While browsing through my e-mails on the evening of Friday 8th June, I came across one advertising this year’s London Naked Bike ride, and as a keen photographer who likes attending and photographing alternative and wakey events, I just had to go along and see it. I made sure my camera was fully charged and packed myself a small lunch, as buying food at these kind of places can cost a small fortune. Making my way to Hyde Park Corner, I couldnt help but wonder; is this event for real? And if so, just what were they thinking? After doing a small amount of research on the event the night before, I realised that these naked bike rides happen and take part all over the world, and that these events even have their own facebook pages and websites. I was wondering if the individuals taking part were just stupid, mad, or actually, whether they were brave? I mean, it would take a huge amount of guts for me to get naked in public, and the sheer thought of my wobbly bits on show for all to see just feels me with complete dread, so this event really fasinated me. I also wanted not only to photograph them, but ask them flat out; why? I wanted to find out what was the message they where trying to spread was, and discover the point of it all.
Arriving at Hyde Park Corner, the crowds where already out. People with cameras where aplenty, from the professionals, right down to people snapping away with camera phones and disposable cameras. The sun had come out for the event, and people where there waiting and ready for people to start flinging off their clothes and jumping upon their bike saddles.
I have to admit, that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and as I began putting together my camera, a small part of me couldn’t help but feel like a peeping tom. When looking up, a naked man walked past me holding onto his bike, I think I was more embarrassed then he was, but as I held up my lens and snapped away at him, I realised that this naked man in front of me was just that; a naked man. Why was I embarrassed? Why do we as a nation have such a problem with nudity? Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t about to strip and start taking my own clothes off, but he so obviously wasn’t embarrassed, so why should I be? I mean, we are all born naked at the end of the day, and as I began to relax, I began to snap away, and it just became another photography event I was there capturing.
As more and more people began to show up with bikes and began to undress, I couldn’t help but become jealous of their confidence in doing so. There where people there abundant with curves and people there with hardly any curves at all, but all seemed so confident in their skins and appearences. Most of them had their own politcal messages for taking part, bikes containing flags saying Buy Organic other bikes wore ribbons and plaques containing messages like Bikes before cars and even people with flags asking for gay rights. I managed to ask a few people taking part just exactly what their point was in doing so, and most people said what was written on the website: “its a peaceful protest about oil and car culture” but many others there chose the event and the day to publicise their own causes. I got the message, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they where doing it for something else. I mean, they could have done the same event with the same slogans, but with their clothes on, surely?
As people took to the gravel with their bikes waiting for the race to begin, the sea of nakedness was abundant. Some where painted in various artistic colours, others using their bodies to write political messages, some choosing to wear ridiculous wigs and head dresses, and a handleful (mostly women) chose only to show their breasts, choosing knickers to cover up their modesty downstairs, while the hardcore full frontal nudests sang and chanted with confidence for the ride to begin.
The crowds watching and photographing had become huge and I was finding it increasing hard to get through the crowds to photograph. I noticed that the people photographing where all there snapping away for different reasons; you had the professionals who where clearly there photographing for tv and other forms of media, amateurs, people who had just happened to have walked past and seen the event taking place, tourists, and then the creeps! I noticed groups of males just snapping away with their camera phones as soon as a female took off their tops, huge swams would surround them as they did so, giggling, chanting idiots, each asking their friends to snap them next to a topless female. The reasons for each of as being there were vast, but it scared me slightly when these groups of males did this, as I didn’t happen to see any police patrolling for the whole time I was there.
As all the naked people taking part where safely on the gravel and the ride began to start, I was kind of relieved. I was shattered, and had seen enough naked bodies to last me a long time. I sat on the grass dismantling my camera, watching the still hovering creeps as they still continued to try to capture the skin of a naked female cycling off, each one giggling and showing each other the pictures they had just manage to capture. Some straggling naked men (whom I can only assume where naturists, as they didn’t have bikes with them) walked around the grass, desperate for people to notice them. I was glad when the last of them began putting back on their clothes, and although I was glad it was all over, I was also pleased I went. I had some great footage, as well as an understanding as to why they choose to do this every year, and although I could never take part in anything that required me to strip in public, it made me wish that I did have their confidence to do so. As I tucked into my pre-made lunch I listened and laughed to the reactions of the motorists as these naked bodies took to the roads, I felt in awe of their confidence and wished then all a safe journey on their ride. I was also really really glad that I didn’t have anything containing sausuages for my lunch.
Louise Chanel Townsend.