This Portland Photographer Captures the New Wave of Women Motorcyclists

If you can’t be what you can’t see, Portland photographer Lanakila MacNaughton is doing her best to show you.

Portland photographer Lanakila MacNaughton describes her photos as a vehicle. Riding on the back of a motorcycle driven by another woman, she uses a Hasselblad camera—the same type of camera that immortalized the first man on the moon—to capture female motorcyclists in action. MacNaughton travels the world with her pop-up photography show, Women's Moto Exhibit, to highlight "the new wave of modern female motorcyclists." It's a demographic that has more than doubled in the past decade. If you can't be what you can't see, MacNaughton is doing her best to show you.

WW: Why did you start WME?

Lanakila MacNaughton: I was in my early 20s and newly sober. I was redefining who I was and I had some guy friends who rode motorcycles. I remember going to the river in the summer one day, seeing them ride in front of me and thinking, 'I want that. That looks so freeing.' So, I saved up some money and I bought a 1982 red Honda 250. It squealed when it turned on. I knew nothing about motorcycles.

How did you find other women who ride?

OkCupid! I would meet guys who liked motorcycles. I wouldn't be interested in the guys at all, but we would connect through motorcycling. Then they'd say, 'Hey, I know this girl who's into motorcycling, and you guys would probably get along.'

How did this turn into a photography show?

I've always been a photographer. When I started an Instagram account, I felt like posting my daily life, like what I eat, was so lame. Why would anyone care? So I started posting women riding and the stories of women I met. I started getting invited to go around the country and photograph women. Since then, I've been published in Oprah Magazine, Elle, People.

Do you see more women riding now?

The demographic of women riders from when I started taking photos to now has practically quadrupled. It's gone from around 5 percent to 15, up a staggering amount, like 300 percent. There's been a huge shift. It's been interesting to watch women finding a new sense of independence through traveling.

What's it like to tour with a biker group internationally?

It's like being on a sports team. You eat, breathe and live the sport. There's camaraderie and you have to have patience. It takes me out of my day-to-day and makes me appreciate everything because I see how small I am. It's almost a spiritual experience.

What's the best story you've found about a female rider?

There's a woman who was a nurse and a single mom. She picked up a motorcycle and started riding, and it completely changed her life. She decided to quit her job as a nurse and become a bounty hunter. She's in Southern California, and now she rides around as a bounty hunter and has a gun.

What kind of bike do you ride?

I have a '74 [Harley-Davidson] Shovelhead, just an old easy-rider. And a 2001 Evo chopper. I don't have a car.

Is the danger of riding ever a deterrent?

There's something to be said for being on the brink of death at all times and how that makes you feel more alive. It depends on the rider. If you speed and like to be an asshole, or if you're tired…you have to be so aware of how you are each day. I haven't had a spill, I just know a lot of people who have died.

What's it like to work in motorcycling, which is mostly male?

The gear is designed by, like, all men, and some of it is really, really terrible. When I meet a woman in the industry, my mind is blown. Ninety percent of the time I'm talking to men. I talk to women at [public relations] agencies, but they don't really drive or know anything about bikes. But there is definitely a change going on. The future is female.

Tell me about your big ride, the Dream Roll?

Every August we camp out by Mount Adams. We have more than 400 women registered. We have people flying in from Australia. Last year, we had DJs, waterfall slides and a 60-person topless dance party in the woods one night. There are women in their 60s and some who are just 21.

The Women's Moto Exhibit will be at Two Stroke Coffee, 8926 N Lombard St., 503-954-2339, on Friday, Oct. 28. Free.

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