It’s 2011 and the custom bike world is beside itself with the Yamaha-based creations of one Greg Hageman, a.k.a. ‘Doc’s Chops’. From what was previously a laughably bad Yamaha Virago, Greg had built a custom that seemed to have somehow made the bike look very, very cool. At around the same time, a young New Yorker called Maxwell Hazan wheeled his very first custom bike out of a small Brooklyn shop and we all know how that turned out – mainly due to the fact that a certain photographer had the wherewithal to recognise genius when they saw it. And the person responsible for taking the photos of these bikes that changed the custom scene for ever? Meet Florida’s Erick Runyon.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Erick Runyon. I’m a professional photographer and full-time single Dad of a 4-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy. There’s always something to photograph with the kids. When I’m not shooting bikes I try to put down the camera, but with these kids it never stops. As any proud parent knows, there’s always something going on that warrants a photograph.
Of all the things you could photograph, you chose motorcycles. Why?
Full time motorcycle photography came to me as a ’happy accident’ about seven years ago. I’d been riding bikes since High School and I guess I had more than a passing interest with them. Working as a fashion photographer, I brought my Harley in for some custom work to Alain Bernard’s ‘Santiago Choppers’ shop. We became friends and he asked me to photograph him for a new TV series called ‘Cafe Racer’. I hit it off with the production company and I started shooting more stills for the series.
Around that time, I also started working with Greg Hageman and Dime City Cycles. My focus switched from fashion photography to motorcycles almost instantaneously. It wasn’t a conscious thing, but it more like a light switch had been flipped on in my head.
Do you shoot any other subject matter?
Ninety nine percent of what I shoot is moto-related. My past experiences of shooting fashion has kind of come full circle. The clients and companies I’ve worked with slowly became familiar with my work and they started asking me to shoot models with their bikes, builds and products. I’ve kind of become the main guy for working with what I call ‘Moto Models’. I use models that ride and have a love for the lifestyle and industry. I usually shoot them so that they complement the bike, as opposed to competing for the viewers’ attention.
What’s your go-to camera and lens? Why?
My equipment is pretty simple. I shoot with a Nikon D4 and my lens choice is usually a 50mm f1.2 or an 85mm f1.4. I stay away from zoom lenses unless it’s an absolute necessity. All my studio and portrait work is shot with the 85mm and usually when I’m at events and rallies, I’m shooting with my 50mm. I like to keep things very simple. At the events, I like to blend in and not bring a lot of attention to myself. I’m definitely not the guy walking around with three cameras, a backpack and an equipment vest.
What’s the best thing about shooting motos? What’s the worse thing?
The best thing about photographing bikes is that I have the ability to bring these builders’ work to the masses. I envy the talent these people have and I get to live vicariously through them. With the small amount of talent I have, I hope I can shed some light on the amount of time, energy and talent it takes to create these bikes. I think of my work as a way to show case the talents of others. I don’t take any of this for granted, by the way. I enjoy it all and I do it solely for the passion of the motorcycling scene.
The worst part is the time my work takes me away from my kids. I’m a full-time single dad and being away from them is always extremely difficult for me. My schedule for the next four months has me on the road through to the end of October. Once I get home, I’ll start shooting apparel and products for the spring, so the cycle will continue but at least I’ll be home with them.
Florida seems to have a healthy custom bike scene with a few really famous builders. Why is that?
I think it has to do with the climate. We have a healthy population of talented builders here because we can ride year-round. From a builders’ perspective, I’d guess it makes sense to be able to operate in a market that demand your products 365 days a year. We have a number of very talented builders who’s names transcend the motorcycle industry. I feel very lucky to be friends with them and am humbled every time they give me access to their world.
What’s you’re favourite bike from the past few years?
Surprisingly, I’m a bit of a purist. I get excited over stock vintage bikes like a Harley WLA or BMW R75/5 as much as I do with custom ones. And Max Hazan bikes always make me do a double take. I photographed his first build in Brooklyn a few years ago, and I’ve been continually impressed with every build he’s done since. I also enjoy watching Billy Lane piecing back together the old pre-1920s Indians and Harleys that he and his crew are racing for Sons of Speed. In the end, I can look at a 1914 Harley and a Max Hazan bike and be equally excited with them both.