Images, Records, Memories, Thoughts


A car's dualities. It is a symbol of individual freedom and mobility, yet at the same time a container where one can get trapped, an inconvenience in getting from point A to point B. It has changed the world and helped form civilization as we know it, while at the same time acting as a major contributor to greenhouse gases, which could quite possibly end civilization as we know it. Not only do individuals get trapped in automobiles, but the civilization itself is trapped in its dependence on the automobile. Although they were invented and in production long before, they rolled out en-masse from the Ford assembly lines one hundred years ago, in 1914.


"Clown in Impala" 1976  - ©Lucien Samaha - (click to enlarge)

I was mesmerized when at the age of 20 I first watched Guido Anselmi's nightmare about being trapped in a car. The year was 1978 and Fellini's protagonist, played by Marcello Mastroianni, had been reliving that recurrent nightmare innumerable times since 1963 in movie theaters and by then on VHS or Beta tapes, and occasionally on television.

Even though I had already taken my first photograph of someone in a car in 1976, of a clown going to work, little did I know then that it would be a recurring theme in my own work. I have always been fascinated by what I refer to as 'car culture.' I live in New York City and hardly ever use a car but rely mostly on walking, public transportation, and a bicycle to get around. For the last 20 years I have lived very close to the heavy and constant traffic of Canal Street, which I cross a few dozen times per week.

Canal Street, September 07, 2013. ©Lucien Samaha

In 1994, I quit my  job and decided to work at my home studio. My commute is about 7 seconds, and even then, I sometimes think I can be more productive, until I see masses of people spending so much time in their cars going from one place to another. The stretch from the Manhattan Bridge on one end of Canal Street to the New Jersey bound Holland Tunnel on the other can perhaps take 10 to 15 minutes to navigate, and that is only a fraction of the full commute. One sees faces of anxiety, of frustration, of impatience, of consternation, complacency, or resignation; and in some cases of an ability to enjoy the moment, however long it is, either singing along with songs on the radio, or conversing with fellow travelers, or simply gawking at the sights and sounds of a major commercial thoroughfare.


Although for this current project I have taken over three thousand photos of commuters, drivers, and their passengers, who all relive Guido's nightmare on a regular basis, the selection below emphasizes creatures that are "trapped"  not only in their mobile glass enclosures, but also in a dizzying array of reflections, graphics, and gigantic figures, not to mention their fellow travelers in huge imposing trucks and other exhaust spouting vehicles.


November 24, 2013. An opinion article in the New York Times today by Paul Salopek:

"Cocooned inside a bubble of loud noise and a tonnage of steel, members of the internal combustion tribe tend to adopt ownership of all consumable space. They roar too close. They squint with curiosity out of the privacy of their cars as if they themselves were invisible."

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All photographs ©2013 Lucien Samaha - All Rights Reserved.