Obsessed with Bicycles—or How Obsession Fuels Projects / by Lukasz Palka

Tokyo is filled with bicycles—all sorts of bicycles. They range from trend-setting fixed gear bicycles to plain ‘mamachari’ (or old lady bike in other words), to hi-tech carbon fiber one-off syntheses of technology and art that could be straight out of a cyberpunk video game. Their multitude of variations-mutations-customizations keep me on the hunt, but what obsesses me is not their uniqueness but their ubiquity—their commonalities.

Curious Creatures

Most bicycles I’ve ever seen share two things: geometry and character. Every bicycle is two-an-a-half triangles bridging two circles with some gizmos and doodads hanging off. They also all say something about themselves. Just like people the bicycles can be plain and mundane, or they can be extravagant and eccentric. They might be sleek and expensive or old and rusted. I don't really mind. They all sing their tales to me.

The Roots of Obsession

A personal project is usually born out of a nagging curiosity—something encountered once or many times in life that triggers an itch. The only way the itch can be scratched is by exploring the subject that started it in the first place. In my case, it was the bicycles—strewn about the city like toys, in a myriad of color and style. Once I took a good look at one and made a photo out of one it became an obsession. I can’t walk past a bike with flavor and not glance at it. Sometimes I stop and stare the way one might at an attractive person. I soak it in. It pleases my eyes and scratches the itch.

Path of Discovery

Pursuing an obsession leads to discoveries about the subjects but more so about oneself as a photographer. I discovered a universe of aluminum and steel and carbon fiber—it led me to look inward and develop an eye for forms, colors, juxtaposition, and subtle details. It bred in me discipline to photograph consistently, taking care to maintain an underlying logic to the project in its entirety, while also creating a unique work with each shot.

A Story in Every Frame

I take photos of bicycles in the same mindset with which I photograph people. I want them to belong in their environment. I look for bikes that happen to end up in a place that seems to belong to them. That is, the bicycle and its parking spot should be in harmony. The bike’s setting should also convey its story and character just as much as the bike itself. But these principles did not exist in mind at the outset. They came to be as the obsession grew within me—they evolved over time with each snap of the shutter.

Getting Obsessed

What is the value of a project? Narrowing your photographic focus on a specific subject that captivates you will lead to discoveries about yourself as a photographer. For one, in pursuit of the project you will be stretched and challenged in ways that casual shooting does not. Concrete goals can be set within the bounds of a project—goals that go beyond ‘shoot every day’ or ‘always take your camera with you.’ The hard part is finding that project. On what subject should you spend your time and energy? Well, one way into a project mindset is to get hooked on something specific and go after it like a madman. Live and breathe the concept for weeks or months. Find your photographic obsession, and embrace it.