Midwest Video Jam Article

Photos by Jeff K 

Words by Mike Hinkens

The Curse?

It can be a motivator. An irritation. A saving grace. A convenience. It can be a curse. Or the reason. No matter how you look at it, “it” is a part of BMX.

The “it”, is the video camera; and it has been a part of BMX since its inception. Our culture is so deeply connected to the idea of documenting almost everything we do. It is part of what we do. It is integral to what we do.  I suppose some would argue that this is an overgeneralization but; what is worth talking about though, is the different types of relationships that exist between bike riders and the video camera.

Though the use of cameras in BMX has evolved over time, there is no clear-cut chronology of the purpose or relationships with cameras in our culture. As stated above, the camera is something different to everyone, and some of the oldest ways of using it still exist today. On the other hand, the instant nature of modern camera technology has added new meaning and interactions to the BMX-camera relationships we see around us.

In our specific instance-the Annual (kind of) Midwest Video Jam-the relationships between riders and cameras have evolved, but also remained open to multiple interpretations. By examining how the jam has worked over time, how riders have interacted with it, and the products that have been created, one can see quite a large sampling of the different types of BMX-camera relationships. In addition, one can see why people would undertake the hard work and overcome the challenges that are associated with the fast-paced nature of a project like a video jam.

As a baseline for discussion, the basic premises of the video jams centering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the last few years have been this: Find a group of friends, spend a limited time riding and filming, make a short video, and share your video with the rest of your friends who have been doing the same. Time limits, team sizes, and locations have changed, but the above rules have been constant. In the end, the final premiere has always been a public event where teams show their video, cheer and roast the other videos, and vote for the team to walk away with the grand prize:  street cred and bragging rights.

The video jams have certainly highlighted one of the most common BMX-camera relationships out there: Filming to show your friends and others. This is a dynamic we know all too well and it’s one of the oldest. Simply, we create art: Everyday we use our bikes and our surroundings to make something new and creative. The riding we do is art. And documenting that art can make it something more than one fleeting moment of awesomeness. Many of us love to film because we cannot wait to share it with our friends and the general public. We are proud. We work hard to make our art and often times we want to share it.  This attitude is probably what many of us tap into when filming. The Midwest Video Jams are meant to harness that and make it happen in a rapid way.  This seems a very different undertaking from the creation of a DVD, but in my perspective, it’s almost the same thing. We want to document our friends and good times and share them with other friends so that we can have more good times. With the video jams, we just made it happen much more quickly.

Closely connected to the concept of filming to show your friends is: Filming to document for yourself. Our time on bikes and the things we do are fleeting. Injury, age, and life can slow or even stop what we do, so many of us wish to document so we can look back, remember, and smile about it all. BMX puts smiles on our faces now and videos can help us keep smiles on our faces long into the future. Yet again, the video jam exposes and magnifies this BMX-camera relationship. BMX, like life, moves fast and changes constantly. A forced snapshot of a short moment in BMX can speak volumes. The complex and voluminous nature of this culture is often best captured on video and with a structured project that is both intense and focused, we can, and have, created videos that come very close to showing and encapsulating the amazing depths of our riding lives.

When the camera comes out, it’s not all smiles all the time. Another relationship that BMX and cameras have can be one of anxiety, stress, frustration, and even, (oh no!) obligation. Sometimes filming a clip turns from a fun way to capture a moment, to a nightmare of failure and repetition. The pressure to perform causes some people to shy away from and even despise the camera. Regardless of the positive relationships that are mentioned above, this dynamic can overshadow and destroy the positive aspects of the BMX-camera relationship. Though a video jam and its time constraints and product-driven nature seem like they could breed an environment of stress, it has been a goal, and one that is often realized organically, to make sure that people work hard, but find a balance. The limited nature of these projects allows people to push to create amazing things, but also to question and explore their motivation, determination, patience, and tolerance. Often times the videos show that people pushed themselves to a limit that was appropriate yet not belligerent. And the team they are with shows a type of support that can sometimes only be born in a unique environment.

Though having technology is not an excuse to use it, the amazing simplicity and accessibility of video cameras is certainly a motivating factor in doing jams like this. Though riders have almost always had access to some sort of ‘real’ camera, that doesn’t mean that multiple teams of people could all come up with, use, and work with cameras on short notice and all at the same time. As such, access to technology has sometimes been a limiting factor in the relationship of BMX to video cameras. The proliferation of high quality, affordable, and simple video cameras has changed all of that. From cell phones, to Go-Pro’s, to FlipCams, almost everyone can capture footage in HD and access and edit it instantly. It’s this environment that the video jam has entered into. And it’s this environment that inspired the format of the latest video jam: iPhone Only. My main goal in doing these jams is for friends to have fun. With modern technology, I realized that some of the limitations mentioned above could be eliminated and thus more people could take part. And if more people could take part, more fun could be had by all. By making the jam iPhone only, almost ANYONE could get involved: the simplicity of using an iPhone camera allowed people to go ride like normal, but pull a phone of their pocket on short notice to capture life as it happened. An added bonus of the convenience of these types of camera was that more candid footage could be captured. There is no real setup time or challenge to hinder capturing all that goes down in a session. Technology has helped simplify and enhance the essence of the video jams and has helped build another positive relationship between BMX and video cameras.

Truth be told, the video jam isn’t for everyone. There are many more BMX-camera relationships that riders embrace and not all of them work with the format of the video jam. It is my hope that all different riders with all different perspectives can take part in these events in a way that they feel is right. After all, this is freestyle; we all do this because we like to make our own rules and follow our own guidelines. Some have made videos that may as well have been DVDs, while others have made videos that are a series of inside jokes and shit-talk.  In the end, the video jam is supposed to allow the loosest interpretation of its guidelines to encourage positive and constructive creation and documentation of the art that we all make: Bike Riding.