It’s the sort of urban trash that usually gets ignored: Abandoned bikes chained to street lights or bike racks, with missing wheels or seats. But for more than a decade, photographer Raphael Xavier has been documenting bikes like this everywhere he goes.
After moving to Philadelphia in 2000, Xavier started noticing empty bike locks as he walked down the street, and then saw locks attached to partially stolen bikes. "I would walk a lot in Philadelphia, going from North Philly to South Philly," Xavier says. As he wandered over the city, he saw bikes missing various parts, and eventually just a frame with nothing attached at all.
"It was really interesting—how do you get the bike all the way down to nothing?" he says. "Why do you keep coming back, and what happened to the owner? When did they decide that they were just going to abandon it?"
Ever since finding the frame, his obsession with forgotten bicycles has continued. "I’m a dancer, so I go on the road a lot," says Xavier (in addition to photography, he founded the Olive Dance Theater in Philadelphia, a hip-hop company known for helping reintroduce breakdancing in the city). "I was going to different countries and states and looking for these things. It just keeps going. I still do it to this day."
In part, the bikes interest Xavier because they’re something he hasn’t seen photographed much elsewhere, at a time when it seems like nearly every subject has been covered and overcovered. People just don’t notice the bikes, he says. "In the daytime it’s junk. So I think it’s completely overlooked and people just don’t have that vision."
The more he looks at the bikes, the more he’s interested in the sense of personality they each convey. "You can identify with them, it’s almost like they have feelings," he says. "They’re alone, there’s no one around, and they have this character about them." He's also interested in the patterns of color in each photograph, and notes that although he just shoots the bikes as he finds them, the hues are often uncannily matched.
Though Xavier says he isn't trying to make any particular statement with the series, he hopes that it might help people take a second look at an everyday sight. "I just want people to see something in a way they’ve never seen before, and find it attractive," he says.