A fresh look at women and their rides emerges in Milwaukee-based photographer and motorcyclist Sarah Vaun's Women and Wheels Project. Rather than posed like accessories, Vaun’s photos cast them as owners and experts instead of models, and highlight motor vehicles as personal vehicles. Each whip—and how her owner rides, races, wrenches, or demolishes it—is a unique expression of an individual life.
“It's to showcase women and wheels,” Vaun tells The Creators Project over the phone. “Involving women working on their cars, women who ride, enthusiasts, hot rods, demolition derby, I even wanted to include roller derby, because it is a very female-oriented sport,” a rolling subculture born mainly from women, in comparison to the traditionally male sphere of grease and chrome.
Vaun herself shoots what she knows. She grew up on four-wheelers and ATVs, and has been riding and working on her own bikes for over a decade. While living in Chicago, she found herself frustrated with the hostile reception she would receive in discussion groups for motorcycles, where her opinions would often be stomped on. She started a small group for herself and her friends on Facebook, which exploded.
“It turned into this giant group of just people across the country,” Vaun says. “I had no idea who half these people were; it turned into something amazing. And then from there, we decided, 'well, we should have some lady bike nights in Chicago, and garage nights, and things like that,' and actually meet up and hang out.”
From those hangouts eventually formed The Bleeders, a women's motorcycle club, which organized a ride from Chicago cycle store Tarnish to Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Thinkspace, where some of her photos will be on display until September 2.
“I think she captured the vibe of each rider well,” Beauty & Brawn curator and owner Lindsey Meyers tells us. To Meyers, the photos capture an essential joie de vivre that harkens back to the 60s and 70s, and each composition enhances both bike and rider. The photos' very titles make this mission clear: each contains only the woman's first name, and the make, model, and year of their chosen vehicle.
“She does a great job matching color and contrast, bike to color,” Meyers says. Take, for example, the soft shades of green shot through "Stephanie - 1966 Suzuki Bearcat B105p 118cc," or how hot mist of the pyroclastic flow of the burnout in "Melissa - 1975 Honda CB400" echoes in the pattern of her plaid shirt, the distress of her denim jeans, and the gleaming rubber of her boots, tires, and seat. She wants the women comfortable and showing off their vehicles; Vaun will postpone shoots if a favorite bike needs work, rather than have them shoot with a friend's. The agency is completely returned to the rider.
“I want these portraits to portray the woman and their lifestyle, more than just posing next to a bike for a pretty picture,” Vaun says.
Women and Wheels Project is showing at Beauty & Brawn (3501 W. Fullerton) until September 2.