Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Michael Lichter - Born To Be Wild
Michael Lichter photographs the lifestyle and rolling artwork of today's motorcycle culture
Roger Goldammer has just driven some 20 straight hours to Boulder, Colo., so Michael Lichter can shoot his award-winning bike, “Lowtek.” “He has a reputation as the best,” says Goldammer, whose sweeping green creation rides super-low to the ground. With the recent renaissance and TV popularity of choppers on shows like Discovery's American Chopper and The Great Biker Build-Off, such trips to Lichter's studio have become common.
“This guy lives and breathes motorcycles,” says Goldammer, who had a bad experience with a photographer who didn't specialize in motorcycles. “You need to know what you're looking at, what angles make the bike look good.”
In the industry, Lichter's commercial work is in high demand, but he's perhaps better known for his biker lifestyle shots, like those that appear in his book Sturgis: The Photography of Michael Lichter. In the last 25 years, Lichter has shot some 600 feature-length articles for magazines such as Easyriders and V-Twin, and his professional work has taken him all over the world. By maintaining a diverse workload and cultivating his specialty, Michael Lichter has experienced a steady increase in business and popularity.
“I never wanted to be a photographer,” says Lichter, who got his start in the late '70s after graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder. At the time, he was shooting cowboys and bikers for recreation, and a friend took some of his images to the editors of a local weekly newspaper. “I had something like five covers in a row, so when I did something and it wasn't on the cover, I was super disappointed.”
Lichter submitted some photos to Easyriders, and the next year, he was covering Sturgis for the motorcycle magazine.
Five years ago, motorcycles made up 25 percent of Lichter's work; now he estimates that motorcycles and motorcycle-related commercial work make up around 75 percent of his business. In the last five years, two things happened that would transform and increase Lichter's business while the economy was diving.
“There were several changes around 2000,” says Lichter, who noted a renewed popularity in choppers and the arrival of more capable digital equipment. “We went digital, and we began to look at the motorcycle world as a possible place to generate some extra income. We started doing prints and showing our work. When we began to exhibit, we got very positive feedback.”
Although Lichter had been shooting biker events from the saddle of his own Harley since 1979, it wasn't until recently that he started showing his biker culture shots in museums and on his website. As a result, his commercial work has been impacted positively. Lichter describes a situation where he received a call from a client at one of his first showings: “Somebody was on a cell phone saying, ‘I love your work and I know you're here. Can we meet with you this week? We have this big catalog, 100 pages. We'd love for you to do it.' Is there any more direct feedback than someone calling me from a museum saying they want me to do their commercial work?”