A penchant for Italian motorcycles: interview with Phil Aynsley

Ducati 250 Desmo, 1972

Phil Aynsley is an Australian photographer and a great fan of Italian motorcycles. The images for many of the articles published on “Italian Ways” about two-wheelers’ best brands and models come from his extensive archives. You can enjoy his work in its entirety on his website, Phil Aynsley Photography.

We had the pleasure of asking Phil Aynsley a few questions.

Let’s start with a short introduction. Please, tell us about yourself and your work.

Well I’ve just turned 60 and have lived most of my life in Sydney. After working in several different fields, in various parts of Australia, I spent 10 years working for Canon as a camera technician and later, service manager. As a result I got to meet many professional photographers and also hone my image taking skills at events such as the F1 and motorcycle races. After I left Canon I joined the photographic department of a major magazine company, and as a result spent the next 10 years shooting an amazing range of subjects. Everything from studio product photography to landscapes, portraits, house interiors, boats, cars, 4WDs and, of course, motorcycles. I went freelance in 2001 and while the bulk of my work is for lifestyle magazines I still manage to shoot the odd motorcycle!

Phil Aynsley sulla Ducati 250 Desmo, 1972

Phil Aynsley sulla Ducati 250 Desmo, 1972

When and how did your love for photography begin?
I started taking photographs (with my late father’s Zeiss) when I was 11.

And what about motorcycles?
During my last year in high school (1972) a friend bought a 1969 Ducati 350 Desmo. I was most impressed. I was already interested in Grand Prix racing so the “racy” heritage of the Ducati greatly appealed to me.

When did you discover your passion for Italian motorcycles in particular?
As above! I was able to buy my first motorcycle, a silver 1972 Ducati 250 Desmo, that year.

Anyone looking at your website can note a sharp preference for Ducati models, which you have photographed far more often than any other brand… even the British ones, some of which are very famous! After all, there has always been a certain degree of rivalry between Italy and the United Kingdom in this field. So what does the Bologna-based company have that is so fascinating in your eyes?
I was “indoctrinated” into the Ducati camp right from the first so there was never any desire to own anything else really. Ducati models were very modern compared to their British counterparts and their surefooted handling and torquey motors suited the local roads. During the 1970s, Australia was Ducati’s largest export market so there were far more on the road compared to any other Italian brand. I came to appreciate that Ducati’s heritage in precision manufacture (the Sogno camera and other optical products, the Duconta adding machine with its 1000+ parts, the 4-stroke Cucciolo – when the competition was nearly all 2-stroke) led to the Desmodromic valve mechanism that has become a Ducati trademark. And, of course, they have so much character! Also Ducati has had the sense to employ a number of rather talented Australian riders such as Troy Corser, Troy Bayliss, and Casey Stoner.

Phil Aynsley e la Ducati 750 Desmo Super Sport

Phil Aynsley e la Ducati 750 Desmo Super Sport

Why do you “prefer” Italian motorcycles over English ones?
Well, having only owned Ducatis I can’t really make any direct comparison! However Ducati (and most other Italian brands) have always been very “modern” in their engineering and outlook… not something that the majority of the English motorcycle industry could have been accused of in the decades following the 1970s. And again, it seems to me, almost every Italian bike, no matter how humble, has some sporting character. British bikes… not so much.

What other Italian brands than Ducati do you appreciate the most?
MV Agusta, Bimota, Laverda, Morini, Mondial, Moto Guzzi.

Which Italian models do you consider the most “outstanding” and “revolutionary” in the world history of motorcycles?
A difficult question! The Ducati Cucciolo, 350 Desmo and 916. The MV fours of the 1970s. The Morini 350 V-twin. The Laverda V-6. Almost any Moto Guzzi!

Have you ever published books on Italian motorcycles?
I published “Ducati. A Photographic Tribute” in 2009. Very few copies were available outside of Australia and it sold out within 18 months. Volume Two (with all new material) will be on sale before September this year. An “Italian Racing Motorcycles” book is planned to follow. In addition, my images have appeared in many books by other authors, and in numerous magazines around the world.

Can you tell us more about how you work? I suppose you travel a lot…
Firstly, I am greatly indebted to all the owners and collectors who make their motorcycles available to me! Without them I wouldn’t have much to put in front of my camera. I do travel a fair bit, both around Australia and usually once a year overseas. It’s not easy to organize an itinerary to photograph perhaps 50 bikes in 10 locations in 3 or 4 countries across several continents – all in 3 weeks! I always travel with my “studio” of grey backdrop and lights. Lighting a bike is the best way to bring out the lines and shapes that reveal the bike’s character. At least I think so! On average I take 2-3 hours to photograph each bike. Once back home I’d spend about a day on the computer working on the images for each bike.

Il libro di Phil Aynsley "Ducati. A photographic tribute" (ANP Press)

Il libro di Phil Aynsley “Ducati. A photographic tribute” (ANP Press)

Do you have a favorite among Italian cars?
The early Lamborghinis.

Do you collect motorcycles?
No. I’ve always sold one when buying the next. Not that I’ve had many: a 1972 250 Desmo, a 1974 450 R/T, a 1977 750SS, and two 1975 860GTE.

You have published photographs of Italian cities on your website as well. What is your relationship with Italy? Do you come to visit often? Which are your favorite places in Italy? What aspects of Italian traditions and culture do you feel the most passionate about?
I’ve been lucky to have been able to visit Italy fairly often – first in 1990, then 2000, then nearly every year since 2007. It is certainly my favorite country outside of Australia! There isn’t anywhere I don’t enjoy but Venice, Bologna and the Dolomites region are my favorites. I have made some great friends there and have found the people to be most friendly and hospitable… perhaps it helps that most of the people I meet are fellow Italian bike enthusiasts! I think the part of Italian culture I enjoy the most is their enthusiasm for life – in particular for food and wine! Also their craftsmanship.

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Ducati Cruiser 175, 1952

Ducati Cruiser 175, 1952

Guzzi 250 Compressore, 1938

Guzzi 250 Compressore, 1938

MV Agusta 500-6C GP, 1956

MV Agusta 500-6C GP, 1956

Photos via:

March 4, 2015