The Motorcycle Portraits is a project by photographer/filmmaker David Goldman, who travels the world making documentaries, and takes time out to interview interesting people in the motorcycle scene, wherever he might be.  The result is a single exemplary photo, a geolocation of his subject, and a transcribed interview.  The audio of his interviews can be found on The Motorcycle Portraits website.

The following Motorcycle Portraits session is with J Shia, whose work and motorcycle customization shop Madhouse Motors has been featured everywhere from BikeExif to The New York Times.  Her style is distinctive, a bricolage approach mixing rustic parts between brands or even functions.  She’s also an icon of gender queer folks in the motorcycle community and beyond, sharing plain-spoken posts about raising her son with her girlfriend, the bonds they share, her struggles as a business person, and her mixed Lebanese/Syrian heritage.  J Shia is a true individual, and unique in many ways in the contemporary custom motorcycle scene.  David Goldman interviewed her for a Motorcycle Portrait:

J Shia of Madhouse Motors captured by David Goldman

Tell us about yourself:

My name is J Shia. I own Madhouse Motors in Boston Mass where we specialize in antique restoration, custom builds general maintenance and fabrication. We’ve been in business for 11 years.

How did you first get interested in motorcycles:

It’s funny because I don’t really have a first experience or first memory with motorcycles because they were always around, I grew up with them being as normalized as having a bicycle or a car, around the house or in the yard. So I was I was a kid, motorcycles were just an item that was scattered about in my family’s house, where at one point, my father went on a vintage messed up old motorcycle collecting spree and had around 70 motorcycles scattered throughout the backyard. And so growing up they were always there. It was just a very normal thing for me to be around. 

J Shia’s grandmother Mounira Shia from Zahlé, Lebanon, on a 1930s Peugeot. “My grandmother was a quite a tomboy and an outgoing woman for her time. Most of the men in my family were metalworkers or mechanics,” [J Shia]

Tell me a story that could not have happened without motorcycles in your life:

I don’t know if I have a good story about motorcycles, specifically down to one moment or one story, but motorcycles in general, are what I credit for having met and created a lot of my friendships here at the shop. And so the stories that have kind of revolved around that, in the people I’ve met have been rooted in motorcycles, motorcycle culture in general. So some of my life memories that I have with my friends are at the core, started and triggered by motorcycles themselves. 

What do motorcycles mean to you:

What motorcycles mean to me is kind of forever changing. They used to mean a mode of transportation than they used to mean, you know, adrenaline rushes and racing and speed, then they turn into a way of paying my bills. And now I’m viewing motorcycles more as a creative outlet for me to express myself and my artistic interest and to use the motorcycle as a platform to create and design and make art playfully while still being around the machines that I’m so familiar with.

For more  Motorcycle Portraits on The Vintagent, click here.


David Goldman is photographer and filmmaker who has traveled the world on projects documenting human trafficking, maternal health and marginalized people. He also interviews and photographs motorcyclists in this travels for his series The Motorcycle Portraits. You can follow his website here, his IG here, and his FB here. Explore all his stories for The Vintagent here.
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