Have you ever met someone that could find beauty in anything they see? That is Mike Vandegriff to a T. The way Mike captures things is so natural and real, with just a touch of artistic chaos. Mike is truly remarkable when it comes to how he gets his angles and is always looking at things a little differently then most. I have seen the dude first hand, climbing on building roof tops and diving under bikes to get the right shot, the shot he knows he wants. I am a big fan of all his work, not just his motorcycle stuff. We have become pretty good friends over the last year and I am grateful to have met such an amazing person. Not only is his vision as an artist amazing but his outlook on life far exceeds most. He is the life of the party and the first person to make you laugh. He is so humble and good natured as a human being too! I am so happy he has put his nerves aside and is willing to showcase some of his amazing work at Fuel Cleveland May 9th. Here is a little interview we did the other day. Enjoy!
Mike Vandegriff, where do you call home?
M: Indianapolis, IN
How long have you been in photography?
M: I've really been into photography since high school so roughly close to 15 years now. I was lucky to have a killer photo program in high school that pushed me into studying photo on a serious level later in college here in Indy.
What is photography to you as person?
M: An outlet for sure. It drives me on a lot of different levels. Some things I get excited about shooting that are happening "in the now" like live band shows or even bike shows or rides. Then on the other side of the coin I love being able to control every aspect of a shoot from lighting to wardrobe to whatever little details I can bring out.
Is there other mediums you dabble in or have mastered artistically?
M: I have always dabbled in drawing and painting(on canvas). I got kind of really discouraged using painting as my major in college and switched to photo primarily but I still come back to it all the time. I do a little bit of elaborate rattle can stuff with tanks as well in the paint realm but I'm merely just having fun with that stuff when a good challenge arises that a friend is willing to let me have free reign over.
You have been in some bands over the years, did you take your camera with or was it mostly music business only on the road!
M: Always gotta have my camera on the road. I've always shot bands locally here in Indy and the tri state area while playing shows and doing the "weekend warrior" kind of thing but shooting on tour is a lot of fun as well.
What are some of the craziest things you have ever done or seen? I have personally witnessed you in a "man thong" as yu jumped into a pickup truck bed pool, I know you can top that!!!
M: For reasons of personal incrimination I am not allowed to discuss said crazy things. ;-) Let's just say I know how to have a good time but it's not always 100% legal.
What kind of bike do you currently have and any challenges, hiccups or fun things about it?
M: Well, I have quite a few bikes but my main project at the moment that has been the culmination of the last 4 years has been my 2005 rubber mount hardtail 1200 sportster with rubber mount free floating 4 foot exhaust. When I first set out on the project in the fall of 2010, no one and I mean no one was making any kind of hardtails for rubber mount sportsters. Hell there was just no market, the damn things hadn't even been around long enough for people to even wreck them enough to end up in a scrap pile to chop them. I could have easily dumped a few thousand bucks into a hard mount sporty, bought a paughco frame and rolled the fuck out but I wanted something that was gonna be different than anything anyone had ever seen and something that was a challenge. Honestly almost every single part on that bike is custom made from scratch from a number of different shops or on my friends garage floors through many late night chop sessions. Each part had its own "hiccup" as you will in trying to make it work on the bike. I've honestly learned more about building bikes from this project more than the last two bikes I did combined. The list of hiccups are too long to even list but the worst of it all is the exhaust. Broken and cracked two times and mended on the fly enough to get home. The process of trial and error for making rubber mount free floating 4 foot tall exhaust sturdy enough to support itself was one of the hardest challenges of the whole bike. Through it all though I have met and bonded with some amazing people along the way that I never would have had the chance to meet if it weren't for that pain in the ass machine.
If you could only choose one bike in the world to have which one would it be?
M: Ewwww, damn,......I'm gonna come out of left field and say any Vincent Black Shadow. Either that or the fucking "King Kong" double knucklehead in the Harley museum, not that I could even ride it. I would just sit on it every day and sport wood and make "braaaaap" noises.
Is art and photography an escape, an outlet or a passion for you?
M: Definitely an outlet but on most occasions a passion for sure. Just depends what the project is or what the event I'm attempting to shoot. Obviously I'm gonna be a lot more passionate about shooting something provocative or exciting like a bike event than a wedding or something of that nature. Basically, if the subject gets my blood pumping,....then chances are the end result is gonna be something amazing.
Who or what motivates you and inspires you as an artist?
M: It's kind of weird, I find myself either being inspired by my peers that are doing great things "in the now" or photographers from long long ago that were doing incredible things before people even had the balls to think of it. By far one of my favorite photographers to this day is the work of Andre Kertesz from the 1930's. The kind of things he was doing back then were unreal and so ahead of his time. He could have been killed for the photos he took, I always respected that. Being a photographer isn't always about playing it safe. I find the more dangerous or compelling the situation is,....the more likely an incredible image is gonna blossom from it.
Camera preferences, do you like digital or film better? You have a wide array of cameras, whats your favorite?
M: I actually refused to even touch digital until around 2008, so until then it was nothing but film. I still try and shoot film as much as I can but obviously the convenience and cost of shooting digital usually out weighs film in the end. I truly believe though that as many filters as we can put on things digitally, it will never possess the true aesthetic that film can capture. So, to answer the question,....I prefer film but,....I can't always afford it.
Where is one place you would want to just drop everything, jump on your bike and go right now if you could?
M: Las Vegas,...sounds cheesy but in all my travels and tours, that is the one place I've never been. I also feel like a bike trip there would turn into some Hunter S. Thompson nightmarish freak out adventure real fast...well as much as I can freak out on red bull and ginger beer that is.
Where is the coolest place you have ever been to?
M: Honestly Detroit kind of blew my mind. I have been traveling to Gary, IN for several years to photograph the ruins of that city but Detroit is just like the most insane wasteland I've ever seen. I can really appreciate the beauty within its decay.
How are you always the life of the party and sober as a bird being straightedge? I commend you on it!
M: I've always just tried to lead by example I guess. It doesn't always take alcohol to have a good time, it just takes the energy of the people around you and your own willingness to have a good time.
Favorite 80’s or 90’s TV show?
M: "The State" on MTV, back when it didn't suck so horrifically.
Do you have the winter time blues with all this snow falling everywhere or you keeping busy with other things?
M: I honestly get at least a minor form of depression every winter as do a lot of people but I usually just focus more on music when that happens and try to channel that into something constructive. It's easier to write dark and gritty stuff when you aren't happy.
Anyone you would like to give a shout out or thank?
M: Well, I know it's gonna sound cheesy, but I have to thank you for believing in me enough to give me a shot at presenting my work at this show.
Don't forget to check out Mike's photos at Fuel Cleveland May 9th and check out more of his crazy shenanigans on www.instagram.com/mikevandegriff