I have long had a fascination with what’s known as the "highwheel" bicycle, a novelty from a bygone era. My first encounter with one of these magnificent bicycles was at a young age in the town of Minocqua, Wisconsin, where a local sports shop had one displayed in its front window. Last summer, 20 years later, I photographed that bicycle coming across an 1800s train trestle. After making the image, I got the bug to photograph more of these highwheels.
As I began scouring the Internet, soaking up as much information as possible on highwheel bikes, I discovered just how rare they are. I even began to look at websites such as eBay.com to purchase bikes on my own. Not a single highwheel was to be found.
One lucky afternoon, I came across an online community called thewheelmen.org. I posted a call for all wheelmen to come have their portraits taken by me. To my surprise, I received not a single response. So, I decided to contact my state’s captain, Paul Schmidt. He was skeptical, but helped me to get the ball rolling.
I made the decision to create "cabinet card"-style portraits of my subjects to match the period mood of the subject. I studied a few hundred cabinet cards featuring bicycle riders to help mold a cohesive idea and style.
Coming up with intriguing backgrounds was going to be incredibly tough, but with the help of Marc Hauser of Tamara Backdrops in Chicago, I got my hands on authentic period-correct backgrounds, some of which exceeded 120 years of age. I knew moving these delicate backdrops had the potential to damage them, so I decided to photograph them separately from my subjects.
To merge my subjects with the backdrops, I purchased a "greenscreen" sweep background on which to photograph them. I had never used a greenscreen for my work, as I prefer to shoot a single image rather than make a composite, but it was the best alternative due to the fragility of the backdrops. However, one advantage of this approach was that the only change between images was the rider and bike.