By ASHLINN ROMAGNOLI, JUNE 2016
A Honda owner gleefully draws warpaint made of lipstick all over her naked body and face, somewhere between a wild woman and a feral child. Another sits delicately on her bike, a permanent armor of tattoos covering her back. A third’s sweet infant rests naturally on the tank as he takes in nourishment from his mother’s body. Showcasing female motorcyclists, Grace Roselli’s The Naked Bike series is a before-and-after exploration of female representation in both genderless and gendered contexts.
Photographing women with motorcycles can be fraught with challenges. Thanks to a heritage of cheesecake photos of women unlikely to be able to differentiate between the types of wrench they are provocatively holding — much less get on a bike and ride — female motorcycle photography walks the tightrope of ownership: Who is the viewer? What is the purpose? Who owns the image? In recent decades, female ridership has skyrocketed: some estimates show it doubling in the mere thirteen years since 2003. And with this increased ridership comes, in many ways, increased agency. Gone are the days of riding on the back, of borrowing a too-large leather jacket made for masculine shoulders. We live in an era (thankfully) where it is a woman’s right to exploit her own body physically, sexually, artistically should she desire to do so. Yet frequently, even contemporary artworks of naked women on motorcycles feels either boring and tired or simply smacks of a repackaging of the male gaze, evoking a childish desire to please rather than actual power and choice. Now is the time to capture the reality of women who ride.
Roselli’s beautiful, clean “before” shots showcase classic images of badass, real female motorcyclists covered in the gear they wear when riding their bike. When a woman rides, she’s quite genderless: much motorcycle gear obscures the female form and this sets the context for the way the observer interacts with the subject. Roselli’s subjects take on pure, statuesque poses with their bikes: visceral portraits of motorcyclists connecting with machinery.
But when the subjects disembark and disrobe, they leave behind the somehow safer space of their high-powered, risky hobby. They expose themselves to the judgment of a world still clamoring to diminish, own, direct, overwrite, obscure their autonomy. Femaleness has been confirmed: it is at this point that the woman’s actions become recontextualized and political in ways that appear to be outside of her control. Stripped of her gear and the haven of a temporarily genderless space, each woman’s body is laid bare; she is exposed to the harshness of a world still struggling to grant her a place in it. Yet Roselli’s work, rather than merely exposing this tension, instead chooses to display the many, varied ways women choose to combat and deny the false dichotomy of being either genderless or objectified. Roselli’s work places heavy emphasis on collaboration with each subject: she asks each of them to choose an object that serves as her protection once the gear has come off. After all, what is protection, anyway, but a series of choices a person makes? The choice to ride. The choice to expose. The choice to wear lipstick. These women own their narrative.
Roselli’s images, simultaneously provocative and natural, allow each rider to protect herself on her own terms as a fearless individual. These are women at their most raw, yet most empowered.
They are power and beauty — but most importantly, they are agency. WM
Ashlinn Romagnoli is a Brooklyn-based writer and producer. At any given moment, she can be found holding a mug of coffee, a glass of wine, or the throttle of her motorcycle. She lives with her two sweet cats, Casanova and Ziggy Stardust, and her even sweeter gentleman caller. She is a member of The Miss-Fires, an all female motorcycle club.view all articles from this author