A Man Worth a Million Words
Words by Russ Koza
I’ve been checking my watch every couple of minutes for more than an hour now. We’re on location, ready to begin another photo shoot, but one thing is missing: our photographer. Suddenly, I see it. Barreling down the road in our direction is The Boogie Van. Behind a miniature Eiffel Tower sitting atop the dashboard, our lensman, Dimitri Coste, steadfastly navigates behind the wheel.
The Boogie, or Le Boogie, is a late-’80s full-size Dodge van that Coste has used to transport everything he needs to work and exist when he’s staying in Southern California. The van is Coste’s transportation, sometimes his home, and very much a symbol of his love for American culture and the SoCal lifestyle. It’s not unusual for Coste to fly from Paris to LAX, take a cab to the closest In-N-Out, and then hitch a ride two hours south to San Diego, where The Boogie is usually parked, before he’d ever think of renting a car. The Boogie has been the mode of transportation for Coste’s treasure chest of photo equipment, motorcycles, and even some of the most beautiful models the world has to offer. As it sits now, with the usual assortment of crumpled burger wrappers, empty packs of Marlboros, and photo equipment propping up his prized 1967 Triumph, Le Boogie is exactly the type of vessel that a guy like Coste should be captaining.
After the usual greeting of high-fives, hugs, and “Where the fuck have you been?” it’s time to get to work. But we’re not in the clear yet; there’s always that period of time before the camera starts clicking that Coste takes a few minutes to formulate his plan for the shoot and get in the proverbial zone. As everyone is arranging the final placement of lighting, battery packs, and the set, Coste will often disappear off to the side somewhere. I’ll find him sitting quietly with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, playing out the shoot in his head and finding that creative flow. Although we’re way behind schedule, I’ve learned over the years to leave him alone during this time. It used to stress me out, as I would think, “Why is he just sitting there smoking when we’ve got so much to get done today?”
But people as creative as Coste don’t function in the same manner that normal people function; they do things differently. This alternative way of operating may not seem to be the most professional by regular standards, but Coste is one of the most creative and talented photographers out there, so it’s best to let him work the way that he wants to work.
It may seem like Coste is some sort of vagabond living out of his van, but he makes his permanent home in Paris. His home, known by his friends as Le Cherry Palace, is where Coste spends time with his family. France is where Coste grew up, and where his lifelong love for motorcycles began.
Motorcycles have been a part of Coste’s life since his days in elementary school (or l’école matternelle, as it is known in France). At the time, his father, Didier, was working at French motorcycle and BMX publications such as Moto-Verte and Bicross. Coste was thrown headfirst into two-wheel culture, and he loved it. It was then, too, that his passion for photography sprouted from his love of moto.
“When I was 4 or 5, I used to spend a lot of time looking through those mags, and since I couldn’t read yet, I studied the images,” Coste explains. “The riding positions and the gnarly actions, because I found it to be so beautiful, and of course racing gear, helmets, paint jobs, stickers, and color combos.”
Like most in the motorcycle industry, Didier Coste wasn’t working at the magazines for a simple paycheck. He went to work each day because he had a passion for the sport, a passion that consumed him. It was a passion that stuck with him beyond the nine-to-five life and into the weekends: on any Sunday, one could find Monsieur Coste at the racetrack, and every chance he got, Dimitri and his older brother, Jérôme, were right there alongside him. His father’s all-consuming love for the sport—and, more importantly, his job—left an impression on Coste that helped mold his personality into what it is today.
“Seeing [my father] enjoying being a journalist—traveling, riding, and covering great races like the Paris-Dakar—indirectly taught me that you can enjoy working and find a good balance between work and pleasure, and make work a pleasure,” he says.
Coste grew up at the races with his family and quickly became a racer himself. Today, he is following in his father’s footsteps, spending his weekends riding dirt bikes with his son, Zephyr, and watching daughter Paz rip up the French BMX tracks. Following the example set by his father, Coste only encourages his children to pursue their passions, be they art or motorcycles. “I never push them,” he says. “My philosophy is that sports like motocross, BMX, or skateboarding need to come with a strong personal desire or need. At some point, I guess just witnessing how much pleasure I got from those sports made them want to try.”
Growing up alongside an artistic older brother, Coste tapped into his own creative side and began taking photos during downtime at the motorcycle races. Understanding the art of racing a motorcycle, and having the tools to communicate that understanding, put Coste in a unique position.
“Photography helped me grow my involvement in moto,” he says. “I was making a living by shooting catalogs, album covers, ads, and stories or reports for magazines, but I always kept a foot in my passions with a few clients in the moto or BMX industry.”
His work has since transcended far beyond motorcycling. As an influential creative talent, he’s teamed up with other notable tastemakers for numerous collaborations. His portfolio extends even further into the high-fashion industry and he’s filmed and edited some of the top music videos in France.
But his true passion, along with photography, remains motorcycling. Any time he can tie together opportunities to do both, he’ll jump at the chance. The One Size Fits All (OSFA) project is a way for Coste to bridge the gap and bring his passions for motorcycles, photography, and design into one collective space. It’s a personal mission that he has sunk his heart and soul into, his own version of a race around the world.
“The concept is to race an almost-stock Triumph in all kinds of events, allowing myself to change only tires and handlebars depending on the type of racing,” he explains. “Since I’m a bad mechanic, I thought having a stock engine is the safest and most reliable choice. So I never have the perfect bike, but she can do it all and that’s all well enough for me.”
When the famous Catalina Grand Prix was revived in 2010, Coste quickly signed up and arranged to have his 1967 Triumph TR6C shipped over from France so he could race. Coste won his class at Catalina and followed that up by finishing the infamous Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado as part of his OSFA mission.
For a guy like Dimitri Coste, life is about passion and adventure. Jet-setting from one continent to another is just a day in the life for this photographer, shooting during the week so he can race during the weekend. The tattoo emblazoned across his chest says all that he needs to say: “Life is a rodeo.” Yee-haw.