Jon Patrick

The Selvedge Yard

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Rear view of a man wear­ing chaps and spurs,” pho­to by McCormic Co., Amarillo, Texas, c. 1934

The 1910s — 1930s saw the Wild West American lifestyle move large­ly from a way of life, to ever-increas­ing fad­ed mem­o­ries and mythol­o­gy. Our coun­try was get­ting small­er. Technology and trans­porta­tion were ush­er­ing in a new era of indus­tri­al­ized cities and advanced acces­si­bil­i­ty. The real jean-wearin’ cow­boy lifestyle of days past were kept alive in the decades that fol­lowed large­ly through the Western fash­ions worn by Hollywood’s stars of the sil­ver screen and the Country music scene.

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The Legendary August “Cap” Coleman’s Tattoo par­lor in Norfolk, Virginia, pho­to by William T. Radcliffe © The Mariners’ Museum/Corbis, 1936

Long before Ed Hardy, and even Sailor Jerry, there were a cou­ple of guys who are wide­ly con­sid­ered the fore­fa­thers of American Tattooing—August “Cap” Coleman, and the youngling he heav­i­ly influ­enced and men­tored, Franklin Paul Rogers. When you trace the his­to­ry of tat­too­ing, a good chunk of the great flash icons can be traced direct­ly back to these American mas­ters. They blazed a coun­ter­cul­ture trail back when the only guys (and gals) that sport­ed body ink were either in the ser­vice, crim­i­nals, out­casts, or cir­cus and sideshow freaks. Tattoos were not tak­en light­ly, or for the faint of heart.

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Unemployed lum­ber work­er goes with his wife to the bean har­vest. Note Social Security num­ber tat­tooed on arm.” Photo by Dorothea Lange, Oregon, August 1939

A pub­lic records search deter­mined that 535–07-5248 belonged to one Thomas Cave, born July 1912, died in 1980 in Portland, OR. Which would make him 27 years old when this pic­ture was tak­en. This pic has long been a favorite of mine. First, there’s the hand­some rake with his dev­il­ish “cat that just ate the canary” grin, and his beau­ti­ful bride loung­ing in the back­ground with her equal­ly impres­sive, mod­el good looks. Second, there’s more than a lit­tle irony for me in this image, as we so often equate phys­i­cal beau­ty with mate­r­i­al suc­cess these days—but here’s a stun­ning cou­ple eking out a liv­ing through sweat and toil one meal at a time. As I live and breathe, pover­ty is the ulti­mate equal­iz­er.

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Don & Marge Fera, Photo by Bob Magill, c. 1940s

Cool because they’re not tryin’ to be—simply doin’ what they love. The ride. Bob Magill’s pho­tog­ra­phy of the ‘40s and ‘50s per­fect­ly cap­tures the hon­est, raw beau­ty of motorcycling’s essence. The rider’s are donned in no-non­sense, rugged, every­day gear—and the glow­ing expres­sions on Don and Marge’s faces are price­less, pure joy. Ridin’ nev­er looked bet­ter. End of sto­ry.

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Ardin Van Syckle, mem­ber of the 13 Rebels M.C., pho­to cour­tesy of 13 Rebels M.C., c. 1940s

We’re talkin’ standup guys, not the hood­lums they inspired in 1951’s “The Wild One.” The 13 Rebels MC, orig­i­nal­ly formed back in 1937, are sol­id cit­i­zens with an hon­or­able code of con­duct, who loved the broth­er­hood and sport of motor­cy­cling. These for­mer fly­ers and ser­vice­men of WWII came home from war with a need to keep their dri­ve alive—and found it through ridin’, racin’ and buildin’ bikes.

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Bettie Page and Bunny Yeager work­ing on a tit­il­lat­ing pho­to shoot. Photo by Bunny Yeager, c. 1954

The union of Bettie Page & pho­tog­ra­ph­er Bunny Yeager was short, but oh so sweet. It was 1954 when Bunny offi­cial­ly hopped behind the cam­era as a pro. Her own mod­el­ing expe­ri­ence and cre­ativ­i­ty gave her a sen­si­tiv­i­ty, insight and eye that no male pho­tog­ra­ph­er could touch. That same year, Bunny met the baby-banged beau­ty that will for­ev­er be hailed as the gold stan­dard of saucy pin-ups—Bettie Page.

Up until that time, Bettie was work­ing with the likes of Irving Klaw, and any­one else who would pay—posing for pic­tures that were exploitive and fetishist at best, and porno­graph­ic (by 1950’s puri­tan­i­cal stan­dards) at worst. Together they proved the old adage of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The famous Boca Raton-based “Jungle Betty” shoot, and Bettie Page’s 1955 January Playboy Playmate Christmas pic are two high­lights of their famous part­ner­ship.

Bettie Page soon drift­ed away, pos­ing peri­od­i­cal­ly for a few more years here and there, before dis­ap­pear­ing almost entire­ly from the lime­light. The tabloids siz­zled with sen­sa­tion­al spec­u­la­tion on Page’s mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance. Bunny Yeager recalls the day she wit­nessed first­hand the shift in Bettie Page’s pri­or­i­ties: “It was in the Florida Keys that one night she saw a neon cross on top of a lit­tle church, and was drawn to it to go inside. From that day on, she got reli­gious and decid­ed to give up pos­ing.”

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Indianapolis” from The Americans, by Robert Frank

In 1957, Frank casu­al­ly showed his American pho­to essay to the young beat writer, Jack Keruoac, whom he met at a par­ty in New York City. Kerouac was impressed and respond­ed with, “Sure I can write some­thing about these pic­tures,” and penned the intro­duc­tion to the U.S. edi­tion of The Americans. At the time of pub­li­ca­tion, many of Frank’s images, these peeks into small-town America, were con­tro­ver­sial, while many crit­ics dis­missed his work, out­right, as a blur­ry mess of noth­ing­ness. Looking at them now, it’s hard to see them as any­thing but bril­liant.

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The hard­core orig­i­nal Chosen Few Motorcycle Club, who took their name from Matthew 22:14, “Many are called, but few are cho­sen.” Photo by Gold Mustache Photography, Elliot M. Gold, c. 1960

In 1959, the Chosen Few M.C. offi­cial­ly formed in L.A. on the cusp of the chaot­ic ‘60s. As they tell it, “When you talk of the Outlaw Bikers you auto­mat­i­cal­ly think of ‘Them Crazy White Boys’ doing what a lot of folk wish they could do. Live Life Like You Want & Fuck You And Your Rules. Well Guess What? There was some crazy black bik­ers who felt the same way, and didn’t give a Fuck. Thus was born the Black Outlaw Bikers!” Black motor­cy­cle clubs began crop­ping up through­out Cali in the ‘50s & ‘60s, and fought against racism and stereo­types of the day for their right to live the out­law bik­er lifestyle—like the East Bay Dragons, Fresco Rattlers, Outlaw Vagabonds, and the Defiant Ones. Down south in L.A. were the Choppers, Soul Brothers & of course, the Chosen Few. Soon, white rid­ers also that want­ed to join their clubs. The Chosen Few became the first mul­ti-racial M.C. with chap­ters that ranged from all black, all white, and some that were tru­ly mul­ti-racial­ly mixed.

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Crossing the Ohio River” from The Bikeriders by Danny Lyon, 1966

In the 1960s & 70s, writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Danny Lyon made a name for him­self cov­er­ing the Southern Civil Rights move­ment, and went on to give the world three incred­i­ble works: The Bikeriders, in which he chron­i­cles his trav­els as a mem­ber of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club; The Destruction of Lower Manhattan, doc­u­ment­ing the large-scale demo­li­tion of one of our country’s great­est city back in 1967; and Conversation with the Dead, in which he pho­tographs and writes about Texas inmates in six dif­fer­ent pris­ons, Billy McCune in par­tic­u­lar, over a peri­od of four­teen months. Iconic images that chron­i­cle American out­laws, angst and grit.

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George Kennedy sends Paul Newman sprawl­ing in this scene from 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, pho­to © Bettmann/CORBIS

Cool Hand Luke, broth­er. Enough quotable anti-estab­lish­ment mantras to ink an entire tat­too sleeve. Enough cham­bray & den­im work­wear to choke even the tough­est clothes horse. Pick up your shov­el and let Lucas Jackson show you how to find your spine at the bot­tom of Boss Keans’ ditch. Sometimes a man enters a fight with noth­in’ but his will and where he came from—and that can be a real cool hand.

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Jim Marshall’s famous shot of Johnny Cash flip­ping the bird, the night before the Folsom Prison show in his blue jump­suit and cow­boy boots, 1968.

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Hemi Under Glass” was orig­i­nal­ly designed in 1965 by George Hurst & Ray Brock to be a com­pet­i­tive rac­er. They soon encoun­tered a problem—the mid-engine place­ment of the extreme­ly pow­er­ful 426 Hemi caused the front end to jerk up into the air quick­ly at accel­er­a­tion, which became a huge hit with spec­ta­tors, so they embraced it and made it arguably the most icon­ic 1/4-mile wheel-stander of all time.

With a nasty 426 Hemi stuffed where the back seat used to be, it was a Barracuda the likes of which had nev­er been seen before—with Hurst-designed hi-per­for­mance chas­sis, sus­pen­sion, dri­v­e­line components—and nat­u­ral­ly a 4-speed stick.

This beast­ly Barracuda was chris­tened “Hemi Under Glass,” a black & gold bomb that appeared at main events across the coun­try. It would rock awestruck crowds back on their heels, as the Barracuda’s front wheels pitched high into the air and screamed down the strip with its nose point­ing to the sky.

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All cap­tions writ­ten by Jon Patrick, The Selvedge Yard.