LIFE’s Mysteries: Hidden Negatives of Hell’s Angels

LIFE Magazine was widely popular a few generations ago. LIFE was a weekly news magazine with a huge emphasis on photojournalism. It started in 1936 and continued until 1972 as a weekly publication, relaunching in 1978 as a monthly with it’s final stretch ending in 200o. I come across one every so often in antique book stores and it’s so amazing how our focus on photography has shifted. Humans are generally visual creatures, so huge photos, especially well done photos, are what tend to catch the eye. Sadly, it folded and most images can be found online on LIFE’s website. I was browsing around and found a section of unpublished photos. Many were taken but not all made it to print, so naturally there are thousands of leftovers.

Obviously these photos were taken in film, so leftovers still mean decent photographs, not mindless snapshots clicked without frame thought. I personally feel that people took more time on each shot and framed each shot as if it would be printed. Film didn’t come cheap. This is what makes these archives beautiful.

Hell's Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

One set that fascinated me was the unpublished set of Hell’s Angels photographed by photographer Bill Ray shot in the 60’s. Ray and writer Joe Bride reported the story together.

“I told Big Daddy Roth I’d like to meet the Angels, talk to them about doing a story,” Bride said. “It would be a chance for them to get some recognition, and explain why they did what they did. Not long after the story on Big Daddy ran, in late 1964, Roth called and said, ‘They’ll meet you — with conditions.’” Bride met two Angels at Big Daddy’s store. They blindfolded him, put him in a car and drove into the mountains. At a bar “with what looked like 100 bikes parked outside,” no longer blindfolded, Bride met a stocky, long-haired Angel who asked if he shot pool. They played some nine-ball, and Bride beat the guy two out of three games. Bride then negotiated, there in the bar, a relationship where the Hells Angels agreed to allow him and Bill Ray to shadow them. Bride sat back, had a few beers, and then they drove him back to L.A. Not long after that, Ray and Bride began reporting the story.
Read more: http://life.time.com/culture/hells-angels-rare-photos-by-bill-ray-1965/#ixzz2GtFF6yhL

Most of the photos were candid and telling. “Old Ladies”, the girlfriends and women who hung around the motorcyclists, had telling photographs of their own looking bruised, beaten and hard. Other photos depicted the gang carrying on in drunken good times, riding fast and dangerous on the roads, their love hate relationship with the police and the shiny chrome of bikes.

Hell's Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell's Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell's Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell's Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

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Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

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Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell's Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

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Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell's Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

Hell’s Angels 1965 Bill Ray for Life Magazine

I tried to find what camera he used, but I could not! It’d be nice to know. Anyways, as you can see from the stream, these photos are awesome and definitely tell a story. Just think, these WERE NOT PUBLISHED. How crazy is that? What does our time period lack in photography where we rarely see such a photo story? Don’t get me wrong, I have seen quite a few photojournalism stories that were brilliant in recent years, but I feel as though they don’t come often enough. Stories like this were snapped so much more often I feel like, often enough that this one never got published.

To see more of this photo story and to read more about it, go here. To see more of Bill Ray’s work, go here. I gave you the link to spare you from seeing all of the Billy Ray Cyrus images Google kept kicking back to me. You’re Welcome.

Keep a lookout on here by the way! Sorry I’ve been a bit slow, just figuring some stuff out here on my end. I have a few rolls of my own I’m about to process, so stay tuned for my own work. Thanks for reading, as always.

UPDATE: Camera found. Thank you, Patreeko. Of course, Ray used a Leica. Legendary camera of photojournalists. Maybe I’ll do a post on those soon. 😉
“Night has fallen on Bakersfield, and the Hells Angels continue to talk and drink, inside and outside the Black Board Cafe. I made this extraordinary shot with the existing street light from the corner lamp without a tripod. I held my breath and the Leica M S fast to the handlebars of a Harley for the long exposure. To me it looks like a film set lit by the Hollywood great, James Wong Howe.”

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7 thoughts on “LIFE’s Mysteries: Hidden Negatives of Hell’s Angels

  1. Again awesome photos! Makes wonder what was so much better, that they decided not to print these… You have captured the moment once again. Took me back to the 60’s . Thank you for sharing as you always do. I’m looking forward to more of your own work….

    • Thanks! I’ll be posting a few rolls of my own within the next few days. 🙂

      Also, I know, it blows me away they remained unpublished for so long? I guess back then they must of had a lot of brilliant photo stories to choose from.

  2. Nice write-up. It is indeed too bad that Life folded and is no longer in print. And I feel the same way about film pushing people to think more about each frame as they take them – that’s why I use it.
    Would love to see some of your work – develop those rolls 🙂

    • Exactly. I notice that when I photograph digitally I take the shot first and think about it later. When I shot in film I think about it first, then shoot. It really has helped further
      my style and composition!

      Also, I am definitely going to post more of my own work soon. I have before, theres about five or six posts on here of my own stuff 🙂

  3. I love this piece. the photos are so awesome and tell the story profoundly without words. the photography is fabulous. and thanks for doing it sans Cyrus

  4. Who is on the right front in the 8th photo down? Bill Ray the photographer couldn’t remember his name.It’s Doug in the background.

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