Meet Michael Lichter

Photographer Michael Lichter opens up on backyard bike parties, fearless women and more than a few broken bones

View the work of famed motorcycle photographer and Sturgis mainstay Michael Lichter as he kicks off The Iron Horse Hotel’s month-long motorcycle celebration: Winter Moto Month. Michael’s fine art photography will be displayed throughout the hotel until February 22. Since 1979, Michael’s work has been published in countless books and more than 1,200 magazines. Michael Lichter will be at the hotel on Saturday, Jan. 31, at 10 a.m. for a meet and greet and to present a collection of his work, “Capturing a Generation on Bikes.” Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Michael and speak about his exhibit and upcoming presentation.
Q. Why is the motorcycle culture so intriguing to you?
A. I have always been interested in unique cultures, whether they are on the other side of the earth or in my own backyard. Riding my own Harley-Davidson Shovelhead on adventures around the USA in the 1970s, I naturally gravitated toward other riders. I eventually ended up at backyard parties, regional “Run what you Brung” events and of course, the daddy of them all, Sturgis. I am attracted to the interesting and different and, especially back then, there was an abundance of interesting and different in the biker world.
Q. What are your favorite photographs from “Capturing a Generation on Bikes,” and why?
A. Picking a single photograph as a favorite would be like telling you I have a favorite child. Images are special for different reasons (just as each of my children are!) so perhaps it is better to mention several that I’ve chosen to hang on the walls of my house. “Early Morning” has always had a place in my heart, as this was the first image I ever printed from my 34 years of attending Sturgis, and it was taken my very first morning. After a very long night, the sun was coming up and it was finally quiet in City Park. My Shovelhead and sleeping bag were just to the right of the trees in the photo. I just took two frames of this scene, and this was the better of the two. Everything in the image and everything about the image represents simpler times. While there are other photographic aspects that stand out for me, it is this simplicity that means the most to me. While “Early Morning” represents simpler times, “Looking Back” suggests history to me. Paul Cox may have just made a quick glance over his shoulder to see where I was (in the reflection of my running light on the right), but it was as if Paul, hair flying in the wind as he rode his leather-covered “Berserker,” was peering back in time to our predecessors. To cowboys, pirates, Vikings and marauders of centuries past. The magical landscape with sacred “Bear Butte” in the background heightened the sensation, but it was also his gesture. The brass and bronze; his handmade knife and chain at his side. There is something inside each of us that ties us to these people of the past. Like all photographs, “Hold On” captures a fleeting moment in time; one that if not for this image would have passed mostly unnoticed, save for the memories of the participants. This girl was just out with a girlfriend at Suck, Bang, Blow in Myrtle Beach, having a great time, as a bike passed, headed into the bar’s indoor burnout area. With an exchange of glances, she jumped on for the ride of her life — her first time ever on a bike! — as a mythic character looks on through the dense smoke. She holds on as if there will be no tomorrow.
Q. What is the most challenging photograph you have captured, and why?
A. I don’t see any image as being more challenging to have captured than any other. I've worked very hard to make the images I have made over the years, but at that same time it isn’t work. I’ve run hard to get the right image, waited for hours at a time, had frozen extremities, been stitched — and broken more body parts than you can imagine. But when you are in the moment, which you have to be when you are involved in a pursuit like this, it isn’t really work and it isn’t really a challenge. It is all just part of this life I’ve chosen.

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