The Story of The Up-N-Smoke Engine Project


The UNS Engine Project got its name from the fact that Iím a Peckerhead.  And, as a member of the Peckerhead Motorcycle Racing club, I look forward to meeting other Peckerheads at the Friday night gatherings at the Up-N-Smoke BBQ House and Power sports Bar in Keller, Texas.  Phil Dansby, the owner, doesnít mind that we meet there because he too, is a Peckerhead.  Phil encouraged me to begin the engine project and the very first poster produced hangs in the restaurant.

 That explains the Up-N-Smoke part.  The Engine Project began a few years ago while I was attending the North Texas Norton Owners Associationís (Iím one of them, too) annual motorcycle rally at the Lake Oí The Pines, near Jefferson, Texas.  While I was there I was to shoot a few pictures to use in an article for Ride Texas Magazine.  The highlight of the rally is always the impressive vintage bike show.  Showing primarily European motorcycles, the show boasts many bikes that you may never see anywhere else.

 So, while wandering around the show, I started photographing details of several of the most rare and extraordinary vintage motorbikes.  These bikes were indeed unique.  But what made them unique compared to other bikes?  I started looking for the defining characteristic that made the bike different.  I shot all parts of the bikes but noticed later that most of the time I was concentrating on the engine.

 From that session, I made a double-framed collection of ten solid pictures showing motorcycle marks from Ariel, to Honda, to Triumph, to Zundapp.  I titled the framed collection, ďMotorbikes from A to Z, Lake Oí The Pines 2001.Ē  And then at next yearís rally I gave away a set as a door prize.  And I ended up selling a half dozen or so additional sets.

 But it was the pictures of the engines that I really grooved to.  I began photographing not only the motorcycle engine, but going deeper to find the characteristic that made that engine different.  And it was at that point I saw that the lines and shapes of sculpted metal had a distinct graphic quality.  They were interesting to study even if you had no idea what kind of engine you were looking at.  The photos were technical and abstract at the same time.

 Iím a commercial photographer, and commercial photographers donít get a lot of chances to be artistic.  Commercial photographers are technical experts who specialize in making the photographs that other people ask for.  Itís a living. I assigned myself the Engine Project.  I would photograph motorcycle engines as art and produce the images as posters.  The project is ongoing and Iím always on the lookout for prime examples of the art of the motorcycle engine. 

 In the retouching stage of the picture I intentionally leave many of the flaws that are found on the metal surfaces.  Motorcycle engines are meant to be used, and they should look like they have been.  I believe that the flaws add interest and give the viewer a chance to wonder about the engineís history.  And, after all, wonder is the quality that makes art worth looking at.