Street photography has the power to evoke Great Era Syndrome — a plausible, if imaginary, psychological affliction Woody Allen describes in Midnight in Paris, in which the sufferer believes herself to have been born in the wrong place and time.
Take, for instance, Fruits, photographer Shoichi Aoki's 2001 compendium of millennial Japanese street fashion. Heavy on Lolita dresses, Commes des Garçons, and Manic Panic, Fruits serves as a potent reminder that there is no American equivalent of Tokyo's Shibuya district, no place to lose yourself among hordes of fluorescent teenagers on a Saturday afternoon. Same goes for We're Desperate, Jim Jocoy's photo book of mid-'70s LA punk rockers, shot from weird angles that make them resemble malignant dwarves. Sneering, leather-clad punks can convince anyone that coolness happened somewhere else.
But what if I told you that we're living in a pang-worthy era, right here, right now, in Boston? I Love My Bike, a book of street photography by Matthew Finkle, with text by Brittain Sullivan, has captured the imaginations of people in far-flung lands. "Within the first weekend that we had our Web site up . . . we got over 500 e-mails from people all over the world — Japan, Australia, the UK, Italy," Finkle says.
Paging through I Love My Bike, it's easy to understand why. Finkle's photos of people and their bikes — many taken here in Boston — make American cyclists look like they're having just as good a time as any Japanese teen in a hoop skirt.
The cyclists depicted are a sunny bunch in graphic T-shirts and serious sneakers. The book features, at minimum, 12 handlebar mustaches, 40 fun hats, and 20 pairs of plastic glasses. There is one man wearing the head of a gorilla suit; there are too many tattoos to count.
Finkle and Sullivan — a Jamaica Plain couple currently in the process of moving to New York — met on a ride. They spent the first summer of their acquaintance biking around Boston, convening with their friends at Open Bicycle in Somerville. Inspiration struck when the weather turned and they traveled to Gloucester to buy English three-speeds from another couple, David Krebs and Bob Driscoll.
"They wound up being the coolest guys in the whole world," Finkle says. The foursome hit it off, went for a ride, and returned to Krebs and Driscoll's antique-filled home. "We stayed there until three or four in the morning, hanging out with them, hearing their story about how they got into restoring bicycles."
Thoroughly smitten, Sullivan and Finkle rode back to Boston. "The whole ride, we were talking about how amazing it would be to document that," says Finkle. They hatched their plan for a photo project the next day.
Plus, "we wanted to travel and meet people," Finkle says.
Their first course of action was to organize a meet-up in New York. Nobody came. But instead of giving up, they took to the streets.
"We chased people down and tried to have conversations while riding and paying attention to traffic," Sullivan says. "People think you're crazy — with all the people standing around with clipboards on sidewalks, people try to avoid you like the plague. But as soon as we mentioned bikes, people would stop and be like, 'I love my bike!'"