Bicycle and Car (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Jul 15, 2017.

  1. Cars are everywhere in photography. I'm going to try to stick to the more obviously symbolic use, but I think that pictures of them always carry symbolic freight, whether one notices it or not.

    Bicycles, on the other hand, are not everywhere in photography. I had a hard time getting good examples to surface via searches. This seems odd to me, because bicycles are full of evocative connotations. And I love biking: when I lived near a medium sized city, I used to spend hours and hours just riding. There's something magical about gliding — flying! — silently (except for that delicious ten-speed tickety, tickety, tick that rises and falls: the sound of effortless speed) anywhere I wanted to go on a slim structure that I could easily lift with two fingers. A good ten-speed is a gorgeous machine.



    Functioning without an engine, noisome exhaust or polluting noise, the bicycle is considered the most efficient invention ever devised for human propulsion, especially after nearly two centuries of experimental retooling. Like the airplane, it quickly found a lasting place in the popular imagination and in the landscape of dreams. In particular, the bicycle symbolically evokes a vehicle of psychic energy and progression (the bicycle doesn't move in reverse) that is personal rather than collective, and under the command of the individual ego.

    ... Always the bicycle has signified independence and freedom in steering one's daily course and the byways of its occasional adventures.

    ... So accustomed are we to the bicycle's marvels that it requires the rare display of acrobatic finesse on a unicycle to remind us that bicycling is foremost a feat of balancing. Without momentum and balance between mind and body, a cyclist does not glide gently forward, but makes a bruising spill to the ground. The delight visible on a toddler's face taking its first steps is revisited in learning to master a bicycle.

    The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images



    A vast number of individuals live their lives between enclosed structures and the controlled insular space of their cars, from which they make a "pass" at nature. The car, however, is associated with sexiness, power, speed, aggression, "drive." On the car is projected essent5ial aspects of identity, or persona. Receiving the keys to the car in adolescence can represent the achievement of a developmental milestone, a perceived capacity for independence, following the rules of the road, displaying sound judgment and good instincts.

    ... Cars and how we drive them can embody both individual movement and collective values ...

    The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images


    Links to examples to follow, below.
  2. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    vid of David Bowie's Always crashing in the same car not available
  3. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    the local ride,done in the best possible taste

    (moderator note; image previously posted in another thread. please refer to terms & conditions)
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
  4. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    OMG -- "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar": Siggy Freud
    Uhooru likes this.
  5. Too obvious? Hyères, France, 1932

    Where are the Dutch when you need them...
  6. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

  7. I figure one serious post is owed, so here's a depressive take on bicycle symbolism:


  8. Heh. Sean, you know, I looked at that one and thought the bicycle was the best-supporting rather than the lead actor. But I'm glad it's been thought of and included. Thanks.

    Posting this as you add an example. Thanks for that, too.

    Freud was talking about cigars. We're talking about pictures.
  9. In this one:

    Joseph Szabo Lia & Maura

    ... the bicycle is facing backwards. This makes me unhappy. A backward car would be fine: a backward bicycle is just ... wrong. Fellow bicyclists will understand.

  10. Phil, I looked at that for a long moment this morning and then decided ... NOT AGAIN ... but we can include it if you like. It's a good discussion to have even if I've already done it more than once (and I expect you have too).

    Thank you for your car picture. I always love a dark foreground dash that puts me "inside." It transforms everything else.


    In this one:

    Thomas Hoepker View from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, towards lower Manhattan, Sept. 11, 2001

    ... what's the bicycle "doing" in that picture? At first, it looks like it just happens to be there, but take it away and look at the picture without it.
  11. I'm not sure about the symbolism of cars, but I think they can evoke or connote a feeling of freedom. Prior to automobiles, people spent leisure time on their porch, and it's been said that the car was in effect a mobile porch on wheels. With the introduction of cars, people had the freedom to change the view from their "porch".

    Especially in some early photos with cars, in addition to the associated freedom, there was also a sense of modernity, worldliness, and especially in advertising, an urban sophistication and a sense that the future was bright. It's interesting to think about how our associations with the car will change as autonomous vehicles take over in the coming decades. Self-driving cars are going to take away much of the freedom and control that we have now, and cars will become more and more simply a means to get to Point B. As cars evolve, so will what they bring to photos. Today cars may suggest "sexiness, power, speed, aggression", but these qualities will diminish in the future, and photos of cars might only make us nostalgic for these things. And I, for one, will welcome our new robot overlords.

  12. Very much so. I was just thinking about that re a classic bicycle photograph:

    Paul Strand, The Family View II, Luzzara, Italy, 1953

    The main thing I get from the bicycle in this photo is that, when viewed along with the bare feet of the men, they're behind the times; they don't have a car. LOL
  13. I like your photo, Phil, and Julie's comment about the dash putting her inside. Cars offer mobility and freedom, but they also isolate. When I'm driving, especially with the windows up and the AC on, I lose contact with the outside world - the soundtrack is missing, the awareness of the weather is muted, the details of roadside things are blurred. I may as well be in a simulator or a video game. And so I agree with Julie that the dash in the photo, or the frame of a window or windshield, has a transformative effect. Without the frame, the viewer has more of a chance to feel part of the environment. With the frame comes separation or isolation from it. Ed Abbey (in Desert Solitaire) was frustrated by tourists in our national parks who wanted roads so they could see the parks from their cars. You can't possibly know a place by driving your car through it.

  14. June 14, 2017

    The lovely, small car dealership that was about 30 minutes from me closed this year and I had to find a new dealer to service and state-inspect my car. The one I settled on was about 45 minutes away in a town that I don't go to very often these days. I'd gotten the route and mileage from Google so I could hope to be on time (8:00 in the morning), and was sailing along the last leg, about two miles short of my destination, It was a four lane highway with a speed limit of 70 mph. I'm going about 72 (I've become relatively law abiding in my old age). On the CD player, I was listening to a documentary about Gibbon's Fall of the Roman Empire (really!). I'm in the middle of heavy going-to-work morning traffic, interacting with slow/fast/annoying other-cars. I'm in the left lane passing a big truck when ...


    ... one of my tires blows out.

    Five seconds of panic to get the car off the road. Then full stop.

    It was very quiet.

    At which point I remembered going out the door of my house and asking myself, "Are you sure you don't need the dealership's number?" to which I thought, nah, I've got this all covered.

    Sooooo ... after getting out and looking at my completely blasted tire and not even considering changing the tire myself (not going to happen ... ), I was sitting there waiting for the state trooper to show up so HE could call the dealership.

    Which brings me back to Mark's post. I was like a snail out of its shell. My home is in the wilderness and being outside-of-a-car is my normal condition, but not on the side of a highway with packed traffic whizzing by, mostly at 80 mph, and with not so much as a turned head in my direction.

    Then, however, after calming down (waiting will do that to you), I noticed that it was a gorgeous morning. Deep blue sky, scudding clouds, a cool breeze. There was a steep embankment to my right, and from behind it, swallows were darting up and doing the most amazing acrobatics. There were also slower birds circling comfortably on the other side of the sky. It was definitely a "small thing" moment (Phil's thread was in full bloom at that time, and I really did think about it).

    I will not soon forget that particular place on that particular highway because I was forced to get out of my car and into that place. Full stop. It was strange; it was gorgeous.
  15. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Julie, that was awesome. Thanks for sharing.
  16. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    one of my own life changing experiences came after crashing a car (hence the DB vid). i was driving home on country roads in the pouring rain on a dark and stormy night in darkest Dorset. my car was ancient, a real old banger (ford anglia if you must know, D reg from 1966) complete with dodgy electrics, poor brakes, a leaky roof, false bottom and a passenger who wouldn't stop moaning- "r wii there yet, Norm. I bustin' for a pii".

    when the crash came it was totally out of the blue. well black actually due to the time of day (22:23 pm) with only thin shards of moonlight providing minimal light. at the time i remember looking at the sky and for some reason i was reminded of a fish. prophetic, or not, you can be the judge?

    I took a corner too fast, the car flipped over and skidded into a fast flowing river, with banks about to burst due to the incessant, merciless rain.

    i won't go into my heroics that saved the day for Edna and me. Nor the complete blackness and icy cold that petrified me. Suffice to say my training in the SBS was enough to keep us alive. my car, alas, was trashed. i was gutted.

    always crashing in the same car was released that year.
  17. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    Maybe it was raining ? (Raindrops keep falling on my head .. . .)

    Been a cyclist all my life - never had or wanted a car, mainly for ecological reasons (pollution, habitat destruction, wildlife destruction - I could go on).

    Parental pressure made me take lessons when I was 17 - had three, hit two other cars and the man with the red flag. Driving ain't for me. I look the look of some cars, from the days of my youth and before.
  18. In this one, at first you'll think that the bicycle is just a design piece, which it is, by itself. But then perhaps you'll notice the shadow of the pedal; it's the pedal (shadow) that carries the symbolic "bicycle" meaning:

    by John Gossage

    The next one is from the very end of one of his Berlin wall books:

    by John Gossage: from the Berlin series

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