Wheels of Freedom: Nayquan Shuler takes us on a visual journey of Myrtle Beach’s Black Bike Week
The New-York based photographer’s series Kings Highway sees him journey back to his home of South Carolina, capturing the Street Knight’s Motor Club.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 5 December 2023
For Nayquan Shuler, documenting South Carolina’s Atlantic Beach Bike Festival (Black Bike Week) in Myrtle Beach is as much an act of cultural preservation as it is an exploration of home. The photographer has always been one degree away from its rich history, thanks to anecdotes from his uncles and cousins who would attend. Now, experiencing it for the first time, and describing it as a “rite of passage,” he shows us the flair and style of 2023’s edition and its binding community spirit in Kings Highway.
Coming to photography during the blog era, Nayquan got much inspiration from the online sphere, as opposed to his surroundings in Columbia, just two hours away from Myrtle Beach. “I was influenced by Madbury Club, Street Etiquette, and Tumblr. It made me curious about travelling and photography, which eventually pushed me to start documenting the people and things around me.” Similarly, before starting on Kings Highway, Nayquan was scouring Facebook before stumbling across the Black Bike Week group, and learning about the week’s series of events. “The first day was tough because it was raining and a lot of people decided to leave early,” he tells us. Soon hearing about a parking garage party nearby, he instead decided to start the project there, making way for documentations of their memorabilia and costume.
In recent years, Black Bike Week attendees have complained about the city’s attempts to restrict or even close down the festival, “similar to how they handled Freaknik [a Black annual spring-break festival hosted in Atlanta from 1982 until 1999]”, Nayquan says. In 2015 attendees made various complaints, one saying their community spent as much as $20,000 to attend, while facing grave restrictions in where they could ride their bikes. Attendees along with the NAACP sued the city for racial discrimination in 2003 and again in 2018 due to high policing at the event (compared to Harley-Davidson Week, hosted in the city just two weeks before Black Bike Week).
Moved by the revelation of this tension between the city and participants, Nayquan chose to showcase the photos that hold a mirror up and “show that at the end of the day these people are here to enjoy themselves like everyone else,” he tells us. “[The process of photographing Black Bike Week] made me wonder why the city of Myrtle Beach is so eager to marginalise this community of Bikers. The festival has already been pushed to Atlantic Beach [in the northern region of Myrtle Beach] and now the city and its law enforcement try to intimidate everyone who comes [...] and not once did I feel in danger or intimidated by the patrons of the festival.”
Tender portraits feature heavily throughout the series. A seated couple turn to the lens in an expression of contentment; two men dap each other up; and in another, a man’s face is unseen, but he signals to his motor club jacket’s logo with pride. Nayquan saw the importance of capturing them outside of the action of riding. “My plan was initially to capture couples on bikes, a straightforward series showcasing love within the motorcycle community,” he tells us. But, the rain pushed him to turn the project into something more sweeping, like his documentation of the Motor Club’s private barbecue. Nayquan says that this turn of events meant that he could shine a light on “their resilience to enjoy the festival despite the challenges presented by both law enforcement and inclement weather”.
All in all, Nayquan believes the process has heightened his ability to navigate unforeseen circumstances when documenting. “In the realm of creative professions, we are blessed to encounter what we may call ‘happy mistakes’.” Hoping to continue his documentations of Black Bike Week well into the future, he shows us how a photographer’s documentation of the present can aid a community’s flourishing well into the future.
GalleryNayquan Shuler: Kings Highway (Copyright © Nayquan Shuler, 2023)
Nayquan Shuler: Kings Highway (Copyright © Nayquan Shuler, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.