Museum exhibit chronicles Danny Lyon’s experience with the Chicago Outlaws biker gang
DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
More than a year before Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper roared across the silver screen in Easy Rider, a daring young photojournalist chronicled life inside one of the nation’s toughest biker gangs in the book The Bikeriders.
The book contains influential photos about life in the biker culture captured by famed photographer Danny Lyon from 1963 to 1967. Rather than just photograph the Chicago Outlaws motorcycle club and write from his observances, Lyon elected to join the notorious gang and capture inside images of the biker lifestyle.
This spring, a new version of The Bikeriders — a museum exhibit featuring dozens of Lyon’s iconic photos — comes to the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum for a two-month run. The exhibit opens April 22.
During his time with the Outlaws, Lyons participated in long-distance rides and races, and he was always packing a camera and a seven-pound tape recorder.
In addition to covering biker gangs, Lyon has photo-documented the Southern civil rights movement, death-row inmates and street kids in major American cities.
But it was his time with the Chicago Outlaws that helped demystify a culture that much of America avoided and stereotyped as “thugs.”
During his gang days, Lyon rode a 1956 Triumph with a single carburetor that he and friends from the University of Chicago had put together out of parts found on a garage shelf. The bike had a knobby front tire, no front fender and no headlight or muffler.
After four years with the Outlaws, Lyon created one of the 1960’s most defining books, The Bikeriders.
“Lyon was part of the generation he was photographing,” Martin Parr wrote in The Photobook: A History. “He was able to talk with an authentic voice about his subjects, understanding instinctively not only their hopes and aspirations, but also why they were rebelling against all kinds of adult authority.”
The Bikeriders helped brand the biker culture into the American psyche and was the inspiration for Easy Rider and other motorcycle movies.
The Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum exhibit will feature 50 photographs and excerpts from interviews with Outlaw gangsters and Lyons own writings about his experiences.