Sunday, December 12, 2010


As part of an upcoming feature in his magazine Jocks & Nerds, Marcus Ross (editor in chief - below) announced an open photocall at the Lewis Leathers showroom in London, Dec. 4th.  As I happened to be in town that week, I stopped in to visit the crew, and of course ended up hanging out all day, interviewing Derek Harris and Hiro Maeda at LL for my own upcoming feature on this very long-lived (since 1892!) motorcycle clothing company.

Marcus shot his portraits with a vintage Polaroid 195 professional camera, creating negatives plus 'instant' black and white prints, which must be slathered with a print-coater stick to 'stop' their development.  I haven't seen the 'Polaroid stick' in decades, although this was the standard technique  from shortly after the introduction of the Polaroid camera in 1948, when it was discovered the instant film invented by Edwin Land (full disclosure; my daughter's great-great-uncle), tended to keep developing and turn brown.

After exposing the film, a 'print' is pulled from the camera, the chemical paper coating peeled off, a timer on the side of the camera is activated, which goes 'ding' to announce the right moment to coat the print.  All very fussy and slow by digital standards, but bearing a kinship with old motorcycles in exactly that regard - the reward of the technique is a print with charming visual qualities.

Marcus, brave fellow, used up the last of his '665' Polaroid negative film at Lewis Leathers, which had a sell-by date of 2007 stamped on the packs; he found the old stock on ebay.  The Polaroid Corporation stopped making instant film in 2008, although a private company, The Impossible Project (nice website), has recently begun selling SX-70-style black-and-white and color film. Given the multiple millions of Polaroid cameras still floating around the world (some 300 Million produced), let's hope some of the earlier-style films will come back as well.

Derek Harris (above right), owner of Lewis Leathers, was kind enough to allow 'photo posers' use of both new LL clothing and some of his huge collection of archival D.Lewis and Aviakit riding gear.  I'll explore the history of the company in another post, but Derek has been instrumental in bringing historic patterns back into production, with the help of Hiro Maeda (two pix up, on right), who recreates production patterns from the vintage jackets and pants Derek sources from flea markets, ebay, old customers, friends, etc.
(Hiroyuki Maeda photo)

Derek knows my interest in vintage riding gear (my preferred coverage in fact), and pulled from his archive their oldest intact set of racing leathers and boots, from the 1940s.  Identical to the set used in their current advertising campaign, LL have only this summer begun to re-produce this jacket, although not yet the pants.  While this particular outfit has become fragile with age, Derek was kind enough to allow me wear it for Marcus' photo shoot.  Yes, they fit!  Apparently, I need a set... as Montlhéry, and Bonneville, are beckoning...

(What ancient photographic equipment did The Vintagent use for these shots?  A first generation iphone...)