Images, Records, Memories, Thoughts

American Big Car - 1982-1999

November 22, 2013

Why the Car(s)?

I’ve recently been combing my archive for photographs of cars, both intentional and ones where the cars happen to be in the frame, and needless to say, I have found thousands. So why so many?

It is not because I initially fetishized cars; but like anyone who might see a vintage car, or one that is simply a wonder of design or rather a product of pure ostentation, I reacted by taking a photograph of it. For me, one of the addictions of photography is the ability to own an image of something one can’t really own, either as a single object, or in the case of thousands, a collection. And once a small collection starts to exist, it demands to become a large collection. Fortunately that is the psychology of art collectors whether they know it or not.

On the other hand, when my collection of photographs of cars started to grow, about four decades ago, there was, at least in my mind then, no idea that photography was emerging as an art form to be exhibited, much less collected. My only exposure to photography was in magazines and books, and I dreamed of having my work in both. The real reason I started photographing cars was because I hated them as a photographer. They were always in the way of a great landscape or an urban setting. They disturbed an otherwise magnificent composition, or worse, came into the frame just as a “decisive moment” of something else was about to happen. They were a nuisance.

Like so many other themes in my photographic work, I confronted my devils and took the bull by the horn, cliches and puns intended. I took the challenge to not only accept the car as a fact of “street photography”, but rather as an imperative if unavoidable element in the contemporary composition. Eventually in fact, it indeed became a fetishized object, either as a centerpiece or as a supporting role, the McGuffin in a larger scenario.

Cars have liberated us and gave us access to a wider domain, but at the same time they have been major contributors to our eventual destruction. A duality that many might consider sexy. I think it’s time to re-evaluate.

The following selection consists of photographs of big American cars, those from a particular era; one that coincides with my favorite era of American photography.