Photographer, Steve Carty, poses with his Leader 735 Fixedgear bike behind Hermann & Audrey. Photograph by Miguel Arenillas.
Steve Carty talks bikes and art for upcoming NXNE Festival
Interview by Alex Chronopoulos
Photos by Steve Carty and Miguel Arenillas
In anticipation for this year's NXNE Festival, dandyhorse sat down with acclaimed Toronto-based photographer, Steve Carty, who discussed bike lanes, politics and art. NXNE has been the most anticipated summer event in Toronto for music, film, art, comedy and interactive installations for the last 20 years. This year promises to be bigger and better than ever, especially with the inclusion of Carty's Life Cycles project.
Why did you want to get involved with the NXNE Festival?
It was a no brainer. NXNE is all about urban art, wheatpasting in the streets as well as in a gallery. Street art is a part of any major city around the world... like New York and London—East London, especially—so you can’t call yourself an “international city” without street art. Toronto needs to improve their treatment of artists and levels of respect for those who beautify the city and make it hip. NXNE is a great conduit for getting us there. I’m an artist-in-residence at Hermann & Audrey, and our Agency Director, Jacquelyn West, is also the Director of NXNE Art, so it’s great exposure for me to be a part of it as well.
How do you think bikes and music intersect?
If you think about people who ride bikes or drive cars, they listen to music—it’s something we do while in transit. Most people will have headphones, which aren’t the safest, because you need to hear the approaching cars—it’s [cycling] such an auditory thing. I usually keep one headphone in and listen to a podcast, but I also have a JBL Bluetooth speaker that I clip onto my YNOT bag to play music if I’m riding with friends. It’s a very New York thing; all the cool riders use this speaker called the Boombotix instead of headphones. Because headphones are death.
Tek from Bricklane Bikes London with an Aventon Fixedgear, photographed in East London.
Where did the idea of “Life Cycles” come from?
Life Cycles was started by Jason Eano, Nomi Malik and Mike Poole. Nomi works at R/GA in Los Angeles and Mike at Diamond here in Toronto. Jason works a lot in philanthropy for Hermann & Audrey and began collaborating with Gavin Sheppard who started the Remix Project. It’s a program that’s been running for almost 15 years, exposing at-risk youth to art. It’s great for the kids and artists because it gives them exposure.
Life Cycles was primarily Jason’s idea, who wanted to showcase photos of bicycles. The first show in 2010 was based around this man, Valentine from Rider Cycle & Board, who collected vintage bikes, and it was funny because he had the bike that I had as a kid. Not the same bike but the bike. It was great doing the first show as an adult and being reunited with my childhood bike. The second show was last year, and this year’s is going to be larger than ever. I’ve become more involved with Fixedgear and started shooting back in February. I also started a company called AllFixedgear and we have a group ride every week called Monday Night Rehab. Our social media presence continues to grow, which is great because this cycling culture and photography needed to be shown to a wider audience. NXNE is the perfect collaboration to do this.
Can you give us a glimpse into what the installations will look like? Will they be interactive? What can people expect?
It will be photographs we pasted around the city, mostly Life Cycles content, in the style inspired by the Inside Out Project. You can either pick up or download a map that will show you where all the installations will be, and the starting point is here at the studio and go as far as Grange Park, to the Entertainment District and King West. The images are starting to go up this week—it’s crazy. Some will be billboard size and others smaller. Bikes on Wheels will also have a presence there.
Cyclist point-of-view shot whilst riding in New York City.
What are your personal relationships with biking and your own bike?
I ride between 700 and 900 kilometres per month, and have been riding seriously since 1987 when I was in high school. I was a hockey player and would use cycling as a way to keep up my cardio over the summer during off-season. I then got into racing mountain bikes for five to seven years, which took me into my thirties. By then road bikes became popular again when Lance Armstrong was winning the Tour de France, so I started that back in 2007. In the last three years, I’ve switched to Fixedgear bikes, which is all I ride now. In total I have three of those [Fixedgears], a road bike and a mountain bike.
How do you think Toronto’s Bike Plan compares to other cities you’ve visited or read about?
It’s the worst of them all, our bike infrastructure is worse than any city I’ve been to and Toronto is my least favourite city to bike in. I’ve ridden on the wrong side of the road on the other side of the world and felt safer and better respected than riding here in my hometown. You need to be a better rider here than anywhere else, even in New York where there are cabs and lorries in the bike lanes, you get used to riding in between them and it becomes second nature. In London there are dedicated lanes for bus, taxis and bikes that are painted red. And they take them seriously—the fines are horrendous even if you have your wheel in one of the lanes. There are just different levels of respect.
I stopped driving a car because I got frustrated with other drivers, once they’re inside their car there’s no regard for anyone else, they’re self-centered. I watch how people ride and know what cars are going to do, you see stuff and you have to be an anticipator here in Toronto. People don’t see stuff and that’s when accidents happen. With a bike I’m not dependent on other people’s stupidity.
Steve Carty no hand trackstand with his Fixedgear behind Hermann & Audrey by Miguel Arenillas
What do you think can be improved in our bike system and infrastructure?
The best plan right now is Queen’s Quay between Bathurst and Yonge. Dedicated bike lanes protected both ways with protected streetcar tracks and two lanes of traffic. That section is going to be the best two km of cycling the city has ever seen. We should encourage the Open Streets Project where every Sunday we close the streets for pedestrians and cyclists without cars. We jerk-off cars here, and facilitate them. People come drive here who don’t live here, they drive in, fuck up our shit, drive away and treat the cyclists like shit. We’re the ones who get screwed. There needs to be tolls on every major highway coming into the city to deter people from bringing their cars into the downtown core.
I want to take my work and personal social media following and turn it into advocacy. Fixedgear is my personal work and finally my personal work is getting the attention needed to make a difference. There are no commercials or campaigns promoting cycling or even ones that give a personal representation of who that cyclist is. That cyclist is a person, who’s valuable to someone.
The question you’re asking, everyone knows the answer to. We put these fat fucks in power who haven’t been on a bike since they were 12, and commute by car so don’t care about us. I’m not afraid to say it because everyone knows it: Toronto is really backwards. It’s so obvious that Toronto doesn’t care about bikes and cyclists, just by the way the city is planned and set up.
Benjamin Flower of East London Fixed on Bricklane in East London with his Leader 735 photographed for Lifecycles 2014.
Did you always want to be a photographer? How did you get into it?
I started when I was 14. My dad bought a professional camera but didn’t know how to turn it on or do anything with it, so I turned it on and figured out the pin and needle thing for the exposure and showed him how to use it. When he got the film processed and saw the photos I took, we were shocked because they came out good. Then, in Grade 10 I took a program called Extended Media, which was photography and video broadcasting. My teacher was a Ryerson graduate and coddled me and coached me throughout high school and convinced me to go to Ryerson for photography. I took a fifth year to work in camera stores and went to modeling agencies to shoot models. By the time I got to Ryerson I was at a different level than everyone else. I left after a year to start working and establish my studio, where I did fashion photography exclusively for four years and moved to Miami.
I came back to shoot for the Globe and Mail as part of the team who was hired to turn the Globe from an old-person, stodgy newspaper to one that was more hip. I started off shooting portraits, my first one was of Robert Sawyer and eventually I did musicians like Oscar Peterson and Tony Bennett, and now I’ve done Kanye and Pharell. I was reluctant at first because I wanted to do fashion. But my time at the Globe under the new art director taught me that anyone can shoot a model with hair and makeup, but it takes a special person to shoot everyone else. Fashion photography is of the moment and is disposable. Portraits have value and are timeless.
What’s been the most defining moment in your career?
Shooting Thom Yorke of Radiohead was the best experience of my career—he even hugged me after the shoot. A year later at Queen and Spadina, I feel a tap on my shoulder and it’s him! He’s got sunglasses and his collar up being followed by a bunch of girls. He remembered me from when I shot him the previous year and asked if he could see the photos from the shoot. He told me to bring them to the Westin Harbour Castle where he was staying checked under James Bond. I ran home, got the photos and drove to the hotel, but by the time I got there, he had checked out. I called my roommate to tell him the disappointing news, and he told me that Radiohead was at Much Music. So I turned my car around and sped to the Much building where I was surrounded by hundreds of fans. I followed them to the parking lot and tried to get Thom’s attention by shouting his name and waving the envelope. He eventually noticed, let me through and took the photos. I saw him look at them as they were driving away and he gave me the thumbs up.
There’s common ground you find with everyone and I find it lightning quick. We connect over something that isn’t about the photoshoot, so that when it happens, it’s natural. I photographed Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, who said in his memoir that my shoot was the best he’s ever done. I always try to shoot in an authentic way, otherwise you’re lying. Photography is the way that I save my life; it’s a way that makes my life real because sometimes I don’t believe my life is real.
Steve Carty poses with his Fixedgear outside of his studio.
How do you think you can use your photography to promote a more bicycle-friendly culture and lifestyle?
When it comes to photography and photographing bicycle culture I’m trying to humanize the cyclists, I’m trying to put light on the people who are in the trenches, who are on the streetcar tracks. Then there’s a story about this guy, people see this photograph and it glorifies this person who is choosing an intelligent way to travel around the city and it’s putting attention on these people, who never get attention. Let’s put attention on those people instead of those cars whose ads you see on the Gardiner Expressway. Let’s show these cool guys and girls on bikes, in Toronto and in cities around the world. I want to put a light on these people doing this dangerous thing called cycling in the city. With my reach through photography with my fans and supporters, I can help educate those people who may be drivers and eventually promote a more bike-friendly culture.
The map you can pick up or download for the Life Cycles installations.
Life Cycles is an outdoors multi-site, cross-city cycling art exhibit that celebrates the bicycle and the people who ride them. Led by photographer Steve Carty, this third edition of the large format print exhibition that celebrates Toronto’s bike month will start at The Art Outpost (1506 Dundas St. W) where viewers can grab a map and use their bicycle to tour the various installations around the city as part of NXNE Art. Look here for more information.
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