All photographs by Sam Polcer. Used with permission.
While the rest of the country is confronting daily traffic in the confines of their airconditioned cars, gorging on the McDonald’s breakfast feast they grabbed at the drive-thru and producing vehicle emissions faster than you can say “global warming,” there is a growing subculture in the big, more compact cities (Chicago, New York, Seattle) that’s slowly but surely changing the way Americans commute.
This culture and mode of travel is Bike Commuting. And not only is it more environment-friendly (zero carbon footprint!), it also comes with whopping number of health benefits, among other things.
New York City-based photographer Sam Polcer, a bicycling enthusiast himself, sought to document bike commuting in the bustling streets of NYC with the intention of turning it into a book, not just to spread the word and get more people to hop on the bandwagon but also to make it look damn good. And so Preferred Mode was born, a bicycle street style blog that has captured bicycling New Yorkers sporting their individual and colorful styles and “wearing” their two-wheelers like the badges of honor that they are.
More than a year, a successful book, New York Bike Style, and hundreds of captivating photos later, Sam is still prowling the NYC streets armed with his camera and of course, his trusty bike. Phoblographer was lucky enough to have caught up with him for a quick chat about his awesome blog, the book, and what’s coming. Read his interview after the jump.
Phoblographer: Tell us about this awesome project of yours, Preferred Mode.
Sam: Aw, thanks! Preferred Mode is a street style blog that focuses on New York City cyclists. I ride around the city and chase down people who I think make cycling look especially good, take a few pictures of them, ask them what kind of bike they’re riding and where they’re going, and send them on their way.
Phoblographer: How did this come about? Of all the many subcultures in NYC, why the bike culture?
Sam: I was a travel magazine editor/writer/photographer for more than seven years, and during that time I worked on a number of cycling-related articles, mainly because I like riding bikes, so I was approached by a friend who is a London-based book editor at Prestel Publishing to see if I’d be interested in contributing to a book about stylish New York cyclists. I made a case for why I should be the only one to do it, she went for it, and I launched Preferred Mode shortly thereafter as a means to keep myself on task and to build an audience for the book, New York Bike Style, which was released in April.
Phoblographer: Is there a specific message you are trying to send with this project?
Sam: While getting more butts on bikes might not save the world outright, it’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and regardless, bike riding enriches the lives of almost anyone who makes it a part of their time on Earth. So I want to make it look attractive in the hopes that more people will give it a whirl. Fortunately, a lot of the people who ride bikes, especially in New York, make it look spectacular. It’s my job to find them and take nice pictures of them.
Phoblographer: How do you pick your subjects? Aside from obviously being on a bike, do they have to have a specific kind of style and attitude?
Sam: There is no method other than trying to find people in different neighborhoods. Part of what makes it a strong project, I think, is its diversity. New York City makes that possible. I suppose each subject has to catch my eye in some way and impressive me sartorially, though I am by no means a fashion expert. There is definitely no one specific kind of style or attitude that I’m trying to capture, but i guess the idea IS to capture style and attitude, if that makes any sense.
Phoblographer: How is Preferred Mode different from the usual street photography? What makes it stand out from the rest?
Sam: Well, I’ m glad that you think it does! First and foremost, it’s a lot more difficult to get a photo of someone with their bike: first, you have to size them up much faster, and then you have to catch up to them and get them to stop. So many times, I’d be waiting with my bike on a street corner and see a dozen people walk by me that, had they been on bikes, would have been worthy of a blog post or a page in the book. I guess that’s one reason why there are so many good street style blogs out there: it’s kind of easy. As far as what makes it stand out, a bike is a heck of a prop to work with, so you have to take into consideration how that’s going to work within the frame and also how the subject is going to interact with it, look natural with it. It’s a challenge, especially when you’re shooting non-models.
Phoblographer: How do you convince strangers to pose for you, or is that even an issue?
Sam: Quickly. And flattery gets you everywhere.
Phoblographer: By far, who was/were your favorite model/s and why?
Sam: Oh, so many, and for different reasons! I’m sure more than one of my subjects had modeling experience, but I know that one did, for sure, and it was such a treat to shoot her. No direction required; all I had to do was keep up. She gave me so many different poses and expressions. It was hard to choose which one to go with.
Phoblographer: What was your best encounter so far?
Sam: Well, I don’t know about best—but the one that lasted the longest was the one with these four traveling French Canadian anarchist-gypsy-punks who I ended up having lunch with in my neighborhood (Fort Greene). They gave me plenty of time to shoot, so I split a pizza and some cokes with them. It was a really hot day. They were super sweet and we had one of those long conversations that makes you glad to live in a place like this where you never know who you’re going to meet.
Phoblographer: When not working on the project, what is Sam Polcer usually up to?
Sam: He works during the day at Bike New York in the communications department, helping to spread the word about all the good stuff that the city’s leading bike education nonprofit does: namely, teaching many thousands of New Yorkers how to ride bikes for free and putting on events to pay for it. The rest of the time, he freelances as an editorial photographer, shooting for folks like the New York Times and various magazines. There isn’t a ton of downtime.
Phoblographer: What’s next for you and for Preferred Mode?
Sam: Hopefully selling every single copy of New York Bike Style, and finding a sponsor for the blog. I’d love to take it international. We’ll see what happens. There are a couple of other (non-bike-related) project ideas I’m kicking around, but they’re in their early-early stages, so mum’s the word. In the short term, some Preferred Mode portraits will be featured as a part of a United Photo Industries show on the East River Ferry. Bikes on boats!