Karron Bridges is a photographer from Western Australia who grew up in the era of manual photography and working hard for a good shot. She’s been capturing images on film for longer than most of us have been alive and, in the quest for interesting subjects, has found herself in all kinds of weird and awkward situations. Karron has spent many years documenting Australian outlaw bikie gangs, and her body of work is a totally fascinating glimpse into their secret world. She’s also photographed prostitutes, neo-Nazis and the Aborigines she spent a harrowing year living with in the Northern Territory. Karron’s life has not been boring.
Vice: So Karron, you’ve been taking photos of people who don’t normally like having their photos taken for a long time now. How did it all begin?Well, I left England when I was nine years old for the north west of Perth and it was there that I first had my first experience with a biker. He had come from Sydney to work in the mines and we met and he ended up being my first boyfriend. I was 15 at the time.
And you’ve ended up spending a lot of time with different gangs over the years?
I’ve always had a huge curiosity for different lifestyles and I guess the bikie lifestyle appealed to me. I’ve known a lot of really committed bikers over the years and I’ve had some great times but it’s really different now. It used to be that people were nervous around bikers because they had a bad boy image but everyone kind of co-existed. Now, if you mix with them or it becomes known that you’re visiting or spending time with them, you’re seen as an associate and as such you’re breaking the law.
Really, so you’re guilty by association?
That’s right. The police’s attitude towards bikies has really changed. For instance, about five years ago now I went on a three-day poker run with the Rebels and the police were really co-operative. They quietly drove behind the bikes and would occasionally cordon off sections of freeway so we had right of way and no one else could drive through when we were passing. It was like they were on our side and it was all really peaceful.
That sounds uncharacteristically idyllic.
Well, the last poker run was entirely different. It was completely ruined and called off half way through. The police were pulling everyone over individually and taking 45 minutes to search each person for alcohol and drugs. It got to the point that it wasn’t even worth doing.
So what happened in between to make them crazy?
I feel that it’s political more than anything. The Liberals have power in Western Australia and they’re very tight on these things. A bikie can’t sneeze now without it making the news. Some of them are into bad stuff but mostly they’re just easy targets because of the way they look. I wish everyone walked around with their beliefs so clearly displayed.
That’s true to a degree but I can only speak from the Rebels' point of view, because they’re the ones I know and they’re happy to have people from different countries and of different religions in the gang. So long as they don’t try to preach their beliefs to the others. Those Muslim gangs, like the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, are a whole different story though.
How many members in the Rebels?
They did a head count in Western Australia and it was something like 50 core members. It’s not many but when they go on a run they’ll invite lots of other bike enthusiasts and it can get huge.
Has there ever been any trouble when you’ve been with the bikies?
Well, whenever there’s a get together, generally the president will make sure they’re staying somewhere remote so that the guys can’t get into trouble at the pub or in a public space. They minimise the likelihood of it happening. With the Rebels, the president is also really adamant that they all turn out clean and tidy – with clean shoes and leather jackets. Most of them are honestly just really nice guys who love motorbikes. That’s what I’ve found anyway.
And being a female in what is clearly a male dominated environment?
The whole biker thing is a brotherhood. If you’ve ever read a biker magazine you’ll know that women tend to fall below bikes in importance. That said, they’re all really loyal to their wives and have a rule in the clubhouses that no women are to feel unsafe. And, I can honestly say that I never did feel unsafe.
Karron is currently working on a big exhibition to show in Perth early next year. Well post details closer to the time.