DPP Home Profiles Michael Lichter - Born To Be Wild

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Michael Lichter - Born To Be Wild

Michael Lichter photographs the lifestyle and rolling artwork of today's motorcycle culture

When it comes to his personal work, such as the photography in his books, Lichter doesn't crop any of the images. He currently has another book in the works filled with more of the images from Sturgis, which have gained him so much respect in the biker world.

“I know that I can crop a photograph and make it better,” says Lichter. “I know any photograph can be improved. Get rid of this, get rid of that. But it's my modus operandi. There's certain poetry that follows certain meters, and you could put words together however you want, but poets choose form. The form I've chosen is an un-cropped frame. I think those edge details give you clues as to the environment, the time and the history. To me, it's more about the serendipity of life around us.”

As for the difficulties of capturing the biker culture, there's no doubt that Lichter's fellowship in that world allows him to get shots that other photographers might not be able to.

“I'm comfortable around bikers,” says Lichter, who still rides his '71 Harley-Davidson. “I've been riding for a long time. I understand the culture and I'm part of the culture. As far as shooting the bikes, you could take a good photographer and he or she could do great photographs of a bike with a fresh eye and a different way of looking at it, but I can shoot a bike so that bikers want to see it.”

Lichter still uses the first digital camera he purchased, a Leaf Volare triple capture. “We started with just the studio digital camera, a Leaf Volare Scitex system,” he says. “We bought this for shooting product in the studio; we still had to use film for shooting people, though. This was a huge decision three or four years ago, and it only can be used for some of our studio work, but we were happy with the decision. We felt it was the best way to go.”

It wasn't long before Lichter and his full-time partner, Steve Temple, understood the additional advantages presented by the digital equipment and they capitalized on them. “We realized we could make prints of motorcycles, so that became a little profit center for us,” says Lichter. “I had a decent commercial business, but we began to think about what we could do with my archive of prints of motorcycles, which has been my quiet specialty on the side. We needed to be able to scan images, so we got a scanner and a printer.”

The limited-edition prints were sold at museum showings and over the Internet. Recently, Lichter and Temple created a new website devoted entirely to their motorcycle work, where customers can view limited-edition prints as well as endless web galleries of stock photography.

“We started putting up stock photos on the website and that area began to get a lot of traffic,” says Lichter. “Today, a wheel manufacturer called needing seven shots for a catalog. Yesterday, a goggle company called wanting 10 shots for a website. Two weeks ago, another goggle company called and we made a sale of two photographs for an advertisement.”

For Lichter, the web galleries have been a pleasant surprise. Not only do they offer easy access and transfer for potential customers, but they also give Lichter control over his images, which previously had been unobtainable with his work in a stock house.

In one case, a website approached Lichter for an image of a biker. They wanted to digitally alter the image, adding a tutu to the fierce-looking biker. Lichter felt that if it was alright with the biker, a well-known figure in the biker world, then it would be fine to sell the image. Selling the image would potentially sacrifice the respect he has gained in the biker world, however.

Says Lichter, “With the stock house, I've always been cautious to send them motorcycle work because I can't control it and I don't want someone to put a pink tutu on some famous motorcycle builder even if I have a release. It's not okay with me.” The biker didn't like the idea and the image wasn't sold.


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