Following on from his Dirty Jerseys book, legendary snapper Geoff Waugh has launched an iBook about the best custom helmets in the form of Dirty Lids.
Pete had a chat with the OG (Original Geezer) Geoff Waugh about his iBook project Dirty Lids, where he’s documented his favourite pro rider custom helmets from the annals of MTB history.
If you don’t know who Geoff Waugh is, get up to speed with our interview with the man himself here.
Who is Geoff Waugh?
A basement-dwelling one man band. Still trying to take my best ever picture.
How did Dirty Lids come about?
It came off the back of the Dirty Jerseys project, the long-time-coming book I am making about MTB clothing. As andy freelancer knows, we have to constantly invent and reinvent so I am always searching inside and outside my head for ideas. They could be new ideas or re-worked stuff.
The helmets idea actually came from a thought put into my head by a guy on Facebook who liked the Steve Peat ‘Last Orders’ posters I made and wanted one of all of Peaty’s Troy Lee Designs’ painted helmets. Not a bad idea but great for an uber fan only really, so I thought take the project further; how about every custom lid I can get my sweaty hands on? The seed grew from there. I bought a small light tent, learned a bit about cutting out objects in Photoshop and bingo. I was out of the traps and off.
Why do you think people are fascinated by custom helmets?
Because they are Pro. Everyone would like one. I would like one. (Actually, I do have a custom painted Troy Lee Edge helmet from 1994 done by Jason Fowler Designs in Suffolk). A custom helmet is a statement. It elevates the owner over and above the rest. It either says ‘I am a Pro rider’ or it says “I’ve got cash!’.
When we buy a bike one of the first things we do is to change some bits to make it our own, to add our fingerprint. We want to be different, unique and a painted lid is one way of going about it. Obviously, as a pro it will be another space to add sponsor’s logos. But this can be a pain.
I have Rob Warner’s ‘God Save the Queen’ Giro Mad Max from the late 1990s and the branding is minimal; it is about the artwork. But once the big brands came in things changed. Red Bull and Monster have very strict rules on the placement and size of their logos and that restricts the painter. They are forced to work around the placement. And they do an amazing job that cannot be denied, but If it were me I’d be aching to have a full size canvas to work on.
There are a lot of Red Bull and Monster helmets on the current World Cup circuit so I had to be careful spacing them in the book. Because Red Bull has very familiar colours, the reader may think it is the same as the last one and flip the page without looking longer at the artwork that is definitely there.
Look at the amazing heraldic fleur de lys on Loic Bruni’s lid. Or the ferns on Brook MacDonald’s lid. (Still want that one Brook…). Monster-backed riders’ helmets seem to be predominantly black with the green logos so any extra colour on there is a bonus
In many respects, the late 1990s and early 00s was when we saw the most creative painting period because there were fewer corporate rules. I have images of Tim Ponting’s Bell Bellistic lid from ’99 and it looks wicked. Gold flake along the top, gold flake for the rider name and Playstation logos. Some of the current riders were tickled to see that logo when I showed them the pix, but veteran UK riders will remember the big Animal truck with the Playstations set up for use.
The flipside is some of the stock helmets actually look custom. Loris Vergier’s Fox or Charlie Harrison’s Troy Lee for example. As great a rider as they both are, I couldn’t use the pictures because the book title says ‘custom’. Same goes for some of the Greengrass helmets.
How many helmets did you shoot and how do you go about acquiring them?
Some were shipped to me, I travelled to collect some, but most were shot on location at the World Cup in Fort William last year. I rented a motorhome and drove up early. I used the home as a studio until I got moved on out to the official parking. After that I set up outside the gondola and ambushed the racers as they went up for practice. I guess I photographed about 50 helmets, but I haven’t used them all in the eBook.
Once I started this project I got advice from all quarters and some of it was actually quite useful! In that respect, the work is open ended. I can add helmets as and when I get them and extend the eBook pagination or save them for a print book.
What’s your favourite lid you’ve shot and why?
Easy. Martin Ashton’s POC. The art is hand drawn in Sharpie by Iain Macarthur and it is visually fantastic. Why else? Well, just because it is Martin’s.
Runner up must be GT mechanic Mark Maurissens’ Bell helmet which is wrapped to look like his favourite beer, Duvel. It’s a sparkler!
Is there a lid in the collection that might not be in the top three but has a ridiculous story behind it?
Not especially, but when I was at the Fort I spotted rider wearing a cool-looking Bell helmet and gave him a shout. It was Lachlan Blair and the helmet was ‘brilliantly’ hand painted. A bit like when he see a hand painted car, get the idea? It was a Full 9 Tagger Scrub and I think some of the logos had been painted out or whatever. I may still put that one in the book.
Is there a Holy Grail lid you’re chasing or would kill to get your hands on for Dirty Lids?
Although I have Warner’s God Save the Queen helmet in the bag, I remember taking a pic of him at Fort Bill wearing a pink and yellow ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ style lid. I loved it. I grew up through punk and that Jamie Reid design is now deep seated in our culture. Want to look edgy? Use pink and yellow! Even edgier? Try ransom note lettering. I think Rob still has that helmet so the trail is still live.
Pretty soon after I photographed Bruni’s helmets he posted a pic on Insta of his latest lids and they are spanking gorgeous (he does have the midas touch) all gold flake and stuff. I’d like to get my mitts on those. Also Shaun Palmer’s Troy Lee he wore at the Swatch race in Plymouth around 2000. I put a photo I took of him wearing it in the book intro.
Then I have to decide if I want to keep the contents all full face or add some open face helmets. Personally, I like the full face lids which have more real estate for the airbrush, but what if John Tomac were to offer his Old Glory/bald eagle helmet? Or his Troy Lee feathers Bell Image? I’d be a mug to refuse.
Is there a certain lid that lends itself well to custom artwork?
Only the painter can answer that. They are all basically noggin-shaped but I’d guess the more clean panels they can use the better.
Can you think of a lid you would never have in your collection because it’s so awful?
As a helmet the first Met Parachute will never, ever appear. I never saw one painted and that’s for a reason. And that other one that made the rider look like they had mumps, or some nuts stored in their cheeks. Can’t remember the name but suffice to say it wasn’t a design classic.
After the Dirty Jerseys book, was the Dirty Lids book easier or harder?
Way easier. There is minimal text with the helmets, they speak for themselves. I had to source each jersey and track down and interview the owner and then write the story of each. Photography-wise, because I used a light tent I could shoot in most locations. With the jerseys, the location was very difficult to find and I used various places. There was more post production work with the helmets but that’s no big deal.
What made you want to go down the iBook route for Dirty Lids instead of a hard copy?
Because I had to get it out there. I have to get stuff out there. The computer is the conduit between me in my studio and the rest of the world. If I have something that needs showing then that’s what will happen. Some works, some doesn’t. And making an eBook is the easiest method for a creative I suppose. It is the first time I’ve ever done this and I found it pretty therapeutic designing the pages and cover etc.
Even though I am primarily a photographer, so I expect I’ll get shit from the graphic designers. Obviously, the costs are way lower than making a physical book but already people have been saying they want one. I get mixed messages; say you’re going to make a printed book and people say ‘can I get an eBook?’ and vice versa! That said, I think this would make a superb coffee table tome to dip in and out.
Where next for Geoff Waugh? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
I am considering a series of themed books. I have enough in the archives and it gives me a chance to air some images that have never seen the light of day and present them my own way.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
I’d like to thank the painters for their creative minds and the riders for their creative lines. Also Maynards for the mighty wine gum and Doctor Marten for the comfy oil-resistant Airwair sole.