VENICE — With the bicycle movement growing across Los Angeles County each day, Michele Castagnetti, art director for the advertising agency Acrylic Airlines and a Venice resident, found it odd that few had formally documented the bike culture of the city.
For six months, Castagnetti went around Venice photographing colorful abandoned and owned bikes to put together his latest photo book called “Venice Bikes.”
“I thought it was essential to do a photo essay of this sort,” Castagnetti said.
Though Castagnetti mainly works on graphic design projects for various entertainment companies, he was able to explore his passion for photography when he published a book called “New York Bikes” in 2011, where he photographed a variety of artistic derelict bikes during his stay in the city. When he moved back to Venice shortly after, he had his mind set on seeking out eye-catching bicycles to capture on camera.
Castagnetti wanted to focus on Venice in particular because of its bold artistic community of cyclists that doesn’t necessarily extend to its bike-friendly neighbor.
“Santa Monica, per say, is a little more of a cleaned up city,” Castagnetti said.
Cynthia Rose, director of the local bicycle coalition Santa Monica Spoke, said that while the creative vibe of Venice’s bike culture doesn’t translate over to the sustainability-focused community of Santa Monica, local cyclists are still able to use their bikes as a form of self-expression with modifications to handlebars and adding child seats.
“In Santa Monica, it just becomes an extension of personalities,” Rose said.
Santa Monica Spoke has been meaning to start their own documentation project of the local bike culture akin to Castagnetti’s book, Rose said. However, there is a challenge in keeping track of ongoing changes.
“Our bike culture is growing and evolving very quickly. What it looks like today is a snapshot of what it will be in the future,” Rose said.
Nona Varnado, staffer at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and founder of the bicycle art gallery red #5 yellow #7, said that while Venice’s bike culture has always had a classic California beach feel to it, with personalized beach cruisers, it too has been evolving over time.
With the introduction of the Venice-based company Linus Bikes, that sells low price-point bikes, Venice’s culture shifted from surfers with rusty bicycles to yuppies riding highly decorated design-oriented ones, Varnado said.
The diversity of bike cultures across the county is one of the unique aspects of Los Angeles that Varnado praises.
“[In L.A.] we don’t just have micro climates, we have micro cultures,” Varnado said.
Varnado added that the various cyclist communities are expressive in their own ways, but there is an overall sense of collaboration among biking groups.
“Here people have really thought about bikes as social tools,” Varnado said.
She added that bicycles allow for an evolutionary creative process where owners initially purchase them for some practical reason, and over time explore ways of customizing their often primary mode of transportation to better represent their identity. This process, and the creative lifestyle it becomes, motivated Varnado to open the art gallery in December featuring installations that either focus on the aesthetic designs of bicycles, or the experience of riding one.
While Castagnetti was fascinated by Venice cyclists’ creativity, he also noticed how bicycles served multiple purposes — including a home.
During one of his morning shoots Castagnetti was able to capture his favorite memory in his book’s production when he met a homeless man who had attached a cart to his bike. On it the man carried, what Castagnetti found to be, the largest assortment of property on a bicycle including a sleeping bag and kitchenware.
The man held a large white cross and gave Castagnetti a speech about religion and God. Castagnetti was moved by the man’s sense of hope and gave him $20 for his troubles, and for allowing him to take his picture.
Castagnetti’s book is now available at Hennessey + Ingalls on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica and at Arcana Books on the Arts in Culver City. He will be signing copies at Art of Studio on 1346 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice this Sunday, July 7, at 2 p.m.
To learn more, visit www.artofstudio.com.