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Behind the Page: Portrait photographer David Goldman on finding connection through a camera lens and adventure bike

October 22, 2021
David Goldman portrait photo titled Behind The Page: David Goldman

Quest for connection

Celebrity photographer turned documentary portraitist David Goldman has only been home for a few days. While the coronavirus pandemic and freshly cemented political divisions pushed people further apart, Goldman was traveling North America in search of what drew them together.

“There are so many more things that connect us than separate us,” Goldman muses.

He found that source of connection with two unlikely tools: a motorcycle and a camera. For over four months, Goldman rode around the U.S. and Canada on a motorcycle, doing portraits and recording audio interviews with people whose lives have been deeply entwined with bikes — riders, collectors, builders, etc. His work has since been featured in American Motorcyclist, Pipe Burn, and The Vintagent.

The idea for the trip came to Goldman before he departed on a documentary assignment in India.

“I was recognizing how in developing countries motorcycles were used as a utilitarian tool,” he remembers. “A father could help his kids get to school to get them an education to extricate themselves from poverty. Versus in the West, it’s a luxury item.”

He continued the project on his trip, photographing two motorcycle builders in different locations in India. The photos he accumulated quickly inspired an idea for a series that would illustrate the power of these bikes to bring people together across social, political and religious divisions.

David Goldman
Photograph by David Goldman

This past summer, he made the decision to swap his café racer for an adventure bike and a home studio for an on-the-road editing suite. Dozens of portraits, provinces and states later, he had crossed North America from California to Maine, and across Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia, taking portraits and recording interviews with each of his subjects. Recognizing that each portrait requires immense trust on the part of the subject, Goldman resolved to go into each situation with no expectations, no judgements and no desire for a specific story. He was less interested in politics or religion than in the simple pleasures and challenges of a life entwined with motorcycles.

“I think about it all the time,” Goldman says of the climate of division currently so prevalent in the U.S. “It’s very much an us against them mentality and it doesn’t matter if it’s using a crock pot or a frying pan or Republicans or Democrats or abortion or religion. There’s just another reason to pit one person against another versus finding the things that connect us.”

Using his camera and his bike, Goldman was able to forge real trust in most every place he visited. And that trust is visible in the photos he brought back. Eyes of every color and shape stare into Goldman’s lens with honesty, their bikes as diverse as they are. Yet their audio interviews — linked with each portrait on Goldman’s website — reveal a startling commonality. The word that comes up the most in each story is “freedom.” Goldman calls it a kind of “shared meditation,” an escape from daily life and affirmation of self.

“What it reiterated to me is that whether I’m in India or Cambodia or wherever, people are the same,” Goldman says today. “They don’t want conflict. They just want to do better for themselves and their families. They want peace.”

Connections like that aren’t always easy to spot in today’s culture of division. But storytellers like Goldman help us find them through the lens of a camera and the sound of voices different from our own.

Jessica Gable