cycling cinema

Six Day Bicycle Race at Madison Square Garden, 1908 (George G. Bain; courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Six Day Bicycle Race at Madison Square Garden, 1908 (George G. Bain; courtesy of the Library of Congress)

 

The bicycle’s “speed triumphant” presented a problem for photography, for though bicycles carried Kodaks all over the city to make portraits of static scenes, the camera was unable to record the very essence of the bicycle –movement. Even instantaneous photography was insufficient; the bicycle cried out for motion pictures. In George G. Bain’s photo (above) of the Madison Square Garden track during a December 1908 Six-Day–Race, the standing spectators and officials inside the track oval are a blur; the cyclists and their bicycles vanish into faint black and grey streaks etched onto the light racetrack boards.

Here are some clips from films in the Library of Congress’s archive that show Broadway, bicycles at work & play, and the famous strongman Eugene Sandow, who was far too musclebound to enjoy a simple pleasure ride on a wheel.

 
 

For decades before Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, New York, introduced their Bicycle Kodak in 1897, photographers and cyclists both had been rigging their bikes with cameras. But the Bicycle Kodak – like the safety bicycle – was a hallucinogenic game changer, transforming every cyclist into a potential photographer, and radically altering Victorian men and women’s perceptions of Time and Space.

While the Bicycle Kodak democratized the photographic eye, it also set in motion the juggernaut of virtuality – human beings worldwide replacing fleshy engagement with the landscape with mere vicariousness. Just take a spin across the Brooklyn Bridge to witness the tragic apotheosis of this century–long journey. . .