Published in 1968, “The Bikeriders” by photographer Danny Lyon documents his time as a member of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. You know the type: the too-cool-for-school greaser with the black leather jacket, the tattoos and the slicked-back hair.
Our fascination with these rebels never seems to grow old, from “Easy Rider” (said to be inspired by Lyon’s book) to Fonzi to “Sons of Anarchy.” Taking us back to the source, the exhibition at Duncan Miller Gallery reveals Lyon’s images to be predictably cool; they are also surprisingly charming.
There are of course plenty of tough dudes speeding by on motorcycles and brassy women, brittle as the hairspray in their beehives. But there are also more intimate images: A wild-haired young man at a picnic with a toddler sucking on a bottle at his feet. Somber rows of black-leather clad pallbearers carrying a sleek white coffin. And two wiry, tattooed men locked in an emphatic kiss. It seems the romance of the open road was more open than previously imagined.
Any good photographic series debunks expectations. But Lyon was unusual among contemporaries such as Robert Frank and Diane Arbus who preferred to keep their distance. Rather, Lyon’s work presages that of Nan Goldin, an insider giving us a privileged view.
It’s also, from this vantage point, a meditation on the depths of American self-fashioning. Because even as Lyon’s subjects let their guard down for him, they still presented a carefully coiffed image, not just to the camera but to life.
Duncan Miller Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., A7, Santa Monica, (310) 838-2440, through Jan. 12. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. www.duncanmillergallery.com