Canopy Piloting to Prototype Motorcycle Racing

“Photography is, for me, a spontaneous impulse coming from an ever attentive eye which captures the moment and its eternity.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

If someone were to ask me today, how did you ever decide to make artwork inspired by prototype motorcycle racing, I would reply by describing a trip from Southern CA to Longmont, CO. I had finished my MFA in 2004, at the University of Santa Barbara and during that time I began this extraordinary adventure in the sky with awe inspiring friends, teams and coaches. My weekends were dedicated to Perris Valley Skydiving Center. I was a student fine tuning my awareness in free fall and under canopy. Immediately after training sessions I would make the three hour drive back home, debriefing in my studio at the University: pouring over theories of space, sculpting and building installations, spending a lot of time writing and generally processing what my body had experienced.

After graduation, I found that I was spending more and more time at the drop zone. There was this period where I was working two jobs: one as a server for the Edward Thomas Corporation’s boutique hotel, Andalucia and another processing film and printing for an aerial photography firm. Chef Michael Reardon at the hotel pointed to the Los Angeles Times one day. It was an article about swooping in Perris Valley, Swoopers Chute the WorksIt described the beginning of a particularly vibrant time in the sport, full of creative energy. I was completely delighted by all that was happening out there and soon moved from Santa Barbara to Orange County where I could have access to Art in LA, the beaches in Newport and the flying just a short drive East to Perris.

2005 | Intimate Acceleration | Contemporary Arts Forum | Santa Barbara, CA
2005 | Intimate Acceleration | Group Exhibition |
Contemporary Arts Forum | Santa Barbara, CA

In 2005, I made an artwork for the Contemporary Arts Forum titled Intimate Acceleration. It focused on the sensation of inside and out. Using a translucent print of a jet traversing the sky, I carefully sliced, twisted and suspended the image and electroluminescent film to produce an ephemeral piece balancing on steel cable. The work stretched across the corner of an otherwise empty gallery space where the viewer may have contemplated it at a distance and then closer, even underneath the work itself. Acceleration, rhythm, lift, momentum and direction were demonstrated. I thought as we traverse our landscape with ever increasing speed, the passage of space once passive could be activated. In the sculpture I imagined the viewer further investigating the expanding and collapsing forms from varying perspectives. The deconstruction was meant to open onto a new language where one would feel qualities of tension, curvature, elasticity, illumination and reflection; a transition into the intimate and immense.

The momentum, precision and absolute awareness of flight were fascinating to me. I was especially intrigued by the canopy piloting, trusting and purely knowing a body in space; feeling space on a receptive level within relationship to the earth. Awareness is crucial and a one-pointed mind is essential. Observing this manner of traversing the earth would lead me to an Ashtanga Mysore practice and prototype motorcycle racing. At the drop zone kiting our canopies at sunset my mind opened–It was a brand new way to think about flying. Friends and I joined Jim Slaton and Duane Hall at Lake Isabella to learn ground launching and I took a few canopy piloting courses. I started to learn ground level, basic skills. Just enough to appreciate what competing canopy pilots were achieving in close proximity to the ground.

2005 | Ground Launch Camp | Lake Isabella, CA
2005 | Ground Launch Camp | Lake Isabella, CA

There was something transformative about going out to see the Canopy Piloting Cup in 2006 as it truly encompassed travel and adventure. My friend Jessi and I took this amazing road trip, visiting Zion National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, Great Sand Dunes National Park Preserve, as well as, The Grand Canyon! In the middle of it all we had a couple training days with Jim, who was organizing the event with Duane Hall, we then traveled a bit more and came back to enjoy the competition, watching pilots with an intensity I have only now witnessed in prototype motorcycle racing.

The Mile Hi Canopy Piloting Cup will be a one-of-a-kind title championship event that will take place at the Mile Hi Swoop Park in Longmont, Colorado. The Mile Hi Canopy Piloting Cup will challenge the world’s best canopy pilots to a series of technical swoop courses to see who is the best canopy pilot on the planet. The Canopy Piloting Cup will include new events, as well as, events used in National and World level canopy piloting competitions. -Posted on May 9th, 2006


I photographed speed, distance, accuracy and style events impressed by displays of awesome concentration.
This was the trip that I also began to develop decent panning techniques with my Canon Digital Rebel. A friend gave me some advice about using a slightly faster shutter speed to add a hint of structure in my images. Before this the work was purely abstract and a blur! Which was fine, I loved it… I’m not certain anyone else did! I began to think about the subject blending with the abstracted background, just barely recognizable and it began to make sense. My movements with the camera tracking a canopy pilot had to calculated, nearly anticipating the action as it unfolded. In no way was it easy but I came away with a few shots in a technique that was unfamiliar to me and I was thrilled!

About a year later I picked up Valentino Rossi’s autobiography, What if I Never Tried It. Bruce and I had just started watching MotoGP™ on Speed TV’s Two Wheel Tuesdays. The unimaginable abilities of motorcycle riders flying over purpose built tracks was breathtaking and I began to think there may be great opportunities to crete artwork centered around the different circuits. The next year I found myself on another road trip, this time to Laguna Seca to photograph and research MotoGP™. I remember hearing the bikes for the very first time upon arrival to the track–I knew and had an overwhelming feeling that I had come upon something very important. It was a tough weekend as I had rented a Canon 1DS and a 400mm lens, truly raising the bar for myself. After the race, exhausted and dusty, I saw some of the canopy pilots from Perris Valley flying with Red Bull. It was awesome to see them and I felt inspired by the chance meeting. My path at that point had taken me away form the drop zone. Seeing familiar faces in a place that was not yet comfortable assisted me in a transition from a skydiving community I knew quite well to the European motorcycle racing circuits. I am now in my eighth season creating artwork about the prototype motorcycle racing series, MotoGP™ using Hasselblad equipment.

2013 | SCOPE Art Show | Digital Group Exhibition | Miami Beach, FL
2013 | SCOPE Art Show | Digital Group Exhibition | Miami Beach, FL

Prototype motorcycle rider and several times MotoGP World Champion, Valentino Rossi, reveals a beautiful account of observed consciousness in his autobiography written here.

When you’re on the outside you see a totally different world. You’re perception of speed is completely different and you can’t understand how someone can handle a bike at certain super-fast speeds. But when you’re actually on the bike, you have the opposite sensation. You have the impression that everything is happening in slow motion, that it’s all far slower than it really is. That’s because speed is something you learn to live with, something you get used to. And it’s relative.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s thoughts on aligning the head, eyes and heart wash over me every time I am out on the track, panning with the world’s top riders. I can feel a certain vibration in their movement similar to that of just beginning to explore the concept of speed, balance and spacial navigation with my own skydiving and photographing canopy pilots ten years ago. How my life changed in a little over twenty minutes. I remember my Grandma bringing me to Skydive Deland in 2003. She was so excited to show me the store! They welcomed me for a tandem. I was horrified! It was all planned and no one told me! I would have never considered it and Gram never thought I would continue out on my own, inspired by that first flight. Now I think back–how could I not have?

Artist and explorer creating work around dynamic expressions of spacial navigation. Kelly moves through studies in prototype motorcycle racing, yoga, sailing and cycling resulting in sculptural OLED installations.

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