Note: I met Tim about two years ago. He knows his motorcycles, his ladies and his rock 'n roll--so he is a blast to hang out with. He is also a spectacular photographer and a mega-talented writer. You can find his work on artofthechopper.com
Tim Zimberoff is the author of two best-selling motorcycle books, Art of the Chopper and Art of the Chopper II. Zimberoff was born in Los Angeles and raised in Las Vegas. As proficient with a clarinet as with a camera, he succumbed to the lure of photography while studying music at the USC School of Performing Arts.
Zimberoff started his career in rock 'n roll photography, touring with The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, and Stephen Stills among others, Zimberoff then moved over to television and motion picture stills for advertising. After that he embarked on a career in photojournalism, spending several years in, among many other places, Central America working for Timeand other magazines as a member of the Sygma Photo Agency and, later, Gamma-Liaison. His photographs have appeared on the covers of Time, Fortune, Money, People, and numerous other magazines.
Zimberoff portraits are located in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, the Corcoran Gallery Of Art in Washington, DC, the Oakland Museum in California, the Los Angeles Public Library, the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art, the Canton Art Institute in Ohio, the Performing Arts Library & Museum in San Francisco, as well as various corporate collections and university libraries.
Most motorcycle enthusiasts with an appreciation for custom motorcycles and choppers have probably read more than once Art of the Chopper and/or Art of the Chopper II. Both are exceptional books featuring high-end photography by renowned portrait photographer/journalist/illustrator Tom Zimberoff.
Tom features some of the hottest custom bike builders in the world in these books. Each builder has a chapter that starts with a portrait photo of the artist and is followed by an editorial and then features color photos of the most amazing custom motorcycle chopper art on wheels you’ve ever experienced.
I was able to talk with Tom recently and in just minutes I could sense this man’ passion for motorcycles, art and photography.
Q: What are you working on currently Tom?
A: I’m still involved in the Art of the Chopper. I recently curated two chopper-related exhibitions in art museums, including one at the Presidential Library in Washington, DC. They featured 30 of the motorcycles in my book, along with my portraits of the motorcycle artists. In the near future, I plan on including 130 motorcycles in the next exhibition I curate. The plan is to start the exhibition in Asia, tour through Europe and then bring it to the U.S. to exhibit in probably three museums. We don’t have any dates set yet—so stay tuned.
Q: Tell us about the choppers you own.
A:I have one custom handmade gorgeous piece of art by Trevaline. In addition, I have a customized Harley and the beautiful bike that was featured on the cover of Art of the Chopper II. I have been riding motorcycles for 38 years. I started with a Honda 175 when I was around 12. One of my earliest photographic clients was Yamaha Motorsports and they sent me all over the country to photograph motor cross back in the early ‘70s and I was shooting Kenny Roberts for several years for Yamaha.
Q: What was the genesis of these amazing books?
A: I wrote an article about photography called Focus on Profit and it is now a major textbook being used in a lot of photography classes in colleges. So, I knew I could string along some sentences and do fairly well. So, I asked myself—what do I love to write about? And my love of motorcycles came to mind immediately, so I was wondering, what can I do with bikes? I thought, I can take photographs and I can write, so I pitched a couple of publishers about a book about motorcycles, and I got a deal pretty fast. The first Art of the Chopper sold 130,000 copies, so it was a best seller. Then, we did the second book and the rest is history.
Q: You were searching for something that had never been written about motorcycles as art before?
A: Exactly. Every article I was reading around that time said things like how much the bike cost; who owned it; how cool the owner was; what parts were on the bike and blah blah blah, with very little if anything written about the people who actually made the bike. And there’s often very little information ever listed about why is one motorcycle vs. another one and why is one considered a work of art? I wanted to put it upon myself to explain to the public the differences between art and what is considered just a nice bike, so I put on my self-anointed curator’s crown and decided to curate motorcycles the same way art is curated. In 1998, I was inspired by the wonderful motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim, called the Art of Motorcycles. It was a phenomenal exhibition and to this day it is the most successful of its kind in the history of the museum. It still remains up there with the King Tut exhibition, drawing 3 million people at four different venues. It had a lot of bikes in the exhibition, but not one that could be considered a chopper. The creators of those bikes were not credited either, which I believe was a horrid oversight, an absolute tragedy. I realized that this collection of motorcycles was there to illustrate the evolution of 20th Century industrial design, yet not one of them was a one-of-a-kind bike. They were all assembly line products for commercial sale, so I decided to recognize the artists who design one-of-a-kind bikes that are built for the sake of art.
Q: What is the role of the Harley Davidson Company when you look at motorcycles as art?
A:Pretty much every motorcycle out there has some DNA from Harley in its design and construction. You can’t avoid it. They’re the innovator and the trendsetter, so every bike I’ve seen has more than one Harley influence incorporated in every art bike in one form or another.
Q: How can we buy either of your books?
A: Art of the Chopper and Art of the Chopper II are out of print, but you can find used copies on eBay and Amazon primarily. The first of two volumes of Art of the Chopper was published in October 2003. Art of the Chopper II was published in October 2006.
For more of my Harley-related stories and exclusive interviews, take a ride on HoggTrader