The Selvedge Yard
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
All captions written by Jon Patrick, The Selvedge Yard.