Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Harley-Davidson was started in Milwaukee in 1903 and has remained headquartered here ever since.  In 2008, Harley-Davidson opened a museum, and I decided to pay a visit and do a photo shoot.  The museum is located in the Menomonee Valley, southwest of downtown.  The Menomonee Valley was for many years one of Milwaukee's "armpits," a low-lying area in the middle of the city stretching west from Lake Michigan to past the Miller Park baseball stadium.  At best, it had been industrial and, at worst, a long neglected dumping ground for industrial refuse.  More recently, it has seen something of a renaissance, starting with construction of the Potawatomi Casino 15 or so years ago.  The H-D Museum is one of a number of buildings in a complex owned by H-D, including a restaurant and gift shop.  The buildings have an industrial look to them that is somehow fitting for the H-D image.

A large portion of the museum is devoted to following the evolution of H-D motorcycles, beginning with one dating from 1906.  The early bikes looked like clunky bicycles with motors added on.

Later bikes became a bit more complicated . . . .

I did take a number of photos of the general array of motorcycles on display . . . .  

including sidecars . . . .

and Elvis impersonators.

Most of the bikes, including the ones considered "unrestored," were in terrific condition.

There were a number of historical exhibits, including the role that H-Ds played in the two World Wars and in law enforcement.

One of the most interesting exhibits was an array of iconic Harley gas tanks, and I took a number of shots, both of the array and of individual tanks.

In the above shot I liked the fact that I was able to capture the white tank against a white background.

My goal in taking some of these individual shots was to capture the reflections in the high gloss of the tanks while excluding or at least minimizing my own.

Another interesting exhibit was of a bike reduced to its individual parts that were displayed on a large panel.

I tried to take a number of shots of the interior decor of the museum . . . .

including some of a wall of a corridor that reflected my penchant for abstracts.

As usual, I found myself attracted to details of the machines, which were beautifully crafted.

I also found myself taking shots of the spoked wheels of the early models, which reflect the origins as bicycles with motors.

By just focusing on a portion of the spoked wheels and by reducing the depth of field for these shots, I was able to turn these into recognizable abstracts.

And I especially liked the overall effect in the following shot of a bike covered with signatures and featuring multiple reflections.

There was a large grain elevator situated to the west of the museum, and when I arrived in the morning I liked the way the sun was highlighting a group of trees in front of the concrete structure.

When I left the museum, the earth had continued its inexorable rotation (unlike in Joshua's time),  changing the light striking the trees and grain elevator, but I thought there was still an interesting play between the two.

H-D has become much more than a manufacturer of motorcycles and derives a good deal of its revenue from branded clothing and other paraphernalia.  I did not see much of that featured in the museum, but I'm sure I could have gotten my fill if I had visited the gift shop located in an adjacent building.

At $16 for a regular admission, the museum is not inexpensive, but it has a great deal to offer anyone with an interest in motorcycles.

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