Photo Essay: Mush Emmons

Step back in time with these fantastic images from one of the CW roadrace shooters in the 1970s.

1983 Mush, Alba and their Norton motorcycle

Funny the people you bump into on Facebook. The name Mush Emmons popped up in a comment a couple of weeks ago and sounded really familiar. Oh yeah, that's because the CW archives are packed with Mush's photography from American roadracing during the '70s, the most famous shot of which has to be Steve McLaughlin's BMW flying inverted over Laguna Seca. Even cooler, now that we're mature enough to value human relationships over crashing motorcycles, are these photos Mush took of himself, wife Alba Vasconcelos and their Norton Commando. Mush sold his Yamaha RD350 production racer 35 years ago to buy the Commando ($1350 used), which he rode religiously on San Francisco's infamous Sunday Morning Ride, until he moved to Brazil in 1985. The Norton stayed behind in SF, though, and stands by ready to serve whenever he's in town. The original self-portrait was shot in 1983, the latter in 2010 at the end of the Moto Melee—which Mush rode two-up with Alba. Mush isn't sure how many miles are on the bike now, but it took him cross-country to New York and back in 1981, and again 31 years later, last summer. Emmons, 59 years old, now runs Jaguatirica Cinema e Fotografia in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where he's taken on a more supervisory role than he did as a 22-year-old motorcycle nut racing and shooting. Happy Anniversary, Mush, Alba, and Norton.

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1983 Mush, Alba and the Norton

The woman with me in the Norton photos is the Brazilian photographer and artist Alba Vasconcelos. We met in her hometown of Salvador, Bahia, in 1983. In the ?50s, Alba's father had a 250cc BSA, then an Indian Chief. She joined me in Mill Valley, California, my hometown, where we worked for a couple of years, always photography. In 1985 we married and, at 32, I left my studio in Sausalito and adventured to South America.

2010 Mush, Alba and the same Norton

Me, Alba and the same Norton 27 years later, at the end of the 2010 San Francisco Bay area Moto Melee; that?s 1100 miles in three days of northern California twisties from SF north to Red Bluff, out to the coast and Fort Bragg, then back to SF. Normally the Melee is for 1970 and older machines, but there are exceptions. Alba and I rode it two-up, of course.

Skip Aksland winning Laguna Seca, Corkscrew, 1977.

Reg Pridmore crash

1978: Always stylish, two-time Superbike Champion Reg Pridmore in Turn 11 at Sears Point. Reg commissioned me to print flyers with this photo, and with a wink he told everyone he saved it.

Tetons and me

1981: The Grand Tetons in Wyoming, on the last third of my 1981 solo ride from SF to New York and back. At this point, I was convinced the bike was a trustworthy steed. Actually, I never had doubts. Everyone else did though.

Mush Emmons at Sears Point

1975: A photo of me shooting at Sears Point. At the time, I was running in 350 Production on an RD, paying my entry fees with posters I did to promote the AFM races. This allowed me to schedule my own race for the beginning of the day, freeing me up to shoot the other classes until the free-for-all at the end of the day, when I?d put my helmet back on and race again. Nearly my entire program was based on trade-in services with a variety of racer/clients. Fun times. Not too many spectators, though. The camera is a Nikon F, no meter, with a 200mm Nikkor F4 lens. Later, I bought a used Nikon F with motordrive (3 fps!) and I went to town with that in 1976. The flipped BMW photo was the second of three motor-driven frames, just before my bulk-loaded Plus-X roll finished.

1976: Probably my most famous shot. Steve McLaughlin?s BMW wishes he?d settled for 2nd that day at Laguna.

KR and Jr. Ontario 1975

Kenny Roberts with his young wife Patty and 2-year-old Kenny Lee Jr., after KR won the 1975 Ontario 200. In 2001, when Junior got married, Mert and June Lawwill came by the studio to order a print as a wedding present for the newlyweds. No one had seen this unpublished photo before. When it was unwrapped, a very moved Patty said it was the only one she knew of that caught them together in the Winner's Circle. Young Junior was already fascinated by the bubbly.

Erv Kanemoto digging into a Kawasaki, 1976.

Cycle clipping of Mush Emmons' Nixon race shot