Ghosts on the Street - Europe

Brandon Lockfoot
Jan 2, 2014 4:20PM

In New York City, the job of the bicycle courier blossomed in the 1980’s. Since then, the fax machine and then the expansion of the virtual internet has slowly weakened the work flow supporting this occupation, and many of these courier jobs, or couriers, may no longer be around in the next ten years. This expansion of the virtual space (internet) has started impacting the ideas of natural space that we as a society used to regard as physical reality. Using a tool as our ancestors did to move through the physical world as a machete to tall grass, or a bicycle to the urban street; many of these cultural movements required human to human interaction in order to progress forward. These tools helped foster additional cultural movements requiring or again enabling human to human interaction, making progress, moving forward. It is this potential loss of human to human interaction and trust of the bicycle courier that I want to chronicle and is so important to preserve because this interaction is not just limited to this aspect of life or occupation.

The project, “Invisible Infrastructures: Ghosts on the Streets”, begins by exploring the daily routes of bicycle couriers as a form, while moving through the space that is the urban city. As a bicycle courier, we spend our days maneuvering around congested traffic picking up and delivering most any kind of object you could imagine with little interaction from the outside world. From envelopes and packages to garment bags, I’ve even delivered bagged breast milk!

The reason I choose to call this project Invisible Infrastructures is because a lot of the times, the people that are not recognized by society formally in many situations are central in helping the cities progress forwards, especially in New York when thinking about the bicycle messenger. The underdogs, the manual labors, the doormen, the nanny’s, and independent contractors all fall into this category as well as bicycle couriers. I choose to represent the couriers here because I believe that there are factors in this line of work that are more life threatening when combined with the visual perspective of rapidly moving around the city and the little amount of money earned in this occupation.  

I am interested in visually exploring and understanding the movement of the bicycle from different people in different cultures and what is transported around by it's use. To me this project, though visually motivated, is also about human interaction as well as forms moving through space because it is this human to human contact and the fact that people are entrusting us, the couriers, with their most important items that makes this job such a responsibility and at the same time makes it so gratifying.

There is a kind of embodied knowledge in knowing the streets that I personally believe only someone who rides a bicycle through them everyday possesses. In Manhattan, bicycle couriers are the only same day delivery service available that can get from one point to another in under an hour. There is a form of sub-conscience control of your body while riding a bike that is only acquired after an ample amount of time riding the routes of a city, where the body knows before the mind when to take a quick left or right. This specific aspect of time, distance, and bodily knowledge of your own fitness level is what the courier’s job is all about, and what I want to record first hand: Knowing the shortest distance to any point in the city without having to look at a map, and also knowing approximately how long it will take to arrive there.

After traveling to each city and collecting data, I plan to map out the data and assemble the three dimensional maps back in Germany. Once all the maps are completed for each courier in each city, I will make a return trip to each city I have been to to see each courier I worked with again. With me, I will bring all the plexiglass map pieces I have made and plan to give each courier his or her corresponding map as a thank you for allowing me to travel a day and have the perspective of a bike messenger in their city. In a way, wrapping up the project by being able to literally give something back to the community that has enabled me to complete this project.

One last thing... throughout working on this project for the past 3 to 4 years, many cycle messengers and some who I have personally known, have been killed by reckless people in cars. To dedicate this project to the people out there who be bustin their asses in rain sleet snow wind every day and still receive no proper acknowledgment or respect by the society we deliver for. This shit is for you, you will always be remembered by your fellow couriers on the streets. Ride in peace fam

Brandon Lockfoot