This is a review of an important and memorable book by a remarkable photographer. Moved by the sight of ghost bikes all over North America, Genea Barnes went on a photographic odyssey to record and document ghost bikes. The result was this book: Don’t Forget Me: Ghost Bikes – A Photographic Memorial by Genea Barnes.
Ghost bikes are bikes that are painted white and placed at scenes where cyclists have been killed by larger traffic. They stand as mute memorials of lives lost, and those who place them hope they will remind road users to share the road with increased care and attention.
Sadly – and shockingly – most ghost bikes don’t last very long, because people actually steal them (unless they are permanently secured or placed on inaccessible rooftops). While this is a sad indictment on the nature of some humans, it also makes Don’t Forget Me an even more important book. By now, most of the bikes Barnes photographed will be gone, just like the human beings in whose memory they were placed – but they are now preserved in this book, which is really a labor of love more than anything else.
Don’t Forget Me is divided into two parts. The first part records the journey across North America that Barnes undertook – detailing her tireless detective work as she tracked down ghost bikes in over 50 cities, working on a shoestring budget and with minimal food, but clearly fueled by her passion.
The second part of Don’t Forget Me is a collection of Barnes’s visually stunning photographs of ghost bikes. These white ghost bikes, silent on the sides of busy streets, stand as starkly beautiful memorials of lost lives. The artistry of the photographer is apparent in the photographs, but Barnes goes further.
Inspired by the notion of ghost bikes, Barnes has worked some Photoshop magic on some of the photos, dropping in the images of ghost-like human beings. These remind the viewer that these are not just bikes – that each and every white bike stands for a human life that was brutally terminated by a car, truck, or bus. Some of them are children’s bikes, which is all the more poignant. Some of the most haunting images are of ghostly children next to ghost children’s bikes.
This is a beautiful book, and reading it awed and moved me. I don’t believe that bikes and cars should share road space, because violent death for some is the inevitable outcome. In the USA alone, 600 cyclists are killed every year – that’s almost two per day. As Barnes puts it, “I started photographing Ghost Bikes because you can pass a memorial hundreds of times and eventually forget what it represents … Ghost Bikes symbolize … lost lives and challenge us to be more aware of our surroundings.”
Regardless of my personal beliefs on the matter, until billions of dollars have been invested in creating human-friendly transportation infrastructure, cyclists and other vulnerable road users will have to continue to share road space with vehicles that could kill them. I hope that this book, and the ghost bikes it records, will help to remind motorists everywhere that every cyclist is also a human being, with people who love him or her – and to drive with the due care and attention we owe each other as human beings.
In 2010, San Francisco Bay Guardian readers voted Genea Barnes best emerging artist. She has been showing her work in world class art hubs like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Milan since 2005. Some of her other projects explore death, decay, and facets of what is left behind.
I urge you to buy this beautiful and important book, as a gift for yourself or for someone you love. You can buy it right here.
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