Ghost Bikes: New Photography Book Focuses on These Bikes Across the U.S.


Genea Barnes
is working on a project to make cyclists safer on the road but it’s not a bike lane, a piece of city planning policy, a highly visible piece of clothing, or anything else that’s routinely touted as a measure to reduce cyclist deaths on the road. Barnes is looking to raise funds for an art book featuring photography of ghost bikes – the white painted bikes left as memorials to killed cyclists.

[jump] You’ve probably seen them before – junker bikes chained to poles, spray-bombed a pure white, and often decorated with flowers, candles, pictures, and other mementos. These public, roadside memorials to those who lose their lives while cycling, often placed near the spot were the cyclist was hit, act as a stark reminder to be mindful of others on the road, and exactly how vulnerable a cyclist is on a roadway that’s designed for cars.

“One of the things that is so frustrating in this day, is people's lack of spatial awareness,” said Genea Barnes. “I commute every day by bike, and I am reminded all the time of how important it is to be aware of where one sits in space in reference to everything else. A Ghost Bike represents the most grievous outcomes of someone (cyclists and drivers alike) not being aware of where they are in reference to others.”

It’s a simple message, but it’s true. The unfortunate reality of this is that when a car and a bike try to occupy the same space, the cyclist inevitably loses. Bringing together photos of ghost bikes now is also rather poignant, as the number of cycling fatalities has risen at a steeper incline than the number of people picking up cycling as means of transportation or sport.This alarming statistic shows that sometimes cycling safety infrastructure doesn’t keep up with the changes in the way that people actually get around.

The book, Ghost Bike: A Photographic Journey, is on Kickstarter right now, looking for funding. Barnes is now based in Brooklyn, but she used to live here in San Francisco. She was even voted the 2010 San Francisco Bay Guardian Best Emerging Artist, and she's shown her work  at the Arc Gallery, SOMArts, the Academy of Art, Gallery 28, among other spots.

For Ghost Bike, Barnes traveled around the country, photographing ghost bikes, after initially noticing them when she first moved to New York City. She says that there are two kinds of photos in her book: those of just ghost bikes and those with ghost bikes and “ghosts.” The latter involves combining photos of ghost bikes and photos of people, and using Photoshop to make the people look like ghosts. Both kinds of photos are “tweaked a bit in Photoshop to look a little like a painting,” according to Barnes.

When asked what her goal was, in focusing so intently on ghost bikes in a book length collection of photography, Barnes answered: “I want my art to speak to the idea that this could happen to anyone that rides a bicycle, and that the danger and lack of awareness is real; that we must all make a conscious effort in living amongst each other to keep each other safe.”

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