Two years ago, Jamie Kripke was invited by the nonprofit bike advocacy group PeopleForBikes to document Ride on Washington, a five-day, five-city ride from Boston to Washington, D.C. This summer Kripke joined Ride on Chicago as one of 20 bicyclists riding over 500 miles from Kansas City to Chicago.
Though he actually rode along on the ride two years ago, he says the Washington, D.C. and the Chicago events were two distinct experiences. “When you’re documenting you’re constantly looking for the next shot. As a rider, I found myself kind of freed from that, and I was able to just enjoy the ride. I had a camera with me and I shot the whole thing, but I did it in a very different way.”
The camera, by the way, was a Fuji X-100 rangefinder with a fixed 35mm lens. Kripke says the fixed focal length was great because it was another decision he didn’t have to make, and the 35mm lens was perfect for the wide open spaces they were passing through.
“I learned pretty quickly that riding a bike for the sake of riding a bike and shooting pictures are two very different things. Biking for me has always been a way to decompress. I spend a lot of time thinking—or often not thinking. It made me realize how much time I spend on my bike and that it’s like meditation for me. I’ve found that I think about a lot of stuff, but I also think about nothing. Part of that is the rhythm of pedaling, the rhythm of breathing, you can’t get that just sitting in a chair.”
Trying to take pictures while riding was a no-go, however. “This particular group rides really fast, and if you’re not behind or with the group you’re going to get left behind. And at 30 mph, you can’t take your hands off the handle bars to take pictures when you’re four inches off someone’s tire,” he says. So instead, he made a point of taking several pictures at each rest break.
“We stopped every couple hours to eat and refill water bottles and stretch. We were riding six to eight hours a day, so that happened a few times each day. I made sure that as soon as we stopped I spent five minutes shooting whatever was there. It was a great exercise for me because it taught me to stop thinking about shooting when I was riding. I ended up with this interesting collection of images that have this very similar feel of spontaneity. I didn’t choose where we stopped, so as a result the pictures have this structure to them that, to me, really reflect how the ride felt.”
Kripke was already an avid cyclist before he joined up with PeopleForBikes; he enjoys road cycling, mountain biking, and races cyclocross—not to mention using his bike to run errands around his hometown of Boulder, CO. “I have a bike that I can take to the grocery store and carry home four full bags of groceries. When I’m here in Boulder I never drive,” he says.
He didn’t really know what the group did when he started but now he’s an enthusiastic member. “PeopleForBikes does so much for the bike infrastructure of our country—most people don’t know what goes in to making a bike path in the middle of downtown Chicago, but they get it done,” he says. “I’m really proud to be able to use my photography to help further their cause and I feel good about helping to make more bike paths and bike lanes, and just get more people on bikes in general.”
It’s not just his photography that helps to further the PeopleForBikes cause: As a rider, he was required to do some heavy fund raising. But by pre-selling the images he planned to take during the ride, he met his minimum fund-raising goal pretty quickly. “I had an unfair advantage on the fund-raising front,” he says. The images from the project, titled ‘The Shortest Distance Between Two Points Is’, were just shown last week at Interbike in Las Vegas. Additionally, there will be an evening viewing at Jamie’s studio in Boulder on 10/10 and a morning viewing and pop-up bakery for the Month of Modern on 10/12. And if you can’t make either of those, a limited edition of 20 prints are available for sale on Jamie’s site with 20% of the purchase price being donated to PeopleForBikes.
So of all the images he took during the ride, what’s his favorite?
“A house that had just burned to the ground. I have no idea what happened there, we rode by it in the morning and it was smoking, like it had just burned down the night before. There are others I like just for the sake of the composition and the lighting, but the burning house—I shot that one from my bike as we were riding by, it was one of the few—and it’s definitely my favorite,” he says.