Q&A with David Rangel: Photographer, Tattoo Artist, Cyclist, Restaurant Manager
By Iris Dimmick
This week our homepage gallery features photos from David Rangel’s collection “Midnight Crit.”
David Rangel: I have a friend that organizes an underground bike criterium. A criterium is a short-course (usually less than 1 mile) bicycle race that is timed, rather than measured by distance. The riders take off and see how many laps they can go and the first person over the finish line after a certain amount of time or number of laps (usually 30-45 minutes or in this case, 11 laps), is the winner. This one is held at different locations and on dates and times that are announced only hours before. It was fun to shoot and is a singular experience that I wanted to capture and share.
RR: What are your camera specs?
DR: I use a Nikon D7000; it’s small, very natural to use, and sturdy. Over the past 3 or so years I’ve figured out what lenses work best for me: 35mm f1/8, 50mm f1/8, 18-70mm f3.5-4.5, and 80-200mm 2.8. I’m not a sponsored or heavily funded guy, so I have to pick carefully what I spend money on.
RR:How did you learn how to take photos?
DR: I remember growing up and my dad always taking pictures. He was really good at it and kept his old Canon gear in a silver metal box with his business card on it. It always intrigued me. Then later my sister won some awards for her photos and that piqued my interest. But it wasn’t tIl a few years ago that I really starting picking up a camera and shooting.
I read a lot of the “beginner” manuals and books. Stuff by Scott Kelby or Chase Jarvis. Tom Ang’s “fundamentals of photography” book is amazing. I love technical stuff; I devour spec sheets and guides and any information. But at the end of every “how to” or “tips to shoot better” article or book chapter, the underlying message was if you don’t know how to look for a good picture, you’ll never take a good picture. I just took photos of what looked interesting to me. Or something I thought someone else would have liked to have seen had they been standing there with me. If I couldn’t capture it the way I wanted, I read more about how to do it and tried again.
RR: What compels you to take photographs while riding?
DR: I’m not as good at it as I would like. I can’t afford to replace a bike or a camera, so even when I’m on the bike with the camera I’ll usually come to a full stop and shoot then. It does help tremendously with mobility if you’re just out and about shooting random things. Or if you go to an event that covers a lot of ground. There’s no easier way to traverse the city than by bike. And it’s faster than walking. At night I like to shoot streetlights. I’ll just ride around until I see a cool one, then stop, set up, shoot it and ride around until I see another good one.
RR: Low-light photographs of moving subjects can be a challenge – any advice for beginning photographers?
DR: I’m a beginning photographer so that’s a tough question. I think the answer is to test shoot and pick your subjects well. I’d never shot anything like this before, but I knew that the race had eleven laps around the same 2 blocks. That meant I had eleven chances to get it right. I used the time in between “action” times to frame the shot, maybe focus on the ground where I thought they would come by next and then switch to manual focus, so the camera isn’t hunting around for a focal point as is common when shooting in the dark. Also most of the action is shot with an off-camera flash bounced off the wall of the building or up in the air, set a few stops down. That illuminates the subjects but the light falls off right behind them. There is also a finite amount of time to get ready for the action to come around again; you need to be set up by then or you’ll miss something.
RR: Why did you choose to present these images in black and white?
DR: It was to keep everything very raw. I think the style of photograph should be dictated by the subject matter. I shot an underground bike race in the middle of the night downtown; it HAD to be in a grainy, black and white format. It sets a tactile context for the subject. If it would have been shot very technically, with three strobes and completely lit in color, it may have looked good, too. But it wouldn’t have the attitude that I wanted to translate. And I just like b&w at night; it’s challenging.
RR: How involved are you in the local biking community (Third Street Grackles, etc)?
DR:I like to say “very”, but it’s become less so now that I’m working full time and have a family. I love bikes. I love the idea of making forward motion with an efficient machine that is only powered by a human being. I worked in a bike shop part-time and was just paid with a shop discount in high school; that’s where I really came to start the bicycle obsession. It’s hard to say out loud that I’ve helped shape some of the bike culture or forward attitude of San Antonio because so many people are doing it every day. I put on some bike races for a few months a couple years ago; I try to be active with new events that come along, new ideas that are bicycle related usually will get my very vocal support, if nothing else. I ride all the time, though my riding has shifted from the urban, alcohol-fueled, poseur-bike messenger style I used to enjoy to a more formal “roadie” format. That is, riding with an organized group of guys on road bikes with kits and helmets, like proper gentleman. Gentleman in more spandex and Lycra than most Olympic gymnasts. But that’s okay; it makes you so much faster. The guys I ride with are of all skill levels and ages; the Grackles are a good example. They have dependable, weekly rides on established routes. There are several other rides that happen on a weekly basis as well that are more loosely organized, but the attitude is the same. For the most part it’s fraternal, not adversarial. Even though that’s counter-intuitive to road riding.
This is really dangerous question; I’ll talk to anyone for hours and hours about bikes and bike “culture” and am very opinionated. Probably more so than anyone needs to be. But it’s a passion and hopefully that makes the fanaticism of it acceptable.
RR: What do you think is the biggest hurdle bicyclists face downtown (figuratively and/or literally)?
DR: Cycling downtown has come a long way in the last 5 years. Cars are much more accepting of cyclists and don’t go as crazy when they get stuck behind someone taking a full lane or waiting to make a left turn. I think the fact more people are cycling that just people weaving in and out of traffic helped to bring that about. If more people are riding, auto traffic is forced to deal with them, instead of just avoiding or trying to navigate around them. The “Bicycle May Use Full Lane” signs help; they remind all of us that we have the same rights the road. The out of town drivers and the people who are looking for a destination downtown are the greatest hazards. They are looking around for addresses, or sightseeing from the driver’s seat and doing everything BUT paying attention to the road. I think the “Sharrows” program is the biggest waste of bicycle planning so far. The city removed the protected bike lanes and made them “shared use” roads so that cars could park along the street (where the bike lanes used to be) on Broadway. The idea is that bicycles would have room to go around in the “shared use” lane. Well guess what? All the paint has blacked over and now there are no sharrows OR a painted bike lane. So it’s back to a free-for-all. Which it technically always was, because state and municipal law doesn’t dictate that bicycles MUST use the painted bike lane or that cars must respect it by not parking there or blocking it. It’s silly. The Danes have it down pat. They put the bike lane next to the sidewalk, then paint a separate parking lane for the cars, then have the auto traffic lanes on the other side of that. That means the parked cars are protecting the bicycle traffic from the moving cars. Simple, right? It takes up the same space and allows the bicycles to enter and exit locations faster and safer since there is no auto traffic behind them when they slow to a stop and the cars don’t have to negotiate bicycles when parking along the street.
RR: What’s your day job?
DR:I manage a restaurant in Southtown; The Monterey. It’s fun, fast-paced, and most of all it allows me to be around some of the best people in the business, I think. It’s a really small, tightly knit group that works very well together to make sure everyone that comes in has the best experience possible. It’s a different kind of art. I guess I’m technically a tattooer as well. I would consider that my trade but rarely have time to do it anymore.
RR: Other interests/hobbies/freelance work?
DR: I enjoy building bikes. I can’t afford to just build and collect them, so I try to help people work on theirs when I can. If I ever hear someone is buying a new part or component for their bike I immediately offer to install it or check it out. My wife says I have the two most expensive and expansive hobbies, bikes and photography. I’m not allowed to have any others. Seriously, though. We have a 16 month old baby and a 7 year-old, and ahead of everything, they are my focus right now. Everything else is nice, but making sure my daughters are exposed to the city life and not just growing up another suburban automaton is now the reason I do anything now.