Reed College photo project looks to make helmets sexy

Posted by on April 29th, 2009 at 10:49 am

Reed College students photographed for the BikeSexy project.
(Photos by Norah Hoover)

Reed College art major Paul Clay has launched BikeSexy.com, which is a series of photos he says use the advertising industry’s oldest methods of persuasion — desirability and sex — to get more people to wear helmets.

“If we plan on promoting bikes within a modern American context, people need to associate bikes with being hot and sexy.”
— Paul Clay, artist

The images were shot by Norah Hoover, a professional photographer and graduate of Reed and the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The models are Reed College students. Clay directed the project and he also does interactive video art and makes music.

Clay shared with me via email yesterday that he’s “very interested in transportation activism” and that he’s worked hard to promote bikes to students and staff at Reed. “I am constantly thinking how I can use my interest in art and technology to get people out of their cars.”

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I asked Clay to tell me more about his motivations for the project and I think his response deserves to be re-published in its entirety:



To me, the helmet represents so much of what is indigestible for a greater audience about bikes and bike culture. By its very nature, it implies that a rider is clumsy (that soon you will fall off your bike), faint-hearted, and talentless. It implies that a rider will eventually get hit by a car. It is often associated with bike-racing and the Lycra skivvies, and obviously poses a hazard to a fancy hair-do. So, it’s pretty much the anti-Christ of accepted mainstream fashion. Even in Portland, helmets are not always part of a bike-hipster’s getup.

The advertising industry regularly uses association with sex to propagate new styles of clothing, cars, pharmaceuticals etc. This is particularly obvious in the fashion world: they have the amazing ability to take any object (think crazy huge and expensive purses) or concept (like adopting children) and make it desirable by the use of idealized and erotic imagery.

So the purpose of the photo-shoot was to use the ad industry techniques to associate bike helmets with desirability and sex. This hopefully can have the effect of swaying current bicyclists to wear a helmet more often. However, It’s main drive is to use the bike helmet as symbol of bicycling (and it’s negative associations) and then try to change how that symbol is viewed. From clumsy and prudish to nimble and chic.

Not enough people are swayed by the standard arguments of “better for you, your community and the environment.” If we plan on promoting bikes within a modern American context, people need to associate bikes with being hot and sexy.

The current photo-shoot featured on bikesexy.com is made to appeal to a broad audience. It’s bike propaganda that, instead of playing up bike culture’s “radness” and hip alternative lifestyle, works within a very mainstream formula – hoping to encourage people from a very diverse background to hop on their two-wheeled friends.

I hope we’ll be seeing more activism from Mr. Clay in the future. Check out more photos from this project at BikeSexy.com.

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amos
Guest

works for me!

the future
Guest
the future

helmet cool. helmet visor not cool.

the future
Guest
the future

or

helmet hot visor not

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

Sex just got safer.

Hart
Guest
Hart

Using eroticism to sell a product is an insult to eroticism.

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

Helmets that fit are safer than the photo prop in the top pic

mmann
Guest

One of my few regrets in life is not attending Reed. This photo shoot just cured me of that. One man’s/woman’s eroticism is another’s turn-off. Maybe I’m showing my age, but yuck.

david
Guest
david

Maybe some shots of sexy models after accidents while not wearing helmets should be part of the series. Or am I missing the point?

steve
Guest
steve

You aren’t showing your age. There is nothing sexy about the photo shoots. ** Steve, I deleted this sentence of your comment because you made direct, baseless insults about people you don’t even know. — Jonathan **

What a terribly bad idea.

Perry
Guest
Perry

Kate, definitely.

Nicky V
Guest

Brian E, you’re killin’ me!

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

they just should go to the OHSU trauma ward and get permission to print pictures of the brain dead patients on life support, “eating” through a chest tube and hooked up to a catheter bag…

as that is too often the alternative.

Val
Guest
Val

Does Calvin Klein make helmets?

Krampus
Guest
Krampus

These ads make me proud to not wear a helmet.

And let’s be honest, helmets will never be sexy. They are an absolute eyesore of the highest caliber.

steve
Guest
steve

They do look smug- so that is not baseless, it is descriptive. Pointing out smugness is also not an insult.

In addition, the student demographic at Reed is well known. Poor people do not get educated there. Again, describing reality is neither baseless, nor insulting.

What is really insulting is the photo shoot, the website, and your covering it.

Jeff TB
Guest
Jeff TB

the future,

I like my visor. Keeps the sun out of my eyes. Cool or not. And anyway, cool is the new square. Or nerd is the new cool. Either way. Don’t care.

Tim
Guest
Tim

I fail to see how bikeportland covering this is “insulting.” Just because you have it out for Reed because of a mistaken sense of the school doesn’t automatically make this article worthless.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

I am told my bald head is sexy…but I have never been complimented on my Bell helmet (or other brands) being sexy. 😉

Though I do wear a helmet per the law or if I riding ‘American style’.

amos
Guest

I’m with Jonathan on this one, Steve.

You don’t know these people in the photo, you are only using demographics as an excuse to stereotype. That is insulting and baseless.

johnny
Guest
johnny

They looks like tools.. Don’t push your agenda on me.

more – “helmet propaganda”

the future
Guest
the future

point taken jeff tb. apologies.

j
Guest
j

this is an interesting idea, but very hard to pull off (that’s what she said).

i find helmets are sexier when there’s sweat involved. this looks like a gap ad + helmet, rather than the aftermath of a great bike ride.

for folks like me who value the contents of skulls, no helmet is a turn off. it makes people look a little dumb, and that’s not hot at all.

Brandon
Guest
Brandon

I’m just put off by anything labeled “bicycle propaganda”. I’m not saying that advertising’s manipulative ways are inherently bad and should be avoided, but I think we all recognize just how influential advertising can be. I think people should be motivated into wearing helmets, not coerced like teens into fad dieting. This project is an interesting art example for art sake, but its not positive for society and shouldn’t claim to have that as a goal.

R-diddly
Guest
R-diddly

I wish I could say I liked it, but instead I’ll offer a couple observations about advertising:

– Good things sell themselves and don’t need to be advertised.

– Using the ad industry’s “big weapon” (sex) also opens you up to the ad industry’s “big flaw” (irrelevancy, dumbness).

I also agree strongly with what Clay says here: “By its very nature [a helmet] implies that a rider is clumsy (that soon you will fall off your bike), faint-hearted, and talentless. It implies that a rider will eventually get hit by a car.”

In other words, the perceived “need” to wear a helmet, is one of the turn-offs of bicycling in America. It is therefore one of the things that keeps massive numbers of people from getting on bikes, and causing the sort of sea change that would make biking safe enough that no one would feel they needed a helmet.

I for one find it highly insulting that the solution to shitty driving is for everyone in the vicinity of the potential offender to wear a helmet. This shifts responsibility and blame onto the victim. Maybe everyone ought to wear bullet-proof vests too, to make it easier and safer for gunmen to go on killing rampages.

Wear your bullet-proof vest! It’s for safety! And it’s sexy!

becky
Guest
becky

I think the guys who got those plain black helmets from the Copenhagen cops were wayyyyy cuter.

Maybe because they were smiling? Maybe because those helmets mostly fit better? Or because they were using a helmet as head protection rather than a fashion accessory?

j
Guest
j

r-diddly, good point.

sexiness continuum:
drivers <<< helmetless cyclists < cyclists.

RonC
Guest
RonC

Sexiness is in the eye of the beholder. In my opinion wearing a helmet is smart. Since I find intelligence attractive, helmets can certainly complement sexy. Not wearing one while riding is like holding a lit cigarette. It’s a bit of a turn-off on my radar. The fact that a person is riding at all still earns big points. But sexiness is not primarily about the helmet. It’s a nice thing they’re trying to do, and I wish them well.

Roma
Guest
Roma

@R-diddly –

I see your argument, but shitty driving is not the only way you can get a head injury from falling off your bicycle. In fact, every time I’ve crashed there hasn’t been a car anywhere near me. Everything from slippery train tracks to my rear wheel snapping in half at 15mph. Shit happens.

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

# 24:

Cyclists who think they’ll never fall just haven’t been riding long enough.

Hart
Guest
Hart

I don’t think promoting cycling, or cycle safety is ever a bad thing. But to use the vapid, superficial aesthetics of the fashion industry is just gross, and completely lacks imagination.

T27
Guest
T27

“The current photo-shoot featured on bikesexy.com is made to appeal to a broad audience. It’s bike propaganda that, instead of playing up bike culture’s “radness” and hip alternative lifestyle, works within a very mainstream formula – hoping to encourage people from a very diverse background to hop on their two-wheeled friends”

I agree with the sentiment, but maybe they should have followed their own advice. Young, rad and hip models from Reed are hardly mainstream and four white kids is hardly diversity. Want mainstream, put on a shirt and maybe let a little grey stick out from under the helmet. Now that is sexy.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Re #24:

Wear your helmet: if you ride a bike enough you’ll eventually need it.

I’d wear a bullet proof vest if I handled a gun as much as I handle my bike.

s
Guest
s

@steve

In addition, the student demographic at Reed is well known. Poor people do not get educated there. Again, describing reality is neither baseless, nor insulting.

But libel blatantly removed from easily demonstrable statistics (such as % of students who receive financial aid, which is among the highest across the country) paints you as hateful and ignorant.

Steve Durrant
Guest

Someone obviously hit a couple nerves here whether it was the ‘sexy’ photos or articulate narrative of Jonathan and his subject. I’d say it’s a successful campaign, especially because it got so many of you going. What an absolute hoot to read and watch.

Andy B from Jersey
Guest

Who are the dorks wearing the helmets?

Sorry it doesn’t work. Bike helmets will ALWAYS be dorky (and I almost always wear one).

The only time they approach looking cool is when you are in full race gear, whether that be road or mountain. Otherwise dorky.

BTW – Riding 30 years and never needed mine yet and I’ve had my fair share of crashes.

Tim
Guest
Tim

AndyB- If you don’t wear one, once you need it it’s already too late.

Hart
Guest
Hart

Regardless of how they look, and regardless of how useful they are, those who insist that others wear them look more like they’re trying to make everyone else look like them, rather than like they are genuinely concerned with the safety of others.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t think of any other form of recreation or transportation where people are constantly saying things like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so irresponsible for not wearing the optional safety gear!”

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Nice try on the photos, except that they don’t seem to have much to do with bike helmets; there isn’t a bike in sight in any of the pics. The setting depicted isn’t one that a person riding a bike should need to wear a helmet for.

It’s kind of interesting though, that of the nine photos posted on the photographers site, in just one of them, the one shown above, the girls don’t have their helmets on. Hmmm-m. Wonder what that means.

I’ve seen helmets provide certain people with a little added sexual mystique, but these photos don’t show that.

Carl
Guest
Carl

omg steve i h8 rich people TOO!!! What duz smug mean? Looks 2 me like it means HOTTT lol Yay hot people on bikes!!! Boo lameoldstevecomplaingaboutit!!!¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡

Ben Foote
Guest

Here’s the non-helmet version:

http://cyclepassion.com/

Donna
Guest
Donna

In addition, the student demographic at Reed is well known. Poor people do not get educated there. Again, describing reality is neither baseless, nor insulting.

So the large number of Reedies I personally know whose parents couldn’t afford to contribute a dime towards their college education are a complete figment of my imagination? Are the ones whose families were on welfare some sort of hallucination, then?

I wasn’t impressed with the photos myself, but can’t you do better than an ad hominem attack? I’ve read your posts, steve, so I know you’re more clever than this.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

When I think of bikey people at Reed, I think of C.H.V.N.K. 666

Sam
Guest
Sam

Anybody who needs a helmet to be “sexy” in order to wear one probably doesn’t have enough going on in their head to need to protect it.

Rikthankless
Guest
Rikthankless

As a wise man once told me…….

“Helmets are sexier than brain damage!”

BEEEEEEEEER!

pasteeater
Guest
pasteeater

In addition, the student demographic at Reed is well known.

Yup, it’s weird to see “Reed” and “sexy” in the same sentence.

grimm
Guest
grimm

Rikthankless,
I dunno. Being a vegetable in a wheelchair sounds pretty sexy to me.

JK.

An interesting perspective on helmets. I think they could be more pronounced designed objects. Like what if you stole elements from gaudy purses (loud patterns, over sized polished hardware, logo encrusted with fake jewels, patent leather) and applied them to helmets and really blew out the photography and added a tagline? Just an idea. Maybe a future project.

someone
Guest
someone

Been riding 34 years without a helmet. I’ve fallen lots of times. Every day I’m out there is one more day of experience at avoiding dangerous situations. I plan on defying other people’s “eventuallys” and “sooner or laters” indefinitely. I have faith in my guardians. If I stop believing in them, that’s the day I’ll need a helmet. But that’ll also, conveniently, be the day my life won’t be worth anything.

Mere age is going to cripple me soon enough, and “having a job” arguably cripples me already, so I’m going to enjoy biking without a helmet while I still can. If I die doing it, I’m prepared for that. I have a healthcare advance directive too. Life’s not so awesome that we need to degrade ourselves by clinging to it so tenaciously. Life’s only worth anything with some degree of risk anyway. What of value do you have? You’ll never know until it’s put at risk. But willingly risking something, and not going insane with fear, means being willing to lose it, which paradoxically is the only way to ever really appreciate it and be glad you have it. Don’t believe the hype. Swine flu is bullshit too.

Loren
Guest
Loren

Meh.

KWW
Guest
KWW

The failbus has arrived!

There are no bikes in the photos!

revphil
Guest

Clearly most of the people posting on this blog are not typical consumers of fashion stuff.

Is that David Stoops?