dandyARCHIVES: Where Are You Go: Beautiful ain’t always easy

~ This article first appeared in dandyhorse’s Issue No. 3, Summer 2009 ~

By Tammy Thorne, photos and photo captions by Brian Vernor

I’m standing with Benny Zenga is his studio when a skinny, bearded fellow walks in the back door. He’s wearing an old straw hat and carrying a purse-like bag stuffed with flyers. He stops and stares at us. We stare back in stunned silence. I look at Zenga: he’s watching the stranger. With a slow, uncertain drawl, the scraggly fellow says, “So this is…this is where it is at.”

“THIS IS WHERE IT IS AT” is, of course, written in 3-foot-tall black block letters on the white back wall of the studio. But you wouldn’t know that if you came in the front door, like I did. The silence is finally broken by Zenga, who laughs and says yes, this is where it is at. The stranger sits down, rummaging through his bag. He tosses us a flyer and leaves. This is the Zenga studio in downtown Toronto. Zenga — producer of Toronto’s Bicycle Film Festival— and California-based filmmaker and photographer Brian Vernor are in the final stages of editing Where Are You Go, a film about their trip across Africa on a tall bike. (In this case, the tall bike is two conventional bicycle frames welded one atop the other with the drive train reconfigured to connect to the upper set of pedals.) Zenga’s brother Christian (pictured) also rode the tall bike on the four month- long, 11,000-km race from Cairo to Cape Town, and is a key collaborator on the film.

A few days after our encounter with the flyer hawker, Where Are You Go was enthusiastically received (and mentioned in the New York Times) after debuting at the Bicycle Film Festival in New York, where the tall bike was also on display as part of the Joyride bike art show. This August, a longer version screened at Toronto’s Bicycle Film Festival. “I’ve always met the greatest, quality people through bikes,” says Vernor, who met Zenga at the 2005 Bicycle Film Festival.

While both Vernor and Zenga have created many films, this marks their first time collaborating at this depth. “At first it was frustrating to [try to decipher] that unspoken Zenga brother language,” says Vernor. “But, we’re all people with strong opinions and that makes for a good film ... I hope.”

While filming Where Are You Go the duo intentionally tried to create situations where the locals wanted something from them. The filmmakers wanted to take on the burden of addressing the curiosity of others, instead of acting solely as observers, or tourists. When they reached a new village they would exchange bikes with locals, for example. “We wanted to reverse the spectacle — the opposite of the ‘human safari’ you see on these tours,” Vernor says.

“Where are you go?” was the most common phrase they heard as they were riding through towns, along with; “fuck you,” “money” and “I love you.”

Fatigue, giant crickets, bulky camera equipment and language issues aside, Vernor says, “It was the most beautiful time of my life…but that doesn’t mean it was easy.” That difficult beauty is captured in Vernor’s photos.

From where it is at in Toronto to Where Are You Go in Africa, the film and the people behind it show us that riding a bike of any form transcends barriers that separate societies.

This was one of those days when we were really tired when we got to camp, and we just wanted to rest. But there was this faint drumming in the distance and one of the Tour D’Afrique staff had seen some of the drumming earlier in the day and we just mustered the energy to go look. We found the drummers and farmers about a mile from camp and we were able to ask for permission to film and photograph. We were really out in the middle of nowhere. The people were quite gracious about our curiosity and I think a little perplexed by why we were out there in the first place.–Brian Vernor

Vernor was pleased when he got the opportunity to shoot Nuba wrestlers in Sudan during the making of the film. The famous sportsmen were a favourite subject of one of his idols, photographer George Rodger.

This well-decorated bike belongs to a local we met briefly: just a short encounter that ended with a nice photo of a cool bike. This is a well decorated bike by any standard, but it represents the style of decoration we saw on many bikes. The original bubble-wrap packaging is still on the bike for protection. All of the disc wheels we saw represented various English Premier League teams - Brian Vernor

~ This article first appeared in dandyhorse’s Issue No. 3, Summer 2009 ~

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Related on the dandyBLOG:

dandyREVIEW: Premium Rush vs Line of Sight

Q&A with Lucas Brunelle on the making of the film Line of Sight


The Winking Circle featuring the Zenga Bros.

BFF: Riding to the Letter

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