The Photography of Bill Ray


Images: Life Archive

The demise of proper photojournalism is an often told story these days.

And you can see the point. If you’ve got an iPhone 5S in your back pocket you have the sort of imaging power that would have been undreamt of in the 1960s, when Bill Ray documented Hells Angels with Gonzo practitioner and edge-dwelling scribe Hunter S Thompson. What’s more the ubiquity of social media gives a horde of mini shutterbugs the means of mass distribution, too. If we’re all photojournalists now, then photojournalism has ceased to exist.


But the ubiquity of the image doesn’t mean that the quality of that image and its storytelling potential has kept pace with the number of pixels or the size of the sensor.

Bill Ray was a proper photographer. He got up close and personal with his subjects and produced a body of work that will be around long after the hard-drives have deceased.


These images, from the Life Archive, are from the period when Hunter Thompson was researching his book on the rebel bike clubs of North America. Still working today Bill Ray was a staff photographer for Life magazine, based in New York, Beverly Hills, and Paris. From these bureaus he traveled the world covering major events, wars, and many of the key personalities that have defined each era from the sixties onward.

These images of bikers from the Life Archive are endlessly fascinating and strangely familiar.

Bill Ray was a proper photographer.