually want is a really good shot of me on a brevet or riding with my kids, but there's no one else around to take it.

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    1. This might sound silly on first think, but consider putting out a call for a photographer on the local randonneuring list. There are many photographers out there who would love to document randonneuring or racing events for their portfolio. It could also be good promotion for your club.

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  2. The amount of modern self-documentation is ridiculous. It feels like the fine edge between narcissism and self-confidence.

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    1. I have always thought of bike panda shots as nothing more than narcissistic indulgences.

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    2. I can't do a proper bike panda, but I love seeing them in other's image pools. Such spontaneous facial expressions, such delightfully awkward perspectives, I love it. I guess you could call me an avid consumer of other's pandas. Keep them coming people!

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    3. You mention that this is ubiquitous among some female beginning cyclists, which I think is true. In that context, it does seem like exhibitionism that goes beyond simple communication between like-minded beginners, as you've labeled it. Maybe it's something more primeval.

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    4. Wait, what? If female, then exhibitionism, did I get that right? :)

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    5. We exist to tantalise and provoke you!

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    6. V, I always suspected that (smile).

      MDI, maybe, sometimes, not always. I defer to the words of a well-known bicycle blogger:

      "Speaking in terms of statistical tendencies, females tend to be more visual."

      Hence a greater willingness to tell stories with self-portraiture?

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  3. Well, of course, photographers themselves are even more prone to self-portraiture than cyclists. For the rest of us, where art is no excuse, I attribute it to a pervasive culture of narcissism.

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    1. So it's okay for photographers because it's art, but for the rest there's no excuse. Sounds elitist. And what determines who is a photographer anyway.

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    2. I agree,I don´t see bad that type of photos, and if you are a blogger you would love to share your photos with others, and being an artist is not just for those who went to school art :S

      I love self portrait, and I thinks is cool to show your passion.

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  4. I love that second photograph. It looks like a silhouette of Daphne from Scooby Doo. : )

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    1. My favorite is the third one. The whole romance of cycling in the city on a sunny afternoon is captured in one single dreamy reflection...

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  5. Re narcissism: I think that is a knee-jerk reaction on the part of some people, and why they choose to have that interpretation is, to me, in itself interesting. But the narcissism explanation does not really work if we examine the matter deeper. First of all, we as human beings are avid consumers of pictures of other human beings. Whether we want to admit it or not, we love looking at each other, at the nuances of other people's movements, features and facial expressions. It's interesting. In that context, shared self-portraiture is a form of communication. Narcissism is something else entirely.

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    1. Spoken like a person under 40. One can communicate one's expressions, feelings and emotions as if they are unique or except the fact that everyone has them and one is no different and not be overly swayed by someone else's.

      There's no coincidence between digital everything and self-documentation.

      I see pandas and go - so what. Some dude on a bike. Make it interesting and I'll go cool, like that guy who rides along the beach with a cam attached to a long pole and gets good angles. Otherwise there's no new ground covered here.

      Document for friends and family - I turn of friends on fb who document too much of their own lives. Doesn't mean I don't like them. Fam, different story. Their fam.

      I'll assume you're getting new shoes but that's a separate post.

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    2. Some of us youngsters aren't on this "Facebook" you speak of.

      We don't have to be unique in order to be interesting to each other. I disagree with your whole spiel in fact, but later.

      New shoes, yes. Mavic something or other. It's what RSC carries and they are inexpensive and nice looking and black.

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    3. In the sense if you take enough pictures it becomes a stop-action video I think it approximates life more, but not really even close as the editor is omnipotent.

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  6. I think bikes are so much fun, they end up bring out the uninhibited nature in a person.

    Sort of like alcohol. But with more endorphins!

    For me, flickr needs to be part of the conversation as well. I was really into film photography in HS and college, then pretty much quit taking photos at all circa 1997 or so. Didn't even own a digital camera. Then I tripped across flickr... and an desire to photo-document all aspects of everything. Nothing like fostering that latent bit of OCD!

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  7. Self-absorbtion, for me, pure and simple.

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  8. I like your blog, sometimes I don´t write, because I don't understand most of the times XD I'm new in the world of bicycle, but I like the idea to come back ride one of those.
    I like the idea of this photos, maybe because I like sharing my daily.

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  9. I do quite a bit of what you might call self-portraiture on bicycles, but then I am a professional photo-journalist with a long career in producing work for photo-rich magazines, and now I am producing work for my own cycling blog.

    I put a great deal of time and energy and resources into turning out good photos for my blog - just as I would for the magazines to which I contribute, albeit with considerably shorter deadlines. Roff Smith

    I wouldn't think that would necessarily make me a great subject for a psychological study about modern narcissism, though - merely a professional photo-journalists doing his job, but with himself as a client.

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  10. This isn't exactly bike specific. It also happens with cars and motorcycles. We are attached to that object of transport-- that thing that we bond with by the hours we spend obsessing over it or using it or both--it is part of our identity.

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  11. Interesting blog, as usual. I have only self portraited one or twice and that was for facebook postings! But in that regard, I guess I did it to share my ego, my hobby and my face with my "friends". My self portraits are not as artistic as yours though!. BTW, how can I become a person with a name (Pete) and not anonymous?

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  12. I started my blog because I love bikes and I wanted to write again. Blogging was an easy outlet to publish in. I am not new to cycling either. At first I was uncomfortable displaying photos of myself and would go out of the way to show my bikes and scenery. But then I realized that I loved the bike blogs that would show the authors. It lends realism and humanism to the posts. I'm not a fan of Facebook so I'm unused to projecting myself or my whole life to the blogosphere, nor do I think people should. But I've learned to add a photo now and again of myself to show that I'm indeed a real person.

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  13. I do,and I sometimes even have a riding buddy (or hiking buddy in the case of recently having my daughter walk a bike trail to shoot some video of me riding)...I feel a compulsion to do so,personally. Assuming you aren't talking about pics of the bike itself,but of myself as the rider of said bike (I shoot the bike itself because I just enjoy looking at bikes in their native habitat,be that trail or urban).

    I suppose personally,it's because I cannot see the future,and I know as I age my spinal injuries will most likely degenerate as I age. Of course,I'm not being morbid,I'm hopeful I have MANY more years left able to pedal bicycles,but "just in case" it were to happen sooner rather than later,I suppose I want as many tangible memories as I can for if that day (when I am no longer able to ride) comes,especially sooner rather than later.

    Besides,My Lovely Wife enjoys looking at me having so much fun in said pics :)

    The Disabled Cyclist

    PS: Very thought provoking and enjoyable read,my freind :)

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  14. some view it as a romance and, not surprisingly, derive pleasure out of documenting moments of their romantic journeys.

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    1. How interesting. For me it would be almost taboo to document an actual (human) romantic journey. But I do photograph the heck out of my cats and friends.

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  15. To quote Sage Francis, "I don't look at myself in the mirror because I'm a narcissist, I simply like to watch myself exist."

    For most of my life, I've been extremely self conscious and avoided being photographed at all costs. When I started doing self portraits for my blog it was mostly out of necessity as I usually ride alone. But I feel it has also helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin (zits & all), helped to quell that hyper-critical inner voice, and given me much more self confidence knowing that I can be prettier than I thought I was. In a society where women are constantly judged by their looks and told they are never good enough, it was a pretty important personal victory to be able to say "here I am, and I'm OK."

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    1. Been following and enjoying your blog Coreen!

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  16. I love these photos, they are a new take on this genre. I have taken all of the above: pandas, shadows and reflections - and I was not aware of them being a genre, except for the pandas, when I took them, I just saw the shadow/reflection and thought it would make a great photo! Another good one which is around is the reflection of self in the bicycle bell or in someone else's sunglasses. There just seem to be so many great opportunities when taking photos of yourself on a bike, and it is different from other forms of transport in that you become part of the bike, or can be juxtaposed with the bike from many interesting angles if not on it, and this gives the photo an extra dimension. With a car you are in it or outside of it and with a skateboard or scooter you are on it or above it, it's just not the same.
    Vicki

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  17. hmm...your blog is called 'lovely bicycle--for the romance of cycling' it seems all about cycling and self portraiture, from the mundane to the intimate.

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  18. In your last picture, you caught a reflection of the building I work in, including my office window.

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  19. Out of a sense of desperation--a need for understanding. As an artist those are the only times I use my own image in a painting or drawing. As a cyclist, I don't get the photo's of 'person with bike.' They seem merely to be documentation, or illustration, of one fascinated with the subject of bicycling, or themselves as a bicyclist, rather than art.

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    1. But how do you make the distinction? Or, more importantly, who makes the distinction?

      Like what if a contemporary art gallery was having an entire exhibition of bike pandas, as a statement about the postmodern something or other, and these pictures sold for thousands of $$ to collectors and ArtForum wrote all about it in confusing critical theory type of language? It could happen.

      The high vs low brow distinction is hard to make nowadays, and oftentimes when (as artists or consumers of art) we do make it , it's a little too conveniently aligned with our own world views.

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    2. How do I make the distinction? I look at art. Clearly, there's good art and there's bad art and, for me, it took years to figure this out. It has nothing to do with my world view. Art, like nature, informs.

      If a contemporary art gallery had some exhibit of bike pandas--whatever they are-- as some post modern statement I'd go and look at it with a 'veil of ignorance.' I love looking at images, always looking for that series of decisions which might make something not bleed into any other image i've seen before.

      Something selling for thousands of dollars is meaningless in the economy of art.

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    3. "Clearly, there's good art and there's bad art"

      Not so clearly at all. Many of whom we now consider to be the most historically significant artists were at some point judged by their contemporaries as bad art. Just saying.

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    4. Exactly! Their contemporaries didn't get it, for what ever reason. In an historical context few images survive, and they are the good ones.

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    5. Please note you'll be glad I held my tongue on this.

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    6. Now imagine all the sad bike self-portraitists whose contemporaries don't get it. Van Gogh must have felt the same way back in the day.

      Anyway. I joke of course. I only mean that anything is possible, and judgments of what is art are subjective.

      All in all I agree with Matt's excellent comment below:

      "Instead of saying that taking pictures of yourself is narcissistic unless you are an artist..., why not consider that riding a bike brings out the artist in all of us"

      Yup. Why not indeed.

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    7. Clearly you are defensive on this topic as an artist. It's the job of anyone buying it to determine if it's good or bad or, failing that, anyone looking at it. I don't see what the problem is - are you expecting everyone to like your personal art?

      Ultimately I think Warhol is crap and Bacon is great. Lots of great young artists around. Lots of crap ones. Do they all deserve the label "artist"? Hell no.

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    8. Yes, I think Matt makes a lovely statement. Though, as an artist, I'm far from accepting that art is subjective :)

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    9. GR Jim - My point was pretty much what you just wrote.

      Agreed re Warhol vs Bacon, though that's just a personal opinion and doesn't change whether either is "art."

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    10. Please don't misunderstand, this has nothing to do with my art. It's not personal at all. Much like a scientist will accept a critique of his/her application of the rules, it's about something that withstands scrutiny with regard to the standards to which it applies. The person buying the art only applies their taste to the formula and thus transfers art into the realm of commodity/fashion.

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    11. Anon, oh no I meant my comment as a response to Velouria. I agree with every word you wrote. Must be of the same generation, or at least share the same level of scrutiny.

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  20. If you like the walking panda trend, you should see all my my lounging-on-the-couch pandas. Definitely not a new trend. (I may have edited them into a video recently when I realized had accumulated an embarrassing amount over the last year. But no one will ever see it.)

    I'm an artist so I've always felt the need to have a creative outlet all the time, photography is so accessible these days. I photograph myself because I am available though if others stick around long enough I'll photograph them. I'm not the strongest photographer but I still do it compulsively. When I started biking I started taking pandas immediately (didn't even know what a "panda" was then.) I was fascinated by movement, by seeing the world differently, and how I appeared to others. Partly out of concern that drivers would notice me or not, but also because there's something wonderful about moving through the world by bike. I want to capture the experience as fleeting as it is. I never took car pandas. I would occasionally take pictures out the window but cropped out the car. Also when you are a cyclist in the city you are a minority and it can become an essential part of identity. I've felt the need to have photographs of myself with bikes because it defines who I am, a more complete portrait. I'd perhaps compare it to musicians having photos of themselves with instruments, or athletes wanting action photos. I don't think it's narcissism. It is more related to self-awareness and introspection.

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    1. The question remains: is it introspective when published on the web? Self-aware it certainly is.

      This entire conversation basically speaks to a generation gap and the question what is acceptable public exposure. Judging from what's available on the web everything is acceptable.

      Doesn't mean I've ever been comfortable with the label "artist" slapped on me.

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    2. Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramovic are your generation or older, I believe. Their entire body of work is basically a commentary on what constitutes acceptable public exposure. Our society was concerned with this question pre-internets, pre-blogs.

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    3. Din't mean to be sexist. See also Vitto Acconci.

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    4. The question has been extant at all times, us being social creatures. When Sherman came upon the scene I thought, "so what, she's making social commentary. I got that already." I guess I'm making the same comment wrt pandas. The older I get, the better it was.

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  21. Instead of saying that taking pictures of yourself is narcissistic unless you are an artist (I mean really), why not consider that riding a bike brings out the artist in all of us by changing how we see the world and ourselves in it?

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    1. Thanks Matt. You said it better than I.

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  22. When I first saw the Eco Velo site, I was astounded by the quality of the photography, I thought it was art. Then I read how he composed his photos and was confirmed in that thought, though he siad it was his background in design which informed how he took his photos, is there a distinction there, between art and design? In any case, the photos on that site are amazing.

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  23. My above comment was intended to be under the what is art discussion further above ...

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    1. I can't move or alter comments, and unfortunately Blogger's threaded comments don't always work for everyone.

      I too enjoy ecovelo's pictures, was sad when they stopped the blog.

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  24. As a blogger, I take Panda shots when I'm riding alone and don't have any other cycling subjects to include in the photo. More often than not, it is a way of documenting the ride. I was out in these conditions - warmth, sunshine, snow, blooming flowers, desert, mountain pass, etc. Is is narcissistic? No more so than having a blog in the first place and thinking anyone cares to read what *I* have to write ;-) And no more so than posting a comment on someone else's blog and thinking anyone cares to read what *I* have to write :-)

    I like riding with other people - mainly for their company and conversation, but also to have subjects on bikes for my photos. I also like riding with other folks with cameras so I occasionally get to see a photo of me on the bike! John and I just got back from a week long bike tour and I now have about a thousand non-panda pictures of me riding a bike. I wonder if it qualifies as narcissistic if I use photos that my partner took of me...

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    1. It seems to me that in considering self-portraits narcissistic, but not, as you point out, other forms of self-expression such as blog posts, blog comments or even stating one's opinions (sometimes all day long) in online forums, shows that some people tend to be biased against the visual. Sharing self-portraits is only one of many ways to draw attention to oneself.

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    4. Jim, it baffles me that you could interpret Pamela's comment as being either aimed at you or "snarky". Your replies come pretty close to being outward insulting, so please don't put me in this position.

      "...you can't document and put it on your hard drive rather than publish it on the web? ...you don't make the distinction between making it public for others to learn from or is it an exercise in self-satisfaction. "

      Can we ever really make that distinction about our own writing/pictures/whatever? I doubt it. It seems to me that it's for others to judge, whether they can learn from whatever it is we put out there.

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    5. Distinction - I don't doubt it. My comments, just like everything on the net or words themselves, are kind of ephemeral to me. Nobody seems to remember what happened 2 months ago, or what they said, or what they read. I run into that all the time. Just wait 15 years, when this blog is dead and gone, and try to think back, without looking, how you were and who these characters that comment were. We're all just concepts in a virtual space.

      Learning - throw it against the wall, see what sticks.

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    6. Ground Round Jim,

      In no way were my comments directed at you.

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  25. The red storefront in the first photo, where is that?

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    1. It is a restaurant called Chez Henri in Cambridge MA.

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  26. Is the bicycle itself not, in many cases, a piece of artwork? Are intricately-designed lugs, stems, handlebars, saddles, and headbadges merely functional components of an object whose only purpose is to fulfill a transportation or sport service? I think not ... although there are indeed many bicycles that would provide strong evidence to oppose the "work of art" theory.

    But if, indeed, the bicycle is a functional work of art, then one must ask ... is the bicycle as art complete without a rider? Or is it rather incomplete if it's standing motionless and alone?

    I think beautiful bicycles are portrayed in their most complete and most beautiful form when they're in motion, doing what they were designed to do. And what truly completes the image is the addition of the emotion expressed by the rider who displays the physical experience of the ride.

    Yeah, sometimes the panda shots aren't exactly composed in the best way ... and maybe they don't speak to the general public in the same fashion as a classic painting or a heart-moving song ... but for every one of those photos, there is an accompanying memory that was important to someone, and the photo keeps it alive for them. And maybe twenty years down the road, that photo might serve to tell a grandchild what riding a bike was like "back in the day".

    Personally, I don't really do panda shots. But that's really about not wanting to crash and break both my bike AND my camera (and possibly a bone or two I might need) while attempting to compose a nice creative shot. Taking photos of others cyclists, though ... that's always fun.

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    1. Oh my goodness I just made nearly the same comment below. I should have read all the commentary first. Sorry, Anon, 6:18!

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  27. I'm going to tentatively dip my toe into this discussion between Velouria and G.R. Jim(and if it begins to look like it might blow up in my face I'm going to scuttle off like a little sand crab and pinch anyone who sticks their fingers down my tunnel(I almost said "hole", Hehheheh, he said "HOLE", Shut UP Beavis", HEHEH, sorry"). Anyway, I should be working on this book eleven of you are so eagerly awaiting so I've only got a minute...

    Who the hell should one draw, paint, photograph or whatever? When part of the purpose of the exercise should be to figure out where we fit in the world and whether we like the shape of the space we're taking up. An artist that can't include themselves in whatever they're trying to do needs to toughen up.

    I agree that it can be self-serving if it's all about getting others to validate us or fall in love with us enough to give us a pass on our faults/shortcomings/sins or whatever. But if we are being honest about getting a handle on something(and ALL art is about getting a grip on something, even if it's somebodies money)than for it to end in some sort of real, complete knowledge than you have to take a deep breath, let half of it out and pull the trigger. And with images that means hanging it up somewhere for people to see. If, deep inside, you're a fake, a plagiarist, or simply seeking attention, you will instantly have to acknowledge it to yourself when you step back and see it on the wall(or worse yet, a screen). Others might not always figure it out, but you will. And that part of the process is independent of the reactions of the viewer.

    ALL artists know that feeling of standing nekkid beside one's work. It's why it's so satisfying when we figure out a bit of the truth about something and so embarrassing when we realize we missed a turn. When the universe seizes on a teachable moment to whisper in our ear "Better put your pants back on dumbass", it also gives us a bit of a hint about where we got off the path. Artists who never hang it up for the rest of us to see have no effing clue where they stand.

    Spindizzy

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    1. "Anyway, I should be working on this book eleven of you are so eagerly awaiting so I've only got a minute..."

      The people demand their book, Spindizzy. It is narcissistic of you to deny it to us.

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    2. Spindizzy is a concept that no Turing experiment can touch.

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    3. You can make it twelve waiting...

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    4. Okay, thirteen. But who's counting?


      You've nailed the definition pretty well, there, Rev. To the artist, the artwork is often an essential filter for reality.

      Or in my case, a denial of it. ;)

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  28. And since no one else is asking the question, Why the term Panda? I've been wracking my brain to make some kind of connection and just don't get it. I'm not even able to come up with anything off-color or juvenile...

    Spindizzy

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    1. Oh there is no logical, self-evident connection. As I understand it there is a person on flickr whose user name is "faster panda, kill kill" and she started the trend for these types of pictures. Therefore they were named after her.

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  29. I've got, like, 1/3 of the chapter on crashing scribbled out.

    So much blood. So much twisted metal. SOOO funny. It was supposed to be sorta serious with all sorts of astute insight and drama but honestly, crashing is really just funny. After the fact of course(and only as long as we all go home with all our fingers and teeth and stuff),and I've had SO many simply fantastic ones... I'm going to be so rich!

    Spindizzy

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  30. I can remember decades ago as a young cyclist always being overly distracted by my reflected image in storefront windows as I passed by. A principle component to this was an attempt to analyze my position on the bike. I can see now that it would have been useful then and desirable now to have employed a stationary camera to some extent in the same way Muybridge might have, or simply to have used the Panda method. Live and learn.

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  31. Henry David Thoreau, that well-known American narcissist oops I mean essayist, once anticipated criticisms of his navel-gazing oops I mean personal reflections by saying this: “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.”

    But seriously: Thoreau was on to something. Self-portraiture does not have to be a narcissistic exercise at all. It can be (among other things) a form of sharing, of intimacy, an outward gesture of good faith.

    Oh, and speaking of self-absorption: didn't anyone else think it was funny that GR Jim thought that Pamela was directing her comments at him?

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    1. Yes Evan, that was hilarious. Crowd-source the like-minded much?

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  32. i never knew this concept before! i find myself taking photos of my bike a lot, but never photos of me with the bike. is it still a panda then? if not, why do i almost feel compelled to put the bike in front of a window/fence/stream/garden and take a picture?

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  33. I don't blog, nor do I really put myself out there on the public domain--aside from comments--more as a matter of privacy. So, I'm going to comment here as a consumer of public information.

    I think it's all a question of balance. Velouria, if your blog, for instance, were all about photos of you and you alone, then yes, it would be rather narcissistic to my mind. Since there's a healthy balance of you and bike related photos, or beautiful scenery, I see no issue here; nor, presumably do all the people who regularly subscribe to your blog. (Or else what are you doing here?)Indeed, I like the pics of you and other people in the photos, it lends human interest. Great to see you and bikey face, or the co-habitant etc. And often you demonstrate a point. As you say previously, people like to see other people in addition to objects they like. Ultimately, a bike is a human object!

    For me narcissism or self absorption is the phenomenon I come across on facebook often enough. Some people post one photograph after another of themselves, on a daily basis. Or, others post photos of their kids every day!!! There is no news other than what their kids have been up to daily!!! While this is overkill for me, interesting to note that even this has an apparently eager audience, judging by comments.

    I myself have one photo of myself on fb, and am frequently asked why I don't post more-- people like to see what you look like, and what you've been up to it seems!

    It's all horses for courses.

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  34. I've never taken pictures of myself riding a bike. In fact I don't take pictures of myself at all. Probably has something to do with the fact that I can easily feel painfully self-conscious if I'm alone in a room with mirror hanging on a wall. My best friend once told me, after she had photographed me playing sitar in a group, that I spent the whole time onstage in my "I am invisible" mode.

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  35. P.S. I had never hear of the word "Panda" shot before. A whole flick site dedicated to panda shots of the same person? Sounds pretty tedious to me. Surely, there's only so much self-documentation one can do!

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    1. possibly a misunderstanding here? The Flickr 'site' is a group. People who have taken photos that qualify as a "panda shot" (as a particular style, fairly well defined in the Group's notes) can have photos that they have taken (of themselves, since that is by definition what a panda shot is), which are in their own photostreams, added to the group. So when you visit the group page, you see the contributions of many people. The original name came about because the first person to popularise this style of photo had the word 'panda' in her Flickr user name, but by no means are all of the photos in the group photos of her! In fact, I believe there are only a handful of her (amongst over 8000 photos). :) Indeed, what makes the group so fascinating is the wide variety of people, bikes, lighting, colours, cityscapes (or whatever else might show just round the edges). The format is fairly strict but the executions come in endless varieties.

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  36. I take pictures of myself riding my bike(well mainly my legs pedaling) a) because I love riding and b) I want to show others that you can ride in normal clothes and normal shoes. I actually posted one on my twitter this morning: http://lockerz.com/s/196390954 :)

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  37. to me the window mirror shots are an oscillating overlay of lost and found, disappearing and manifestation. traces in light. traces in flux. found in loss. self-manifestation in the moment of self-loss.
    -
    the classic panda shots are a bit of something else. to me they are mostly the attempt to document a physical/mental transformation.

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  38. I'm kinda disappointed with some of the comments about what is art and what isn't. Sure, lots of art is not "Fine Art" and much of it goes in the "folk art" or "outsider art" category. As an art teacher working with the disabled and the young, I find that their art is often surprisingly fantastic and impressive. Is the motive for making art really that complicated? What happened to the joy of making it? Does all art have to be museum quality if it has brought joy to the person making it? Indeed not, for many people have hobbies and interests they are not all that good at, but we encourage them anyway.

    The weekend softball league has some below average athletes in it, but should we call it narcissism when they go out on a public field and perform? They are doing it for everyone to see. How about those below average cyclists? They are doing it in the public eye on the street. Going to tell them their efforts and joy are not worthy? If you don't like an amateur artist's below average blog.. then just don't read it and click to something else. It's a free world where everyone should be encouraged to follow their interests, even if they do a sub-par job at it.

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    1. as a fellow creative advocate, amen!

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  39. I find these type of photos interesting to see what type of bike someone has, rather than who the person is. Never knew they were called Panda shots though - so thanks to Spindizzy for asking that question. It's something I've never done though. Taken photos of other bikes but not my own with me on it. Each to their own - it provides the variety that makes life interesting.

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  40. If it were purely narcissism (and I acknowledge that narcissism can be and sometimes is in play), would there not be a trend toward pandas of people walking or running, etc? I think we are forgetting an aspect that, considering that we are reading LOVELY bicycle, is hiding in plain sight. Bicycles are beautiful and designed to draw us in. It is just as popular, perhaps even more so, to photograph one's bike as the sole subject, particularly when one is fortunate enough to be in possession a a beautiful machine. But what makes them so compelling is not just that they are beautiful but that they can't fulfill what they were intended to be without us. If one enjoys the art of the bicycle enough to photograph it alone, surely it makes sense to, on occasion, photograph it when its full beauty is in force- riding! My 4th grade daughter is currently writing a paper on Maya Lin and her thesis is that Lin's work (well, the memorials at least) will forever be new because they have no commentary, only information. The viewer is intended to form an opinion about the information presented and thus become "part of the art." Thus, since the viewer is always new, the memorial always is. Surely the same applies to the art of the bicycle- it is beautiful alone, but the cyclist is an inherent part of the art.

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  41. Isn't it just as simple as: I'm the only one around to take the picture/to be in the picture? We're all speeding along on bikes and unless you're riding with someone, who else would document the ride? And who else would I be able to document?

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  42. Most people I consider "artists" do not call themselves the same. They might say "I paint" or "I sing" or "I write", but they never say "I'm an artist". They also don't wake up and think today they'll go and create some "art". They think "today I want to paint", or "today I want to sing". What they create is really more of an expression of what they feel or see in their being, and doesn't become "art" until someone else looks at it or hears it and feels that it is.

    If ten singers all perform the same song, perhaps only one of them will sing it in a way that truly projects the emotion of the lyrics, allowing me to really "feel" it. The others may perform incredibly well in a technical capacity, but not get the true emotion of the song across. Does that mean that only one singer should be allowed to sing? Hardly ... it may just be the others haven't found the right song yet.

    Basically, art begins as an expression. Everyone needs an outlet for that. Even my dog makes me wonder if he's got some artistic tendencies. If you could see the way he searches and sniffs every rose bush in the park for just the perfect spot, and then with skilled precision, he lifts and contorts himself to deposit his pile on just the perfect part of the perfect branch. You can almost see the joy in his eyes when he's done. Is it art or just his own self-expression? Maybe he's just goofy.

    Panda photos are just self-expressions, the same as any other form of art begins. Sometimes the expression is composed in a way that people see as art, and sometimes it's just seen as a photo that doesn't say anything. But for anyone to even have the opportunity to form an opinion, the work has to be presented for others to see it or hear it. Things like blogs, facebook, flickr, and YouTube give us an immense world of material to see and hear. Most of it will be pretty mundane, but every once in a while there's something amazing. Often the creator didn't sse it as being anything special, just another self-expression, and was encouraged to share it with the world. Wouldn't it be sad if no one shared their expressions because it was socially considered to be unacceptable public exposure?

    It's very difficult for an artist to share their work, putting self-expression out there for people to see and critique. It may be simple to say that if they can't handle the heat, don't go in the kitchen, but it's funny how things look when the tables are turned. For example, when someone offers rude criticism here in the comments and is then called on it, they respond rather visciously, even thinking everything is about them ... even though they're the first to ridicule someone else. Why would someone who put their heart and soul into a work of art want to expose themself to that? It can be difficult to let go of what began as your own emotional experience, knowing people may want to tear it apart. No matter what you create, someone won't like it, and that can be a painful thing for a sensitive artist-type personality.

    Will anyone remember this blog in 20 years? I will. The question I have is if you think this blog and commentary is so insignificant, then why do you hover here all the time, waiting to pounce on anything you disagree with? We can easily think that what we say and do here on the Internet doesn't really matter in the long run, but things do have a way of coming back around when you least expect them to.

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  43. At first it a good way for me to connect with my parents, who live out of state. The visual diary enables them to share my delight in cycling outdoors by seeing where I ride. Then it expanded to sharing with fellow cyclists. A few months ago I moved it to Facebook but I may continue my regular bike Web pages when I retire soon.

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  44. I think self-portraiture is super narcissistic.

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  45. Replies
    1. Anais Nin. As an alternative to visual self-portraiture.

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    2. This morning I wake up curious if this is not becoming a male/female issue. Is not the majority of those who say "narcissism" males? The majority who say "art" females? Is this linked to the already documented idea that women are more social with personal and intimate ideas while men are more communicative with logic and function? Could it also be that many women find it socially distasteful to accuse another of narcissism, yet some males find it possible to speak this way and not find it aggressive.

      If it is, then it makes me wonder why men find it narcissistic and yet they enjoy photos of women just as much if not more than women enjoy photos of women. There's probably a big scientific study here if anyone really wants to crunch the numbers and do some profile surveys. I suspect some people are not being entirely honest either and it would be an interesting study to figure out why.

      Not accusing any specific person of anything in particular, but curious what the dynamics and cultural conditioning is here.

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  46. Wow, this was a much more heated discussion than I would have imagined.

    I personally think every human being has a fair amount of self-absorption running around inside them, and because of different temperaments, personalities, talents - that gets expressed in different ways by each person.

    Sure, I like taking photographs, and I feel like an occasional photograph of myself might add something to the world, either by documenting something I'm doing, or simply documenting myself. That is a bit narcissistic, but it might also be true.

    I do think Jim brings up an interesting point about public exposure - and I do think there is a (perhaps rather fuzzy) threshold of what is prudent or responsible to put out in public; but the other side of that argument is that you as an individual also have the ability and the right to choose what you consume. In the end, people can post all the lurid details of their personal lives online, you don't have to read it.

    I think partly, as humans, we are fundamentally relational, and we have very deep-seated desires to know and be known by other humans. It could be that certain changes in our culture have caused that search for relationship to move more and more into the virtual realm rather than the space of our own neighborhoods (thus leading to an explosion of personal information online), but along with each person's innate self-absorption, there is also a very legitimate need to know and be known by other people. Of course, the details vary per person, but as a general rule, I think it holds true.

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  47. I think, as with all things, people do thing for different reasons. Maybe some are narcissists, maybe some are artists, or maybe for some it is a means of documentation; like for a blog - which is what I am currently doing. My usual reason for self-portraiture with my bike though, is plain and simple necessity. lol Since I usually vacation alone, (and most people take pictures of themselves on vacation -even non-narcissists!) somebody has to get the shots! Most of my vacations are bike riding vacations, so you do the math! I like to jokingly tell people that my bike is the "significant other." Doesn't it make sense that we pose together?? :)

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  48. Are panda shots primarily an American phenomenon? And if so, I wonder if their popularity has something to do with the fact that biking - and especially transportation cycling - is (unfortunately) still something of a transgressive act. And hence more worthy, in some sense, of documentation or memorialization.

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  49. I started taking pictures of things specifically to share them because frankly, I like reading blogs where there are some pictures included- even if they are sometimes fuzzy or off-kilter ones. I love BikeFancy, and Let's Go Ride a Bike, plus You Don't Know Jack, not only for their stories and such, but also simply the pictures. It makes me happy to see them like it makes me happy to see things for myself when I'm out riding. And if that tiny ladybug hitching a ride amid the bright colors of new streamers that I made myself makes me happy, perhaps someone else will enjoy it too. So I took a picture.

    riding a bike does make a person, or at least me, happier in general, and makes me want to share that happiness with others. That's why I take pictures, anyway.

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  50. " If you take pictures of yourself on or with your bike, why do you do it?"

    Because it's fun, just like riding bicycles. :)

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