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“Ride Slow, Take Photos” – 1200 Miles on a bicycle with a Speed Graphic – By Erik Mathy

January 2, 2021

On November 1st, 2018 I left my garage and rolled out on the old Butterfield Overland Mail Route for Tucson, AZ which was a full 1200 miles away. For almost a year prior the headlines had been dominated by news of things happening along America’s southern border. Child Separations. Immigration Caravans. National Guard deployments. On social media channels the rhetoric from all sides, which had already been getting increasingly strident, ramped up to a fever pitch. Every day pleasant people were vehemently arguing. Normal conversations spiraled completely out of control.

And so I decided to unplug and take some time to talk to people who had something to do with the issues that were tearing us apart. Was it possible to meet with strangers and talk to them about the economy, homelessness, immigration, racism, the environment, and history? Was the real world becoming more like the virtual one, or was it the other way around? Riding a bicycle and using a 50’s era Speed Graphic with a hand made camera lens seemed to be the best way to find out.

Photographer Erik Mathy with his large-format camera in “Ride Slow, Take Photos,” which will be streaming in the Large Format Photography Podcast Facebook group on January 2nd.

My ride took me through Delano in the Central Valley, site of the 1965-70 United Farm Workers grape strike; he visited “Indian Alley” in Los Angeles, a place of tragedy for relocated Native Americans that now displays vibrant indigenous murals; between Calexico and Yuma I stopped along America’s now infamous border wall separating the United States and Mexico. In Phoenix I visited artist/activist Lucinda Hinojos’ mural tribute to “Dreamers.” At the Gila River Indian Community, I photographed teens at a skatepark and the Gila River Relocation Camp memorial, commemorating the Japanese Americans interned there during World War II.

All the while there was a film crew from Adobe Create along for the trip. The footage was intended to become a 5 minute artist feature. It turned into a full length documentary entitled, “Ride Slow, Take Photos” instead. This is the trailer:

My camera on the trip was a 50’s era 3×4 Speed Graphic that I used Kodak B/RA X-Ray film in. X-ray film, being orthochromatic, gave the a vintage 1800’s feel that that was in keeping with the historic Butterfield Overland Mail Route. It also has the added bonus of being very inexpensive per sheet and safe to handle under a red light. This made it much easier to unload and load the 13 film holders I took along. The lens was a hand made 140mm f/4.5 consisting of two Achromat elements and four $1 American bills using simple black file folder paper waterstop apertures. I’d been building my own lenses for over a year at that point and continue to do so to this day.

Border Patrol officers Justin Castrejon, Jose Enriquez and Justin Zaffuto. Calexico, CA. – Erik Mathy

The Border Wall, US-Mexico Border, Gordon Wells, CA. – Erik Mathy

Gila River Indian Community skatepark, Sacaton, AZ – Erik Mathy

Lucinda Hinojos, Phoenix, AZ – Erik Mathy

“Ride Slow, Take Photos” premiered in the 2020 San Francisco Independent Documentary Film Festival. It’s currently unavailable for public viewing but is being shown on January 2nd at 11:00am PST in the Large Format Photography Podcast group on Facebook.

If you want to watch it, come join us for the first Large Format Photograph Podcast group event of the year! I’ll be on hand afterwards to talk about the project and take any questions the viewers have.

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Simon Forster
    January 2, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    You’re the best, Erik!

  • Reply
    Steve
    January 2, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    That’s amazing

  • Reply
    Ralph Turner
    January 2, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    Brilliant. No other word for it.. 😃

  • Reply
    Mani
    January 2, 2021 at 8:59 pm

    What a pity the Facebook group is private, and the film can only be seen by joining this walled garden, privacy-invading, spying, divisive, lying scumbag organization that’s been a major driving force in the downward spiral of political discourse that’s mentioned in the article.
    Ironic.

    • Reply
      Erik Mathy
      January 4, 2021 at 2:51 pm

      Members of the Large Format Photography Podcast (LFPP) community had been asking to see “Ride Slow, Take Photos” for a few months after Simon and Andrew had talked about the film. As a result it seemed like a good way to ring in the New Year with them. Unfortunately the film itself isn’t in public distribution as of yet. It’s also 100% owned by Adobe Create. I’m just in it, which is still surreal to say. Because of this my choices for how I can show it are very, very limited. For the time being it’s only with special permission from Adobe in locked down settings to prevent it being pirated. Given that the bulk of the LFPP community is active in the Facebook Group of the same name, and also that the group itself is somewhat private, that made it one of the only easily accessible venues to show the film.

      Which, as you point out, is a double edged sword. That’s social media on the whole. It’s absolutely 100% the technology being utilized to politically and socially stratify the world. At the same time it’s introduced people to folks they would never have otherwise known existed while building small global communities like the LFPP. We need to take the good with the bad while trying to figure out how to fix the bad. In this instance being able to share my experiences with like minded, kind, interested women and men from around the world falls solidly under the “good” category, at least for me.

      Thank you for the comment and the discourse. I hope you’re having a great New Year!

  • Reply
    Michael J
    January 3, 2021 at 9:52 am

    Nice job, and great photos. Hope the film crew didn’t get in the way of the photos and the whole experience too much… I hope you had a ’50s rear derailleur mechanism and a home-made saddle in keeping with the camera! What were you riding, in fact, and how long did it take?

    • Reply
      Erik Mathy
      January 4, 2021 at 2:54 pm

      Hey Michael!

      The bike was a Rawland Ravn, which I dearly love, and the ride itself took 19 days.

  • Reply
    Allysse Riordan
    January 14, 2021 at 1:36 pm

    This is such a great idea.
    Will the film be able to be viewed publicly at some point?

    I completely missed the viewing on Facebook (I wasn’t aware of it until now).

    In the meantime, is there anywhere else I can read more about your trip? It sounds really fascinating. As an avid slow cyclist and lover of photography, your trip is making me rather curious.

    • Reply
      Erik Mathy
      January 15, 2021 at 7:27 pm

      Hi Allysse!

      I am hopeful that “Ride Slow, Take Photos” will be in public distribution this year. Adobe, for all the media they produce, have never made a feature length film before. Public distribution is therefore new to them. I do know they are actively working on it.

      There really isn’t a more detailed article of writeup on the trip. There will be another post going up soon on a cycling specific website with a larger selection of the end images. I’ll let you know here when it’s published. In the meantime if you have any questions on the ride, how I plan them, that kind of thing by all means feel free to ask! I am always happy to encourage people to get out to explore with cameras and bicycles.

      – Erik

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