The 100-year-old Photograph
Words: Gary Inman
Photos: Caylee Hankins, Harley-Davidson Museum, Gary Inman
One of the most famous photos in Harley-Davidson's history doesn't have a motorcycle in it. Not only is the photo one of Harley's most famous, it's one of my favourites and was lodged in my brain. The photos, really there are a pair of them, date from 1920 and are of racer Ray Weishaar and a piglet called Johnnie.
A few elements aligned that caused my cogs to start turning. I'd started seeing local farmer and the man behind Greenfield Dirt Track, George Pickering, more regularly. George is one of the motivating and inspirational forces in UK and European flat track and a heck of a rider. I'd asked if he could track test Harley UK's XG750R Evo for Sideburn 39. After
the loan period I returned the race bike to Nik Ellwood of Harley-Davidson who mentioned they would like to have the bike raced at UK DTRA and, perhaps Euro events, but didn't have a rider lined up. I suggested George. It didn't take long for them to agree to work together.
So now I had a farmer with a Harley connection. I asked George, an arable farmer, if he knew any farms he could borrow a piglet from. He thought he probably could and made some calls. His friend Katie, whose family have a small holding with a few pigs, said she could borrow a couple piglets from the farm they bought theirs from. Next, George and I began to discuss locations. First we thought we could shoot at George's farm, but that was changed to the pig farm, then the plan changed again to Katie's house near Louth, Lincolnshire.
Next I lined up the photographer, choosing Caylee Hankins. Caylee has only shot a few features for Sideburn, but she is our Women's Only Morocco rep, a racer and someone I see often at races and events. And, of course, a very good photographer. I hoped Caylee could help with the styling of the shoot, but in the end my wife, and Sideburn partner, Debbie did it, scouring local charity shops for hats and coats, working from the original photo for reference.
The Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee supplied the recreated heavy woollen jersey, similar to the one Weishaar raced in. Artist Maxwell Paternoster loaned his El Solitario Rascal leather pants and I dug out an old belt that looked like Weishaar's.
One crucial element was still missing. I emailed Jason, regular Sideburn correspondent and the person who has had more custom road and race bikes featured in Sideburn than any other individual. He'd begun a hobby of leather working, making belts, wallets, bags. Like most things he gets involved with, he made sure he was very good at it.. 'Can you make a piglet harness for a photoshoot I have in mind please? I know, I know, not another bloody piglet harness, but I would appreciate it.' He replied, 'This piglet restraint, is it a prop for a photoshoot? Or are you going to be taking little piggy for regular walks?'
Not long that after the request a Yoshimura carburettor box arrived. I was excited, even though I couldn't remember ordering it. A Yoshi carb! I opened the box and found something even better: a beautifully handmade, adjustable piglet restraint, just like the design of the one Johnnie was wearing in the 100-year-old photo.
I set a date for the shoot, a Monday in February. The Harley jumper, the key element after the piglet, arrived just in time. I arrived at Katie's at 9am, shortly after George and the piglets. Caylee, having driven 3.5 hours from London, arrived a few minutes later. We looked at a print-out of the famous photo, climbed over Katie's garden fence, and found a spot that would work. We dragged over some boxes, crates and pallets to set the height of George and the background models, and line up with a bare tree, like the one in the background of the original. We did some test shots while we waited for the models to arrive. George then took a few minutes to bond with one of the piglets, to make sure it wasn't stressed by the experience.
The models arrived, George's mum and grandma; Deb and my daughter Eve; Katie's mum and her friend. Oh, and me trying to look like the laughing chimney sweep bloke in the left of shot. We got in position and Katie handed the piglet to George with instructions to support its undercarriage. Our piglet didn't seem as relaxed as Johnnie, but neither was it freaking out. It looked like it was enjoying the cuddles and was wrapped in a pink blanket between photos. Exactly, pig in a blanket (look, I'm vegetarian, I'm with our pink brethren).
Thinking on my feet, about how the photo would be used in the magazine, I asked for George to be stood slightly to the right of the frame, so he wouldn't sink into the gutter of the perfect-bound magazine if we used the image full-bleed (design speak for when the photo fills the whole page with no page colour or white space around it. I love using photos full-bleed). It makes the photo a slightly different composition and I now regret the decision, but I can live with it.
30 minutes after getting everyone in position we were finished both shots I wanted to replicate (you can see the Coke bottle photo in Sideburn 40) and the piglet was back in its pen with its relative.
Like the in-camera cover of Sideburn 32 the photos weren't subjected to any PhotoShop post-production tweaking beyond slightly 'warming' the digital image to match the sepia colour of the original.
The production felt like a lot of effort for a five-page feature in a cult motorcycle magazine, but it was an example of why Sideburn started, to do things other magazines were no longer letting me do. I hope you dig it as much as we do.
You've read the story, now, please,