Dented blue Chevy Impala parked on the street in Oakland
The path my photographic work has taken and this whole thing of my shooting old cars is difficult for me to understand. The thing is, i don’t really like cars that much. Well, that’s not completely true. I like the idea of cars, just not the reality. While i have threatened to buy an old ’63 Ranchero and drive around listening to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys really loud, I guess I’m too practical and environmentally conscious to actually do it.
And I am not really a “car guy” just like I am not really a “sports guy”. I’m not quite butch enough for that. I’ll be perfectly happy when cars no longer have internal combustion engines, don’t accelerate as quickly, and generally seem more like wussy cars than muscle cars. I’m fine with that.
But the idea of owning my first car again, a black ’69 Firebird with blah, blah, engine, and turbo-blah-blah transmission, and so on, just has an enduring allure. Old cool cars just are still cool to me.
When i reflect on this for more than three or four seconds, I start to worry that it’s really just the result of getting old. The maturation process. The way of nature. I am reminded of being in my 20’s and being into contemporary design and avant garde everything with a zeal akin to that expressed in the manifestos of the Italian Futurists. I saw older people, parents of friends, with “antique” furniture, and thought, “yuck. how could anyone stand to fill their house with this absolutely hideous stuff”. This might seem curious considering that even then I was getting into deco, which I thought of as closely related to modernism.
And it still holds. A Model T is not particularly interesting to me. Not to photograph, not to own, not to daydream about. A Chevy Impala like the one above, on the other hand, is incredibly sexy. Those fins are amazing, the curves, sublime.
Thus one question is, is my appreciation for mid-century design, vintage (or what gets called “retro” even if the object discussed is an original piece) cars, houses, diners, lamps, matchbooks, etc., perfectly analogous to my friend’s parents’ penchant for 19th century Colonial Revival? Yikes! Has the next generation moved on to the next tidal wave of futurism rising up to inundate the 20th century and its nostalgic devotees? Somehow, I can’t help thinking that design from generation to generation, it’s value, and the social patterns that allow for succession to take place, are not simply subjective. That some things are just better than what came before or after. That it’s not just my pathetic nostalgia for the icons of my childhood that leads me to value these objects more than those.
This little mid-life crisis has deflected me from the original question at hand: why cars? It doesn’t appear I’m much closer to answering this. There are number of candidate answers: since I like the idea of cars more than the reality of cars, taking pictures of them wholly satisfies my desires regarding them; or having accepted, even embraced, the demise of the car as we know it, photographing them serves as a way to honor and document the final days before their disappearance; or perhaps they are just easy to shoot–especially when one routinely crops off one end or the other–making for easy points on flickr; or perhaps all of the above. It’s hard to say…. I suppose before too long i will have found every cool car in and around Albany and I’ll have to figure out something else to get fixated on.