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Raphael Xavier, is an award winning artist from Wilmington, Delaware who is credited for the resurrection and the growth of the Breaking community in Philadelphia from 1996 to present day. As a member of the world renown Hip Hop Dance Company, Rennie Harris Puremovement since 1998, Raphael is a Pennsylvania Fellow of the Arts in folk and traditional forms and has been funded by the Independence Foundation and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He has been a professional breaker/dancer for the last 15 years, working in a variety of fields including music, photography and film.

Xavier’s latest project takes him behind the camera. No Bicycle Parking is a collection of abandoned bicycles from Philly-Europe ranging from 2000-2012. Xavier is premiering the photographs at the Painted Bride Art Center  March 21st and 22nd. This is the first of a two-part project. The first will be the gathering of Philadelphia stories and the second will be the book release and print display.

Philly2Philly recently talked with Xavier about the project, and how Philadelphians can actually take part in it.

Philly2Philly:  The first question here is pretty obvious: What compelled you to take on a project like this?

Raphael Xavier:  As a photographer, I wanted to find something that could make me stand out as a photographer. Every photographer I knew was good at what they did and it was because they had something that was different than the next. I wanted something that couldn’t be followed behind. I tried rocks, trees, homeless people and it was all done before. One day walking down south street in June 2000, I saw the bottom of a shopping cart chained to a pole with a bike lock. I thought was interested. Six blocks later, I noticed all kinds of kryptonite bike locks just rusted away. I eventually came across a bike with the front wheel missing that same day and I just kept looking. That was it. It became an addiction to find something that made me a different photographer, but I didn’t know it was going to be this. It just kept me looking.

P2P: How long have you been taking pictures?

RX:  I’ve been taking pictures since I was 10. A neighbor gave me an old box camera and I didn’t know what it was. Then he gave me a polaroid camera, then he gave me an instamatic with the ice cube flash (LOL).  I don’t know if he was stealing them or what. By the time I got into high school, I could take pretty good pictures. Photography was one of my classes and that was the beginning of my photography life. Quick side story...the first time I took a picture with a 35mm film camera it was a Cannon AE1. Everything was manual. When I developed the picture, the teacher looked at it and said it was something wrong with it. He developed it backwards and forwards five times and then he realized what was wrong. The pictures were too clear for someone like me to have taken (LOL).  He said he’d never seen an image as clear or in focus like the ones I’d taken. Then he told me I had an eye. And I never payed attention to it until I was in my 30’s.

P2P: Were these photos taken in the city of Philadelphia only? Or was any location fair game?

RX:  It started out in Philly. But yeah, every location became fair game. It was easy because I’m a touring dancer, so every city and state and country I’d travel to, gave me the privilege to shoot. I’d get off the plane, check in hotel, go to the theatre and rehearse, then go to the streets looking for bikes. It’s really an obsession now. I feel I have to do it. Sometimes I’m not in the area that long so my radar is on all the time.

P2P: Did you ever witness the stripping of a bike in person?

RX:  Never!  I would stay out looking until 3AM but never found anyone. I actually was accused of stealing them and was stripped searched at the train station. There were cut locks, two bikes and just me laying on the ground. It looked like a situation so they called for cops. I actually kept the camera running until one cop noticed. But I was still shooting from the hip. I have it on video and film. It will be hanging/showing in the show.

P2P:  In regards to the photos, did it come to a point where you said ‘You know what, I have enough pics to actually make a book,’ or was the book the plan all along?

RX:  The book idea was in my head two years in. I went to some publishers and had meetings with them and they said it was too local. It didn’t do anything for them. It was kind of silly. Just not interesting. It really discouraged me because I started to feel like it was silly and there wasn’t anything to it, but I just kept shooting anyway. My friends thought it was silly, too. So it hurt sometimes cause I’d finally found something as a photographer that nobody could follow behind. Partly because sometimes the bikes were gone after I shot them and also because nobody saw what I saw in the sculptures so to speak. I shot in slow shutters, so it gave them life and light. You can’t see that with the naked eye. But when I looked at everything over the last two years, I couldn’t believe I was still shooting. It took over. Now I know why.

It’s time now. I have enough for a gallery show, six books, calendars, post cards, greeting cards etc. I’m more excited about it now than I’ve ever been. Timing is everything and so is passion. I would’ve given up if I wasn’t passionate about what I do as an artist. Also, a little bit of it was to prove people/publishers wrong. And although I have way more than enough, I’m still going to shoot until I feel it’s time to stop. I’ll know when. But I’m certain that I’ve found something that could be a lifelong project because of my travels.  

P2P:  Why do you think there’s SO many abandoned bikes around the city? I’m certainly not surprised by the amount that I see.

RX:  I’m not sure why there are so many. Part of it is due to the uneducated rider who doesn’t know how to properly lock up the bike. Quick release is not only for you, but for the thief as well. You can’t just lock a bike up by the front wheel (LOL), but I don’t know why. If I could catch a thief and ask, I would. I wouldn’t tell though. I just want to know why.

I’m working on inventing a bike bag. My bag would be to protect the bike from weather and deter thieves. For one, they wouldn’t know what was under there, and two, it would take more time to get to the bike. It’s very much needed today. But the bike is a serious means of transportation that I don’t know why people would just leave it and not get it fixed. But part of the reason for getting bike stories for the book is just that; to ask those questions. See what people are thinking and have thought about when they return to the bike and find it stripped down.

P2P:  With the city's new abandoned bicycle regulations, I would imagine the timing for the launch is perfect.

RX: Yeah it’s weird. I didn’t think of it like that but like I said, timing is everything. They said they’ve been doing it for a few years, but obviously they’re not looking in the right places or spending enough time out there. You won’t find them all but I find enough of them to fuel my purpose (LOL).

One day when I do this really big, it’s going to be sort of an installation where the city streets will be in the gallery with a few of the bikes that I saw the exact same way they are in the street. That’s a big idea I know but not too far-fetched. I hope I can get them involved with the project in some way. It may be able to bring more awareness to bike theft in all major cities and universities.

P2P: You’re premiering the photographs at the Painted Bride Art Center March 21st and 22nd. Not only are you inviting bike enthusiasts to the premiere to view the book images and share their stories, but you’re also planning to re-release the book and include their stories as well?

RX:  Yes. At this point there is only a mock-up of the book. I wanted to do a book for me because that’s been something of a dream to have a book. But when I looked at the images (as it’s been over 10 years) I got tired of looking at them as they were just sitting. I needed to be refreshed myself so I thought of having somebody elses story. My story was already in the 400 images.

What are other peoples stories?  It would mean something and make the book more appealing because people could relate to the stories of others. Not just mine. It would be one-sided. So once I get the stories, I will sort them all out and put them with specific images and do another mock-up. I’m really hoping I can get it published by a company. Self publishing with something like this is too much time and money and I won’t be able to do it as well as I’d like to. I’m still on the road and performing. And I do think my touring can help sell the book. It’s a machine I don’t know and it will take time to learn it. But to answer your question, once it’s put together I will do another exhibit pushing the book and large prints of the images.

P2P: Where can people go to get more info on you and the exhibit?

RX: You can get info on Facebook, Treehugger.com, my personal website, and the Painted Bride events page.

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11:36 PM
Mon Apr 7 2014
That is exactly a

That is exactly a motivational idea, for sure to stay on this enthusiastic interest you have to have patience and passion. Anyway, have you published any of those postcards you mentioned? thanks

"works at http://www.digiteksf.com/poster-prints/"