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|12-17-2015, 12:10 AM||#1|
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Frank Bott: Portrait of a Photographer
Frank Bott is world-famous and locally anonymous. That’s how it is in modern digital life. Heck, there’s every chance you even know who Frank is because you live nowhere near him. He just moved to a spot some say is directly over a filled-in missile silo, in Utah.
He shoots bikes. Bott is one of America’s most accomplished studio photographers of motorcycles. At last count, his images have graced publications more than 120 times in just the past five years.
Bott has lived most of his life in the Lakewood area of Los Angeles County. Nine years ago he relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, to be closer to his sister. About five years ago, he decided to bring two of his loves together, motorcycles and photography, and so he set up a studio in an abandoned grain silo in Asheville’s River Arts District, inviting enthusiasts to bring their bikes by for a shoot.
In those early days, Bott discovered he had a lot to learn. As he told us, “It turned out that photographing bikes is very difficult. So it became a challenge, [but] we figured it out over a couple of years. In past lives, I shot for AP and newspapers, I managed networks, did IP security. I love art and long, sequential, detailed information. Now I’ve combined them.” Over time, Bott moved his workplace to an old factory nearby and began masking around his subjects with a combination of white and black fabric walls, floor, and ceiling. Bott revealed, “Corey Perrine, a photojournalist, told me I needed to shoot bikes the same way I’d shoot a watch or jewelry,” he said. “So we built a huge box to put the bike in, nearly 30 by 40 feet.
“We had to do this to control the lighting because the contrast range is so difficult, from chrome to dull, black tires,” he explained. “The Kelvin temperature has to be perfect to respect the colors. People bring us some amazing paint jobs, and our images have to have to be true; we have to make the metallics explode.” Eli Whipple has assisted Bott for many of his developments and is still very involved. “He’s a chemical genius,” Bott said. And he’s a fire dancer earning a B.S. degree in environmental science. “Eli came up with the mechanical design solutions for lighting arrangement, distances. I couldn’t have done it without him.” The weird thing, or rather, the weirdest thing, is that Bott shoots most motorcycles for free. He takes crazy-beautiful studio shots, of perfect color without reflections or hot spots, and he usually does it for nothing and then gives the images to whoever owns the motorcycle. This is because he has a business model that’s light-years ahead of most corporations. He’s a baby boomer with the savvy of a millennial.
Today, while I write this, Bott has 353,706 “likes” on his Facebook page, “Motorcycle Photography by Frank Bott.” He’s got the numbers of a rock star. “We’ve shot 292 bikes for free and 36 for a fee,” he said. “Shooting for free was the last thing we thought could work. But after learning more about the web, we saw the biggest thing I needed was an audience. And telling people I’d shoot for free, they’d come."
“We’ve shot 292 bikes for free and 36 for a fee,” he said. “Shooting for free was the last thing we thought could work. But after learning more about the web, we saw the biggest thing I needed was an audience. And telling people I’d shoot for free, they’d come."“After we established ourselves on Facebook, we did an experiment and bought $50 worth of ad clicks,” he continued. “It was used up in minutes. We did it again to see if it was a fluke, and again it was gone in minutes. So we knew we had something. Now we have 1 to 2 million views a week. We have an enormous audience. When I moved to Tooele [Utah], I was surprised how many knew who I am. It’s working.
“I charge for outdoor shooting, for bikes that I’ve learned won’t draw an audience, and for corporate work,” Bott continued. “For our free stuff, we can have someone in and out in an hour or so, and I supply them with 20 to 25 pictures, with rights to large-format versions.”
Popular Photography magazine noticed and did a full-page feature about Bott. Wired magazine also did a feature about Bott, and now we are. Frank Bott is a freakin’ phenomenon.
Presently, Bott has moved to Tooele, a sleepy sheep town that sits on the edge of Miller Motorsports Park, about an hour or so from Bonneville Salt Flats—if you travel at 90 mph. That also puts him about 40 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City, which Botts calls very non-Latter-day-Saints friendly these days. His new studio is, according to some, atop a former missile silo, and, even better, it has a retractable roof he wouldn’t mind getting operable again. His new studio soft box will be 27 by 42 feet, allowing him to shoot cars more easily, as well as taller items like apehangers and humans. He’s also upping his wattage from 26,000 to 32,000. Bring sunglasses, and be prepared for some minor hallucinations.
For those who care about technical details, Frank shoots with a Canon 6D camera, using a 1.2 Canon lens. Soon he’ll have live capture, which means in about 30 seconds after a shot it will post to a big screen so customers can see the images immediately.
Despite his accomplishments in photographing motorcycles, the best part about Bott is Bott. He’s one of my favorite humans. Now that he’s moved from a city whose unofficial slogan is, “Keep Asheville Weird,” Asheville is now a little less weird, and I’m a little lonely.
Bott had a small dog named Creature, who he saved from the expressway and pneumonia. Sadly, Creature was killed last winter in a hit-and-run accident while on a leash just a few feet from Bott. So loved were these two that Creature has a beer named after him at Asheville’s Wedge Brewery. Creature has passed on, Bott has moved on, but Creature beer is still available. And it’s 11 percent! A nice excuse for a visit, no?
Frank Bott and his dog
Bott’s images can be found at frankjbott.com, his Facebook page, and at bikeexif.com, managed by Chris Hunter, who Bott said has doubled the experience for some of his shoots. “Chris and I share,” Bott said. “He writes about the bikes he posts with my images. It gives the owners great gratification: pictures and words.”
Back in Tooele, Bott found Maynard, recently saved directly from the executioner’s proverbial ax, a life of abuse, heartworm, and other parasites. Bott said his pals teach him patience.
If you’re willing to visit Tooele, submit an image of your bike to the wayward photographer. He needs custom bikes or cool stories. If you have neither, just a “regular” bike with particular story to tell, Bott will shoot it for far less than you would likely guess. Ask him.
Twice a month now, Bott is having family night, doing free portraits of the Tooele locals. “I can shoot a dozen people at once,” he said. “I’m not going into the portrait business; it’s my way to show respect to the local culture and to meet my neighbors.” Get there, and help Bott make Tooele weird.
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