Guest post by Mark Kitaoka
I try to complete a personal project twice a year to stay sharp and exercise my creativity. I say ‘try’ because often my plans don’t happen due to client work. And as a small business if I don’t work, well I don’t eat so some year’s personal photo projects take a back seat to food. In the past I’ve focused on dance, as you can view on my Conceptual photo page. Tango and ballet have been my focus simply because I love the athleticism and art of dance. I have two long term projects which are currently in their fourth year;“Our Perceptions, Ourselves” and “A Book by Its Cover” which are yet to be released.
In each of these cases I have known the individuals well prior to the shoot, have interacted with them on a regular basis and have befriended each of them. And the photographic elements created illustrate beauty in what I classify as its common form. But for this particular project I wanted to step outside of my own comfort zone and focus the project on people I don’t really know at all. And to capture beauty in a way that some may view as ‘nontraditional’ yet I view as gorgeous in a very different way. Two elements from which I will never vary for personal projects are; my love of visual storytelling and my passion for the subject matter.
Yet unlike my previous projects where I have a passion for the subject matter the talent performs (dance), in this case the subject matter is something I’ve done, riding/racing motorized two wheel vehicles. A huge difference….no one should ever see me dance!
I was drawn to Luna Cycle because I was intrigued with a product they import called the Sur Ron Light Bee which is an electric dirt bike manufactured in China. Luna is the exclusive USA distributor for the Sur Ron. I ended up buying one primarily due to Jackson’s video review of the Sur Ron’s build quality on Luna’s site. I then began to roam through Eric’s site to see more about the company and his products. I became intrigued about Luna Cycle more than the Sur Ron.
I’ve had the privilege to get to know some of the people who I view as geniuses in their fields; Paul C Buff of PCB and Steve Jobs when he worked for NeXT after being canned from Apple. What struck me about Eric from his YouTube videos is he seemed to possess the same drive, passion and determination of those men. And just like those two, he seemed to be a bit odd, out of the norm, the kind of mind and personality it takes to move an industry out from what has always been accepted as what’s ‘right.’
So I wrote an email to Eric giving him my pitch for an editorial photo shoot on the dates I had available and waited…nada. So the day before the final first day of my availability I wrote to him once again. I stated that since I had not heard back from him and airline fares are terrible booking the day before I was not going to make the trip and proposed that we could do it another time if he was interested.
In a very short time thereafter he wrote back to me and apologized for not responding sooner. He offered to cover my flight and lodging costs if I could still make it down to his El Segundo location for the shoot. So I booked my flights for the very next day and off I went on this adventure.
Upon arriving at the Luna Cycle location I recognized the area based on the YouTube videos where the staff and Eric demonstrate the speed of the Sur Ron against other much larger gas bikes. I rang the Nest Video Doorbell and waited….nothing. Yet as soon as I started to walk away I heard the door open and there was Eric. Just as he looks on video, crazy hair, intense eyes and those famous pajama pants, the kind my own kids harangue me about if I leave the house wearing them. After explaining that I really had to pee (I was actually going to search for a place around the outside of his building where I could piss) he offered me a cup of coffee from his way above my pay grade expresso machine. And that’s where the fun started….
As I began to look around the one of two warehouse/factories he operates I was simply blown away at the scale of the building in which we were standing. I really had no concept of what it takes to build or assemble ebikes so it was all new to me. In the middle of what I will call his ebike building is a large sectional couch which Ashley (his business and life partner) told me is where ‘Eric and I hang out’ along with a product photo ‘studio’ where an ebike was placed among some constant lights and a backdrop screen Eric built.
Eric explained to me that his first career was as a chess teacher and that he himself is a Chess Master. He went over his philosophy that ‘talent’ is not what he considers to be the key element in creating exceptional people, but rather hard work separates the wheat from the chaff. I agree with his theory since I’ve known a ton of ‘talented’ people who, because of a lack of effort let their skills go to waste. It was then I realized that just like my experience talking with Paul or Steve, Eric is EASILY distracted. Think “SQUIRREL!” and you’ll get the picture. Although I don’t classify him in the same category as these men, my friend David who is the Principal Horn for the Berlin Philharmonic is also easily distracted. We just call David Squirrel! LOL. I just think it’s the nature of the beast for people of this caliber, or so it seems to me. One of the staff members came over to ask Eric a question and I took that opportunity to fade away to meet other members of his team.
The first man I spoke with was Kyle, another person I recognized from the Luna YouTube videos. I was struck by how tall he is, well over six feet. I say this because as I saw both he and Jackson (who I met later but only briefly) sitting on the Sur Rons and it didn’t appear as tiny as it actually is in real life….odd. He’s responsible for quite a bit of the ebike assembly and testing of the Luna Cycle line. Prior to working at Luna he worked for Specialized and some other bike makers in the Bay Area. One hell of a nice guy who’s also very intelligent, he was a joy to speak with and get to know.
Then there is the logistics area where bikes/parts are prepared for shipment. It was one of my favorite places to shoot while I was there. I was so happy to use my SaberStrip v2.0 for these shots. If it weren’t for that modifier combined with the AD200 it would have been a real bitch to light!
Augustin who is the company’s do it all handyman!
Their kids were hanging out with mom so I had to do a family shot!
“Cut the shit with those fake photo smiles girl! Give me some love!”
Yeah now that’s the kinda smile I like.
She only looks serious….in real life she’s a pure peach….and she likes photography!
And then of course there’s Smudge Ball the company’s mascot. He was closely guarding the batteries!
Venturing across the parking lot to Luna’s other building felt I was going into a whole different world. This is where the actual manufacturing of the batteries and other hardware is conducted. The piece of equipment I was completely enchanted by is their laser cutter. It is massive and occupied a room just by itself and rightfully so. While I was there Eric and his team were cutting ½ inch stainless steel as if it were warm butter cut by a hot knife. This is where I had the opportunity to roam around and find little gems of discarded or in process parts I lit with the AD200 with the Fresnel head attached. And for me this is where the true beauty of a factory lives. “Seeing” through light is wonderful. Even more so that it is in and around epic light….a laser!
Eric kept asking me about the AD200s I was using.
Shoving an AD200 in these to light them from the inside out was fun.
The master as he operates his laser.
Showing Eric Mark’s “Photo Voodoo” where he watches the image fly through the air to my iPad from my 1DXII
The battery room
One of the interesting parts of this trip was discovering that Eric and Ashley share a very similar life path as I do with my partner Tracy. We both work in the very same industry, work together and live together. I don’t know many other (none actually) couples who can share time 24/7 without a homicide occuring! Oh sure just like me and T, Eric and Ash have ‘their moments.’ It just would not be natural to not, now would it? I consider them the Ying to my Yang. An older white guy with a young Asian gal versus an older Asian guy with a young white gal! Hahahahahaha!!!!!
And finally it would not be a Mark project without portraits.
Eric relaxing in his office playing chess on his PC.
What I discovered during this project is Eric has created a segment in the ebike market that has the potential to turn the market upside-down. Because of Eric’s innovation and ability to execute ideas into actionable forward thinking products he may become the leader in the market. I simply say ‘may’ because there are many other factors which come into play, as Steve or Paul can attest. Unlike Apple and their widely accepted consumer products, the ebike market is not a segment every person will want to join, it is a more specific market like Paul’s lighting segment. But just as Steve created the iPhone and Paul the monolight, Eric has the capability to create a never before seen ‘thing’ in the ebike market that we could not imagine, but afterward cannot imagine living without. Sounds familiar eh?
But in my mind the raw elements are there, an innovative mind, irreverence for the ‘norm’ and a work ethic like most can only imagine. I wish Luna the best and feel lucky to have been given a glimpse into his world.
UPDATE August 11 2018
I wasn’t always a commercial photographer. Prior to this wonderful life I was a ‘suit’ a corporate guy in several different industries. Energy, broking, retail, software and entertainment were the majority of my career areas. Yes unlike most I switched industries rather than just positions because I became bored…LOL. But what was common to all of those industries for me was the marketing and PR portions. Every company from the Fortune 100 one I worked for to the smaller ones spent loads of funds on marketing. My positions included being a loading dock forklift driver to the COO of a Fortune 100 company.
So I’m always suspicious of marketing hype. I know firsthand its purpose, to bring in more revenue through increased sales or new customers; or both! So when I read that Eric from Luna Cycle was touting taking care of early adopters who would buy the Sur Ron, I thought to myself “OK another marketing ploy, but good for him.”
I was happily proved so WRONG about Eric’s early adopter promise. He recently released a limited supply of X Controllers for the Sur Ron which was reviewed by Matt Richards. The controller offers many benefits like regenerative braking and charging, increased performance, etc. I respect Matt much like I respect John Holmes (no not THAT one!) and Jackson who have all produced Sur Ron videos. I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog that Jackson’s video of the teardown of the Sur Ron is what pushed me over the edge to get out my credit card and buy a Sur Ron.
Most people who follow my photography blog know that I am an early adopter for lighting gear. NEVER has a company such as Godox supported us early adopters like Eric. All of my lighting gear is produced by Godox and I switched from a US based company I was loyal to for years. As a matter of fact, early adopters are seldom rewarded like Luna Cycle has done:
“Luna will also be announcing some exciting new upgrades which will only be available to people who buys their from us.” TRUE
“Luna customers who bought their Sur-Ron from us can trade in their old controllers for a $220 store credit. After you receive your new sine wave controller simply send your old one back to us and you will receive the credit.” TRUE
What I have experienced with Luna Cycle is that Eric is TRULY supporting the EV segment of this community. Not just with cute marketing slogans and bullshit, but with action. Sure like any new and growing company, especially in an emerging industry there are the same issues all growing companies experience. Supply chain issues, CS issues, employee issues, etc. I’m irritated by what I view as ‘entitlement attitudes’ by some, meaning trying to take a remarkable offer like an actual cash credit for turning in an old controller into ‘hey just take that 220.00 off of the 490.00 price right now’ kind of bullshit. How in the world does anyone expect any company to make a profit off of an already discounted product? Oh perhaps they’ve never owned their own business or been responsible for a company P&L, yeah that must be it. I hear the same shit from photographers when a company makes an incredible advancement in a product. “Oh I’d buy it if you had just made it microwave my gluten free food and also built a washing machine into the strobe that it would do and fold my laundry like my mommy. And have the whole thing weigh less than a pound. I don’t see why you couldn’t do that!”
My bottom line; I will continue to support Luna for as long as I see their business practices and incredible foresight into products elevate the EV industry. And support the honor in which they treat their customers. Why? Because I have never seen or experienced their type of ‘Marketing.’ Amen