It was a sunny weekend in 1967 when photographer Sylvan Rand hopped on the back of his friend’s motorcycle and headed for a sequestered farm in the New Jersey countryside. As the hours passed in a haze of food, cigarettes, love, and bikes, he joined in the festivities of an unofficial motorcycle run, where gay men gathered to enjoy each other’s company in an insulated, utopian setting.
The group was composed of ordinary men, men who worked hard throughout the week and made their sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. The pervasive image of the motorcycle enthusiast of the era was defined in large part by the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, but the photographer stresses that these were not in fact the “tough guy” bikers of popular culture; the beauty lay in part in the fact that they were just regular people relishing their days off.
Rand was not himself a part of the group but an outsider, allowed into the inner circle for a few days. He came in knowing hardly anyone, but in those final weekend hours, the men had become accustomed to him. He will always remember peering through the lens at three men luxuriating on the lawn. The sun was setting, and as he pressed the shutter, he understood that he had captured an indelible moment.
Looking back on the negatives he made in the 1960s, now digitized, Rand feels only gratitude for the motorcycle run. He may not have been a member of the group itself, but something about the intimacy and togetherness of it all strikes a chord within his now-faded memories.
He felt a similar camaraderie with all the photographers of that generation—with Edward Steichen and with W. Eugene Smith. He dreamt of working professionally, and although his life ultimately led him elsewhere, that dream remains alive in these pictures, preserved for decades until at last they could be released.
All images © Sylvan Rand