Wanderlust and contentment seldom go hand-in-hand, but somehow Yve Assad manages to exude both qualities in ample measure. She wears the mantle of new mother with a reserved joy that speaks volumes of how madly in love she is with her family, even if she is a little tired. Yet when the conversation turns to motorcycles, travel, and the sentimental connection to her 1976 BMW R 90/6, another special part of her soul bubbles to the surface.
It’s right there in Assad’s photography. Her work covers myriad genres, yet there’s a common thread woven through all of it: everything she captures is imbued with a sense of adventure, a subtle urgency that compels you to go beyond the next horizon. Assad’s propensity for storytelling through photography is so deeply ingrained that it’s uncertain whether it’s deliberate or automatic.
She credits her upbringing. A child of a military father, Assad, who now resides in Nashville, was born in Monterey, California, but moved to Georgia at the age of three. Her dad had a Nikon camera and would shoot with slide film, and he had an old Land Cruiser. Frequent road trips and weekly slideshows were a staple in the Assad household, and even if Yve was too young to remember some of those trips, she relived them over and over again through her father’s photographs.
“Seeing those pictures of the West definitely informed my wanderlust, and my desire to travel and see exciting new places,” she says, “because it was so different-looking to what we had in the Southeast. I had always wanted to drive since I was five years old. I begged to drive. I loved being in the car.”
“And so travel has definitely been a big muse for my photography. Even with commercial projects I like to incorporate some travel aspect, or the idea of being on the road.”
By around the 11th grade, Assad had casually started picking up her father’s camera and taking photos. By the time university rolled around, her long-standing plan to study chemistry gave way to a photojournalism major. Then she discovered the immersive documentary work of Danny Lyon, and his groundbreaking 1968 book, The Bikeriders.
“When I saw Danny Lyon’s work for the first time, it was so impactful because it was just a different subculture than I’ve ever seen before,” Assad explains. “Motorcycles were a part of my life growing up, but when I saw that, I was just magnetized to it. I did my senior project in photojournalism school on biker culture, and I didn’t even ride at that time.”
From that root, Assad’s path to motorcycling was set. Years later she met her husband, a motorcyclist and MotoGP enthusiast, who took her to the Indy Mile and the MotoGP race at Indianapolis. A couple of years down the line, Assad was living in Chicago and shooting flat track racing on a regular basis, while also growing tired of riding on the back of her partner’s bike. So she got her motorcycle license and went on the hunt for a ride of her own.
A visit to the International Design Museum in Munich years prior had planted a seed in Assad’s heart. The museum had a number of 1920s BMWs on display at the time, and the vintage R 47 had stopped her dead in her tracks. She’d felt a pull towards vintage BMW boxers ever since. So when it came time to get her own bike, she was predisposed to Bavarian metal. But her partner was way ahead of her.
“When Will, my husband, proposed to me, he actually proposed to me with a 1976 BMW R 90/6,” she tells us. “That was my engagement ring. He was working at Motoworks in Chicago, and I had seen this R 90/6 there. It was in impeccable shape—but they said that it had sold, and I was so bummed. It turned out Will had bought it to propose to me.”
That the R 90 is basically a two-wheeled engagement ring is one reason that Assad can never part with it. The other is that she’s created so many memories on it, that it’s become a part of her, even earning the nickname ‘The Frau.’ Even though she’s added a second motorcycle to her garage since — one that’s newer, faster, and more polished—the R 90 is her old faithful. It’s the one that’ll never let her down, and the one that still gives her goosebumps every time she thinks about riding it.
Since getting the R 90, Assad has traveled far and wide on it, including a 5,000-mile journey from Nashville to Novia Scotia. “Literally, the only thing that broke on that trip was the speedometer,” she laughs. “It’s like a Led Zeppelin album—it’s just good the way it is. You don’t have to do anything to it. One volume, done, just put gas in it and you go. It’s ready.”
“I’ve felt on occasion like, oh, it’d be so cool to have this other bike, or maybe put a different seat on it, or maybe even repaint the tank, or whatever. But the imperfections are perfect on it. I love that there is a tiny little scratch from my jacket, and I know exactly when that happened. It happened on my trip to Nova Scotia.”
“One of my taillights has always been at 70 degrees, and I’ve tried taping it, I’ve tried to do all the band-aid things to fix it. But it’s cute to me. It tells a story, and I feel like I can share that with my daughter and it’ll be special.”
“If you repaint something or if you redo something, you’re getting rid of all of those stories. The patina speaks.”
Telling stories will always be central to Assad’s life, whether it’s the motorcycle she can never part with, or the photographs that she takes. She’s a conduit, immersing herself in different places and with different people, absorbing the moment, and transferring it into imagery to share with others. Like her motorcycle, her images tell stories. And like the multiple battle scars her old BMW boxer wears, the patina in her photographs speaks.