(click images below to view slide show)
A holiday get-together this evening brought us together with my late cousin’s best friend and his family. I overheard Gina talking about one of the neighborhoods in which she lived as a child. I butted in, and upon further investigation we discovered that we lived near each other and even attended the same elementary school, Del Mar, for a few years until her family moved on. She lived in the apartments right behind the school on Glenn Ave, Casa del Mar. I spent many childhood and teenage years roaming and playing in these streets. A couple of years ago I was in the area and drove by on a whim just to see what it looked like these days, and I took a few quick shots while I was at it. I know it shouldn’t anymore, but that small-world-thing still pleasantly surprises me when it happens.
I recently changed the route of my bike commute to work. I was simply trying to get away from San Pablo Ave, which, while it is the straightest shot to my workplace, is also very bike-unfriendly. There are lots of cars, obstacles, freeway on/off ramps, and debris.
I decided that I would try to slide over to Hollis Ave through Emeryville, and this took me into west Oakland. The result is a new crop of photos, and some incubating ideas for future series.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Pontiac. Ever since word of its demise, I have been meaning to take a picture of the sign at the dealership on Auto Row in Oakland. I finally got around to it the other day. And while I was driving around looking for a place to park, I saw some other photo ops on the side streets. This old Plymouth was in beautiful shape. And as I just commented over on flickr, I have to admit I find it very sexy in a zaftig sort of way.
This is the final set of images I will have in a group photography show that opens Friday at Fingado Art Gallery. Nine is quite a few but the prints are not very big, just 12 inches square. I printed them at Dickerman Prints and had them mounted on aluminum at General Graphics, both in San Francisco. They came out very nice, and I’m pretty excited about it.
It has been an interesting project to try to print and prepare for presentation a small set of photographs. In a way, it seems easier than simply showing things on the web. I think the reason for this is that a physical show has, by its very nature, physical limitations and boundaries. A small set of images allows one to focus on them and the process of getting them where you want them to be. By contrast, putting things up on flickr or another such site is pretty much wide open in terms of numbers and organization. One can drown in a sea of possibilities.
This was my thought about what’s going on with this series of photos. The starting point is an exploration of color. Not color simpliciter, but as it relates to memory, history and the fictional narratives they constitute. The combination of color shifts and vintage subjects recall a generic past and, paradoxically, place the viewer within a fictitious historical narrative by playing upon her memories and nostalgic sensibilities. The deportation is paradoxical since taken literally, these narratives describe a logical impossibility. The images waver between recalling a past as it was, and a decayed, dissolving past as it comes to us. On one hand we are presented with something recalling a snapshot from the family drawer, a snapshot whose color as shifted over time, but whose referent we can conjure through memory as pristine. On the other hand, the subject is captured and presented not as it was in the past, but as it is now, in the present. It is the color, as it were, of the subject itself which has shifted over time rather than the photograph.
The other day I was reflecting on my habit of photographing old cars around my neighborhood. It’s curious, because I am not particularly into cars. But I am in a phase in which I’m enamored of old things, mostly mid-century things. Even this interest, however, suddenly struck me as making little sense. I thought of Heraclitus. There is a way of understanding time that goes back to something he said: “You cannot step into the same river twice, for all is change.” So, why become obsessed with the past? Perhaps the Italian Futurists had it right: tear it all down and rebuild culture with every new generation.
I started thinking about this metaphor of time flowing, of time as a river, and a powerful, inexorable one at that. The surface may be placid and peaceful, or raging and turbulent, just like the “the times”. But no matter the surface, the current beneath pushes everything out into the vast ocean of oblivion. The lesson behind this way of trying to understand time is that resistance is futile, that try as one might to hold on to something, to keep things the way they are, it is impossible. What now is, will be stripped away. Thus, it is better to accept change, to embrace it and push it forward.
It seems to me that the river metaphor turns on an idealization: a river flowing within an idealized channel with perfectly frictionless banks. Only in this way can it persuade us that resistance is futile. The ephemera of existence — in this context, all of existence is ephemera — all float by uniformly and obediently.
Now, it also seems to me that filling out this metaphor of time as a river leads to something else. Trading in the idealized channel for something more closely resembling that of a river in our actual experience, we see that not all the contents of the river are propelled equally well and swiftly downstream. Instead, the banks of the river contain secrets. Nooks and crannies trap flotsam and create eddies. Bugs and toads, twigs and soda cans all linger there. Perhaps some things stick around for awhile. Perhaps not forever, but longer than ourselves. In that sense, trying to hold on to the things to which we are emotionally attached might not be so futile after all. Perhaps we can explore the banks of this river and find many things twirling there for our enjoyment. Like old cars.
I noticed the purple Nova while biking to work one morning. The intense color caught my eye. I took a couple shots, and I noticed right away on the camera that the color was not as bright and not as purple in the image. This was true on the computer as well, and I sort of forgot about it for a while. I didn’t think it would amount to much.
A couple weeks later, I started fooling around with the post-processing work on it, and got something I rather liked. I eventually uploaded something to flickr, and it suddenly turned out to be one of the more interesting and popular things I’d produced in awhile. (Bear in mind that I measure these metrics in small fractions of what most flickr pop stars do, so my data set is pretty limited. Nonetheless it seems meaningful to me!) I guess the moral of the story is that you can never tell what is going to resonate with people. At least I can’t.
All of sudden, like the past month, Smart Cars having been popping up in my neighborhood like mushrooms in a cow pasture. It looks like they could overtake Priuses on the roadways of Berkeley. But behold how awesome this is! It perfectly combines the sensibilities my old home town (Fresno, CA) and my new town (Albany/Berkeley, CA). Leave it to a Greek…
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.