Rider’s Lens: A Day with Slim Wonder
In this Rider’s Lens, we get a glimpse into the daily life of Slim Wonder, one of the more enigmatic personalities in our corner of the cycling world, and someone with a flair for documenting the mundane. Find a gallery of Slim’s images here, plus his thoughts on finding common ground through bikes and photography…
Words and photos by Slim Wonder (@slimwonder)
Hi, I’m Slim and I take pictures. They’re usually of things that are pretty common and mundane. It’s my bike and my kids and my commute and family life and records and stuff like that. I’d love to take pictures of cooler stuff, but this is the stuff I see, so it’s what I snap.
I share a lot of what I see on Instagram. It’s an interesting platform, and I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it. On the one hand, I find it very nourishing and community building. There’s a whole world of people out there who I have stuff in common with and it’s awesome to feel like there’s a tribe of folks I’ll never meet offline but share dreams and hopes and likes with. That’s super refreshing for me. On the other hand, it can also be very isolating. It’s easy to fall into a lot of images and feel like you’re alone and everyone else is part of a big party or group and you’re a loner on the outside, missing out on something. That feeling is the worst, and when I experience it, I have to step back, breathe, and remind myself that my life is my life and it’s cool for what it is. So, all I’ve got to share is all that I have. I can’t give anything more and I can’t be anything other than who I am.
It’s my hope that people see themselves and their own lives through some of my images, whether that’s raising kids, just getting around, or having a wife or husband who kinda tolerates your hobbies while you mansplain things as they roll their eyes. I hope people don’t see those things as being unique to me or my story. I started cropping out my head and face early on because I thought faces drew your eyes away and I wanted the focus to be on other parts of the image. When you see the face and they’re smiling and riding bikes and happy, it looks like an ad to me. You’ll never see an ad where the rider’s head is cropped off. I think that by starting to do that, I became more anonymous, which allows people to fill in themselves in those images. If the images have faces, then it becomes more about that individual’s life or truth and not about all of our lives and our truths and the things we have in common.
I like well-made things and I’ll take photos of those, not for the sake of the thing itself, but more as a celebration of the person who made it and the love they put into it. Like, “Here’s this handle bar, it’s cool and all, but so and so from Colorado bent it and cut it and welded it with his own hands, and that’s cooler.” Or “Here’s this bag that I carry my stuff in and this person or that person sat down behind a machine and made it. They MADE IT.” But the things I really love shooting are stories and fragments of events. Many of my images only make sense when you read the caption. It’s like a vignette or story and the two complement each other. I try to crop my images so you get a sense that there’s more going on outside of the frame. The image is just a small piece of it. If it’s a photo documenting a ride or a conversation or an afternoon, I like the idea that viewers will feel like there was stuff going on before it and that life went on after the shutter was released.
Bikes show up in many of my images, and that’s because they’ve made my life better. I get stressed out a lot and I get down at the state of the world and all the mean people who seem to run it. It’s super therapeutic for me to get away and feel the wind and hear the buzz of my hubs or the loud hum of knobby tires on pavement. If I couldn’t do this for five or ten minutes a day, I don’t know what kind of person I’d be.
Slim’s Photography Gear
- Fuji X100T
- Fuji XT-1
- 16-55mm f/2.8
- 23mm f/1.4
- 27mm f/2.8
- Canon AE-1 (for film photo frustrations)
I’ve fallen in love with Fuji stuff. It started with a Fuji X100T that is still my grab and throw in the pocket camera, though it’s dying and I’ll probably have to replace it soon. More often, though, I’ve been using the Fuji X-T1. If I have to take one lens it’s the 16-55 f/2.8 but it’s a bit bulky for most rides. I have a 23mm f/1.4 that spends the most time on the camera and 27mm pancake lens that’s super small and compact.
I like having the camera handy. I feel like I take more shots if it’s right there vs. having to get it out of a bag, so it’s usually slung over my shoulder. If I stuff a tube and a bunch of Clif Bars into a jersey back pocket, it kinda keeps the camera from swinging around. I’ll sometimes use a padded camera sleeve inside a saddle or handlebar bag if it gets technical or if the weather gets sketchy.
Universal love. This image was taken in the village of Tokeh, Sierra Leone. I was riding with some friends last spring and there was a small stall on the side of the road where a woman was selling vegetables. Her kids were sitting out front and I saw her son working on his bike. I stopped and talked with them and asked what was wrong with the bike. I quickly realized there wasn’t anything wrong with the bike, he just really enjoyed wrenching on it. It reminded me so much of myself. I’ve realized that working on the bike can sometimes be as much an act of meditation as riding is. Also, seeing that kid, halfway across the world, doing exactly the same things I do, reminded me that no matter where you are or where you come from, certain universal truths unite us all.
About Slim Wonder
Slim Wonder was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in the mid 1980s, where he learned to love riding bikes. It began mostly as a way to keep up with new friends and to find commonality in a universal activity, but soon became his path to independence and seeing the greater world (such as it was) around his new home. He moved to Atlanta for college, got married, raised a few kids, and recently moved to North Carolina. Find him on Instagram @slimwonder.