How do you get a photograph that depicts the essence of cycling? To get a shot that shows what it's really like to be pedaling hard, going fast and flying free, just standing on the side of the road snapping a photo of someone else having all the fun wasn't going to cut it for artist Joe Fike. So he got creative.
Using a GoPro camera and a special selfie-stick, Fike captures photos while he's riding, alone or with a group. In the last three to four years, he's honed his craft, learning what works best for what shot he's looking to get.
A collection of those photos will be on display and for sale at "Musings From a Carbon Cheetah," Fike's art show at the Bakersfield Racquet Club on Friday, organized with help from local artist Art Sherwyn.
"I don't think anybody has ever done anything like art from a bike, from the rider's perspective," Fike said. "You can take pictures of riders but that's not what I wanted to do."
Fike never knows the exact photo he's going to get, since he can't exactly look through a viewfinder while riding. He aims the camera with one hand and snaps the photo with a remote on the handlebars with his other, then hopes he got the shot he was after.
"When I'm shooting, I don't have any control," said Fike, a Bakersfield native who works for Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits distribution. "I roughly know what I'm seeing."
Once he's back at his computer, Fike chooses his favorite shots, maybe about 10 from a shoot of 80, he said. Fike then digitally manipulates his photos to create his art.
Sometimes he changes the original photo's colors, like one where he turned the sky purple to evoke how cold he was that day. Others he calls his avant-garde pieces, inspired by pop art or surreal art like Pink Floyd album covers. One photo has an eye superimposed in the sky, watching over a cyclist below.
"When you're up in the mountains by yourself, you hear the lizard in the grass, the wind on a bird's wings," Fike said, "and you get that feeling that someone's watching you."
Fike has been interested in photography since he was in high school, back when he would have had to manipulate the film by hand to get the effects he easily creates digitally now, but the foray into avid cycling is more recent. He rode as a kid in the '70s and '80s but got back on the bike a few years ago in an effort to get active. Now, he likes to ride within Kern County, like in Glennville and Woody and at Lake Ming.
"We quit riding and we forget how much we enjoy it," Fike said, explaining an experience that many adults have likely had. "Then I started getting into it (and thought), 'Man, I've got to take pictures and remind people how fun it is.'"
First starting to shoot with his iPhone, Fike discovered a GoPro was the best way to capture his art. More recently, he's started taking photos when riding with a pack of cyclists, or a peloton. With no space to safely stretch out his selfie stick in a large group, Fike found a mount for his camera that sits atop his hand and snaps photos with the same remote on the handlebars.
As Fike reacquaints himself with cycling, he's navigating not just the curves in the road but the learning curves of the sport and the art he's developing.
"When I'm out with them, I can't stop and set up (a shot)," Fike said. "To be able to ride with these bike riders, I didn't even bring my camera (at first). Once I was comfortable, then the camera came out."
The evening of the show, Fike will answer questions about his art and Sherwyn will talk about the art of selection.
"A lot has to do with the composition of little shapes and big shapes," Sherwyn said, pointing out the circles and triangles in the spokes of a bike in one of Fike's shots as an example. "They all play a piece of music. It has a rhythm."
Fike got Sherwyn's lesson one-on-one, as the former art teacher helped the cyclist pick his best shots and made him explain what he liked about each one.
"I was telling him why his work was strong," Sherwyn said. "He was doing it quite naturally."
Though a little nervous about putting himself and his art out there for the show, Fike said he's been excited about it, especially when he unpacked the 16-inch-by-20-inch metal prints of photos he'd previously just seen on his computer.
"Now I'm looking, going, 'Oh my God,'" Fike said.
For those who can't attend Fike's show, his Instagram page (@joefike68) is another way to check out his photos, scrolling back to see the evolution of his art.