Behind The Cover: Dirt Ron / Ride #199

ride bmx, 199, dirt ron, keith mulligan, behind the cover

As soon as I saw this Ride BMX cover and the unusual warped film action, I knew it had a story worth telling. Keith Mulligan came through with a very detailed “Behind The Cover” for us.

Click below to read up on it.

Ride BMX May/June 2014, Issue #199

Who: Dirt Ron
What: One-handed fastplant
Where: Clinton Keith pool, San Diego County, California
When: Saturday, January 25th, 2014
Why: BSR
How: Hasselblad 503CW body, Hasselblad 30mm fisheye lens, Fuji Velvia film, Paul C. Buff Einstein strobes, Pocket Wizard remotes, Minolta light meter, BIC lighter, Canon 5D Mark II body, Canon 24-70mm lens

I’ve been wanting to do an article shot on medium format film, with the processed film burned with fire, for years. Shooting a road trip feature these days all on film can be a bit risky and cumbersome, and a lot of photos for concept articles and interviews are typically compiled over months—sometimes a year or two—with images from more than one photographer, so it took a while before the right article for the treatment materialized. The watery effect and gritty, partial destruction of the burned film fits in perfectly with pools as the subject matter in a number of ways.

The Slash & Burn pool article came about from Jason Enns hitting me up wanting to shoot some pools he had been riding with Rooftop in SoCal, as well as a pool trip that Dean Dickinson was doing with Van Homan, Steve Crandall, and Chad Osburn in California’s Central Valley. With our wintertime bi-monthly print schedule in full effect, beyond the road trip I knew I could easily spend a few days with Enns and Rooftop doing pool missions, and I’d have some time to shoot other random pool photos with one or two guys as well.

The Shoot
Dirt Ron’s cover photo was shot in at the Clinton Keith pool. Dean had traveled down south after the Central Valley trip, and hit me up to shoot with him and Dirt Ron a week or two later. We met up early on a Saturday, looked at a couple of non-running pools, and had a good session at Clinton Keith. The one-handed fastplant was the second thing I shot with Dirt Ron that morning, the first was a tire-grab fakie. You can see a photo of that ridiculous move in the article. Dean and Dirt Ron ripped the pool with their own style and tricks, each unique and awesome in their own ways.

Burning Film
…Is probably a lot trickier than you’d think, for two reasons: one, fire quickly melts and warps film and can destroy it in an instant; and two, you can’t see exactly where the film will start to burn and bubble. So it’s something you have to take your time with and be as careful as possible doing. I had all the images scanned pre-burning in case I overdid it and ruined any of them, and I did a lot of test samples before committing. The risk was worth the reward. I used an old medium format negative carrier to hold the film with clamps squeezing the edges tight to minimize warping. I held the film in one hand and worked a lighter (clamped in a vice) with the other. I had to wear gloves to protect my fingers from burns. The fumes were pretty heavy, so I had an old shirt and a dusk mask covering my nose and mouth. Playing with fire in my garage to manipulate photos by hand is a hell of a lot more fun than sitting at a desk using Photoshop. One unexpected result that I hadn’t anticipated was that the heat from the flame brought out detail and colors in dark areas of the photos. I took advantage of that in a couple of shadow areas.

Photos Of Photos
Scanning the film after the fire treatment didn’t work out and had me pretty worried after torching a bunch of photos. Thanks to the warping, whatever portions of the film that were on the scanner’s glass would be sharp with amazing detail of the transformed emulsion crystals, but anything that was off the glass was soft and out of focus—to the point of them being unprintable. To remedy the situation, I ended up having to shoot digital photos of the burned images (camera on a tripod, film backlit with a flash from underneath) to get the riding in focus and show better overall detail. Unfortunately some really trippy colors, sharp and fine detail, emulsion bubbles/cracks, and even some unexpected-but-cool soft focus effects from the scanning were lost, but overall it was the only way to get the images usable. I hope to figure out a way to get them scanned down the road to see everything in fine detail. I think some large prints of the cover and article images would look pretty sick blown up on a wall.

The Cover Design
Everything came together with this photo to make it our top cover choice: good action, interesting angle, unexpected move, sun peeking out over the front tire, cool colors, and other burn effects. We’ve got four different designers who pitch in on layouts for Ride. After the image was chosen and coverlines written, we suggested a handwritten treatment for the blurbs. And after a few versions what you see is what they came up with. Pretty different from most Ride covers, and one I’m definitely stoked on. Big thanks to Dirt Ron for providing some bicycle soul riding for my lens. Congrats on landing this cover!

—Keith Mulligan

One response to “Behind The Cover: Dirt Ron / Ride #199”

  1. Aaron says:

    All kinds of investments come with sure risks.