Martha Williams. Photo by Emma Arnold from the local street fashion blog Trés Awesome. All other images by Williams and featured on Bike Fancy.
Last year Time Out Chicago photographer Martha Williams began taking pictures of well-dressed people on bicycles and posting them on her blog Bike Fancy. She buttonholes good-looking cyclists she encounters while cruising the city, shoots portraits and interviews them about their rides and outfits, why they enjoy bicycling and their ideas for making Chicago more bike-friendly.
Tomorrow, Saturday, November 12, from 5 – 8 pm she’ll celebrate the blog’s one-year anniversary at Eskell boutique, 1509 N. Milwaukee in Wicker Park, which is also marking its six-year anniversary. The Eskell/Bike Fancy Birthday Bash will feature an exhibit of Williams’ bicycle images, cocktails, a DJ and a raffle of fashionable bike gear. I caught up with the photographer by phone this week to discuss the history and future of Bike Fancy.
What’s your background with bicycling?
I’ve been riding my bike in the city ever since I lived here. I moved to Chicago to go to college at Columbia and began riding my bike then and slowly developed a bug for it. And then when I started my job at Time Out Chicago I realized it a really good way to get around the city for photo shoots.
How did you get the idea for Bike Fancy?
I was a fan of some of the street fashion blogs and I liked Copenhagen Cycle Chic but it was a little too voyeuristic for my taste and the photos weren’t excellent. And I’m also out on my bike a lot and I saw a growing number of people riding around in their regular clothes. Since I’m on my bike all day with a camera, I thought I was in a unique position to document Chicago cyclists. Seemed like a fun thing to do.
What do you mean when you say Copenhagen Cycle Chic is voyeuristic?
He’s taking pictures of people without interacting with them or talking to them. I’m stopping people, asking them if I can photograph them and then interacting with them and having them pose for the camera, as opposed to snapping pictures of people going by. So my photos are more like formal portraits. I like what he does too but I wanted to do something different.
How do you usually go about flagging someone down to take his or her picture?
I’ve developed the same skill set as someone that robs someone. You look for people that are stopped at stoplights or locking up their bike. Sometimes I’ll just catch up to people and ride up next to them and say, “Hey I like your outfit – can I take your picture?” But there is a predatory skill set that I’ve developed. So you just have to pay attention and kind of pounce on people.
What have you learned by doing this – any surprises?
I was really not sure I could do this all year and get through all the seasons and find enough people to photograph. But it seems like there’s an endless amount of people riding bikes, which has been great. I’m surprised by all the new and different people that I run into.
Do you make a point of riding around different parts of the city to get exposed to different people?
I definitely try. By the nature of my job I’m often in different parts of town, but mostly Pilsen, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and Logan Square. It’s harder to get further out but I sometimes take a weekend bike trip up north or further south and I try to cover as many different neighborhoods as one person possibly could without killing themselves. I don’t want to kill myself photographing for a non-profitable blog but I do want to cover as many areas as possible.
Tell me about a memorable subject you’ve photographed
Jennifer, who writes the blog Chicargo Bike. She rides her three kids to school in a box bike, even in the winter. I thought her set-up was adorable.
As you’ve been doing this project have you picked up any tips on how to find clothing that works well for biking in Chicago weather but also looks good?
For me, I need to combine it because on a professional level I have to look decent but I also like to ride. So I like to combine thin layers of wool, and wear skirts with tights and boots. No one I’ve met has really revolutionized the way I dress. I’ve seen people’s coat and thought, that’s a really cute coat, I want that. I’ve seen reflective capes and other little cute things. There was a woman who wears really wide-legged jeans and she uses binder clips to tie them up, which I thought was a cute idea.
What’s the one-year anniversary party going to be like?
Well, it’s a shopping event [laughs]. Eskell is a small women’s boutique with its own clothing line and they sell other people’s clothing too. So I think it will be kind of lady-centric and there will be some wine and booze and fashion deals. There will be people hanging out, hopefully talking about bikes and fashion. We’re raffling off some gear from Boulevard Bikes [where John works], Public Bikes and maybe Copenhagen Cyclery, and then Eskell will be raffling off something from their fall collection.
What’s on the horizon for the blog?
I’d like to sell more ads and I’ll probably do a redesign eventually to make it not a Blogspot blog and to have bigger photos, that kind of thing.
You must really love photography if you do it nine-to-five and then go out and do it some more.
It’s a really different style of photography because for Time Out I do a lot of food photography. Street fashion takes a totally different skill set. That’s why it’s still so exciting for me.