Sometimes a change of scenery and subject matter does wonders for inspiring artists, and taking a break from wedding photography to spend time at the annual Sturgis, SD biker rally has done wonders for the local photogs Lacey Criswell and Amanda Hankerson.

The duo behind Lace/Hanky Photography will be returning to the rough and tumble biker rally for their third year to continue their Sturgis Rally Photo Project, a collection of snapshots–including some wedding portraits–taken at the biker bonanza. We quick chatted with Hankerson before the two hit the road and then return to gear up for an upcoming exhibition of their photos from Sturgis in September at Gustavus Adolphus.

Let’s start from the top: what inspired you to head out to the motorcycle madness in Sturgis, SD?
The summer of 2009 was an especially busy year for our wedding photography business, Lace/Hanky, and we were searching for ways to revitalize our image making. It is easier to show up to a wedding and follow a formula than to challenge yourself to find what is unique about a couple to create something different every single time. Lacey had heard that over 50 couples marry at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally every year and we couldn’t get the idea of biker weddings out of our heads. What a great experience to have right in the midst of our wedding season! Without a plan and no idea where we would stay, we packed Lacey’s car and headed west. We slept in the car most of the week until a lovely couple, whose wedding we had just photographed, adopted us for a couple of days.

How do people respond to having their photos taken?
When you’re on the street taking documentary photographs of the Rally, most people don’t notice you. Cameras are everywhere and most people can expect to be photographed at some point. However, this creates a challenge of its own when it comes to portraiture. We have to find ways to slow down the photography process. Otherwise, we are just taking a bunch of snapshots of people smiling on their vacations. We’re after something more than that. When we take a portrait of someone, we try to take the time to learn something about them. Then we share something about ourselves. It’s more of an exchange. We are making a portrait with the sitter not just taking an image of a stranger.

There are a lot of themes happening in the photos you take of Sturgis–American flags, black leather, shirts without sleeves. Am I missing any? And does it ever get repetitive?
Tattoos, sex, Harleys, and the less obvious themes of voyeurism, performance, escapism and camaraderie. The demographic of the Rally is very diverse and this keeps it from becoming repetitive.

You two also run a successful wedding photography business, Lace/Hanky. Are rowdy bikers easier or more difficult to photograph than bridezillas?
Ahhh, great question! Luckily, we don’t seem to attract too many bridezilla types. Lacey and I have a transparent and friendly approach with our clients and this tends to attract couples of the same type. With portraiture, the approach to photographing people, whether bridezillas, bikers, or anyone else for that matter has more similarities than differences. You have to engage with your sitter, be respectful and try to create a compelling image.

Our wedding photography is what brought us out to the rally the first year, but the Sturgis photos have taken on a life of their own. Our third exhibition of the images will open at Gustavus Adolphus College on September 17, 2011.

So will you be returning with matching Sturgis ’11 tattoos?
I think that’s a great idea.

Photo from Lace/Hanky’s the Facebook page for their Sturgis Rally Photo Project; you can also see their work at their blog.