Portraits of American Bikers: Life in the 1960s is the first in a series of three books consisting of photographs from the Flash Collection. This collection is made up of hundreds of photographs taken by Jim "Flash 1%er" Miteff during his time as a member of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, Detroit Chapter from 1965 to 1969. The photographs have been in storage for over 40 years and have only recently been digitized and assembled into books by Miteff's daughter, Beverly Roberts.
Jim Miteff was a first generation American whose parents had immigrated to the US from their native Bulgaria in the 1920's. Born in 1933, Miteff grew up in Lincoln Park, Michigan where his Father was employed by the railroad. By the time he reached his teenage years, Miteff had already taken a keen interest in motorcycles, which would remain a constant throughout his life. Like the parents of many bikers, the Miteff's did not approve of their son's new lifestyle, but they were not so close minded as to let it have a lasting effect on their relationship with their son.
As a young man, Miteff worked for Ford Motor Company as a journeyman tool and die maker. He also ran his own motorcycle shop and started several motorcycle related companies specializing in the manufacture custom parts. He always had an interest in photography, which he eventually developed into a printing business. To provide photography for his businesses, Miteff picked up a Speed Graphic press camera at an auction. The Speed Graphic had long been the preferred camera of photo journalists due to the high quality black and white photographs that it produced.
In 1965, the Outlaws Motorcycle Club was expanding in the northeast and started a new chapter in Detroit. Miteff was one of the founding members and his home quickly became a popular hang out for Club members as there was no "official" clubhouse in those early days. What made Miteff's home ideal was that he had plenty of space for motorcycle projects and all the necessary tools. More importantly, Miteff had years of experience working on motorcycles and could help fellow Club members build motorcycles from the ground up.
Jim "Flash 1%er" Miteff
Towards the end of the 1960's, violence between rival Clubs was beginning to escalate. As a businessman, Miteff dealt with members of many different Clubs in the sales of his custom parts or through his motorcycle shop. Being a member of one single Club put this business in jeopardy, so along with mounting family obligations, Miteff decided to leave the Outlaws in 1969.
Due to the personal nature of some of the photographs, Miteff never tried to publish them and instead put them into storage. Before passing away in December of 1999, he gave the collection of photos to his daughter. She quickly realized that these exceptional photographs should be shared, not only to honor her Father's skill as a photographer, but to pay homage to the Club that he loved and respected for the last 35 years. In keeping with her Father's wishes, Roberts has published this photographs with the permission of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club and worked with its members in the compiling of the three books.
For Portraits of American Bikers: Life in the 1960s, Roberts chose over 70 photographs from the collection. She had the original negatives digitized and then reprinted the photographs in large format. Each photo is given an entire page, allowing the viewer to see the fine details which the Speed Graphic cameras are well known for. The photographs, often candid and unscripted, give a true look inside the Outlaws Motorcycle Club of the 1960's. The book is currently out of print, but is available in digital format for both the Nook and Kindle. Check out Flash Productions' website for current information on upcoming books as well as for purchasing prints, postcards and posters of some of the signature photos from the Flash Collection.
I've included a dozen of my favorite photographs below and added the captions from the book when available.
Vernor Hwy.-Detroit West Side
Not yet identified rider
Sam 1%er (sitting)
Crazy John 1%er (at left)
Curly 1%er (left), Sam 1%er (right)
1967 - Detroit
Ladies Love Outlaws
Fat Cowboy 1%er (second from left), Big Red 1%er (third from left)