At 8-inches by 7-inches and 120 pages, “Goggles and Dust” is a small volume, but it contains much. It’s a photo book, with images drawn from The Horton Collection’s 170,000-image archive. From that archive Brett Horton has drawn a collection of images from the aughts, teens, twenties and thirties. Image, subject, race, caption. No treatise on the import of the situation, no poetics about man and machine or triumph of will. In that, the book is its own poetry. We are left to focus on what is contained within the frame, to glean what we can, to connect the dots ourselves.
One of the surprising strokes of the book is the number of images of riders changing flat tires. There were so many it made me ask the question why. I knew that Horton and the editor he worked with wouldn’t do anything haphazard, and that’s when I thought back on accounts I’ve read of racing from that period. Flats were ever-present. They were as frequent as the mail. To be a cyclist back then, you really had to love the bike.
I considered the fact that one image, taken in 1912, was captured the year after my grandfather was born. He’s been gone 10 years, more. Each of the subjects of these images is long departed, and while this book’s central concern isn’t mortality, the juxtaposition of their vitality against the time period of their lives brings into focus a consideration of what we draw from this two-wheeled contraption.
There’s an odd ache that comes with viewing this foreign world. It’s not nostalgia, but the desire to know something that isn’t ours. Who among us would really prefer to live in this time? However, who among us wouldn’t relish the chance to step into these scenes, to and walk, as a tourist, through those events, to pedal one of those bikes over those roads, to try and see the road through those goggles.
“Goggles and Dust” retails for $16.95 and is published by VeloPress.