I started photographing bike messengers because, as a community, they remind me of photojournalists.
No matter where you go in the world, if you are dealing with the Mess Family you will always find someone similar to you who’ll be ready to welcome you, to give you a place to sleep, something to eat (possibly a carbohydrate), an important number of beers. And, of course, a bike.
An obsessive love – a bit sick and a bit poetic – for a mechanical object that, combined with human intervention, becomes a lifestyle. A more or less virtuous addiction one cannot imagine to exist without. The search for the self affirmation through the body, the mind and the machine.
As almost always happens, the fact of sharing a great passion that few completely understand, quickly creates a group aggregation system, which in our day, thanks to the internet and ease of movement, immediately assumes a global character. The Messenger Family, also called “Mess Fam”, unconventional by nature, is today a spontaneous network of solidal exchange for all the bike couriers in the world. The first companies of bike couriers opened in North America at the end of the 1800. In Europe, the city to introduce the messenger culture was London, but only in the early 80s of the 1900. In Southern Europe, messenger culture is still developing, but the phenomenon is quickly spreading as one of the positive aspects of globalization. In Italy today there are about 13.000 couriers*, dealing everyday with the delirium of the city to pick up packages, documents, papers, boxes, food and deliver them as soon as possible to its customers. Avoiding traffic, parking anxieties and fuel consumption. Roman couriers would say “scannando”** – a slang term for “running fast”. Because “scannare” is beautiful, it’s “GAS!”.
Being a messenger is a job, a game, it is a continuous challenge and it’s much more; there’s the body sculpted by the miles, that transforms you in some sort of involuntary athlete; there’s the mechanical aspect, the bike that becomes your life companion, that you must take care of and that pays you back every day; there’s the music played at high beat, punk, metal, trap, spit out from the speakers tied to the backpacks buckles to keep up the rythm. There’s the city, friend and foe, with the landscape that scrolls in front of you and becomes your office while you keep running; the traffic codes that change as kilometers go by, the more or less hostile asphalt, the more or less understanding motorists. I have heard bike messengers talking to each other in detail about some corners of my neighborhood that I did not even know existed, “it was a couple of songs away from the main square, there down the street, after the number 17 on the right. See where? Yes.”
Many messengers personally design their own bikes, ordering the pieces on the internet and then assembling them. Each of them perfectly knows what kind of spokes, wheels, rims, handlebars he has in front, how much they cost and what performance they provide when set up that way. Each year the different city crews organize national, European and World Championships, funded through crowdfunding campaigns, minor competitions and merchandise. So messengers from all over the world can meet, talk about the host city terrain and shortcuts and exchange tricks and remedies with their colleagues in order to make their work better. You cannot waste time. Time for the bike messengers means money but also a continuous challenge against oneself, other messengers and the rules of the city. You have to be the first, grind as many miles as possible as fast as you can. This is why the work of a courier, which goes hand in hand with his life, is also above all a form of rebellion. To daily routine, to the neglect of one’s passions in exchange for money, to the laws of the city, to Capitalism.
Someone still calls them “riders”, some do not understand the difference, the majority of people just don’t care. Those who can understand and share, even if they do not even own a bicycle yet, can already find their place into the family. To me all this sounds more than “Gas!”. That’s “Full Gas!”.
*According to the Ministry of Welfare
**the word comes from “breaking the “canna” the italian word for the top tube of the bike