Featuring around 500 works, the exhibition Autophoto examines the history of photography’s relationship with the automobile, from 1900 to the present day. For much of the last century, the automobile represented something glamorous and exciting. Indeed, for many people, cars remain potent status symbols today.
Driving along empty highways still evokes a sense of freedom and the evolution of this idea can be traced back to the Beat generation of the 1950s, epitomized by Jack Kerouac’s epoch-defining novel, On The Road (1957).
The following year witnessed the publication of The Americans, a seminal photography book – indeed, arguably the most influential of the 20th Century – by the US photographer Robert Frank. To create this epic work, which documented every echelon of US society, Frank secured a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955 to fund a series of road trips across the United States over the following two years. During his travels, he took 28,000 shots, before selecting just 83 for the final series of The Americans. One of them recorded an assembly line in a Ford Motor Company factory known as the River Rouge Plant in Detroit.
Perhaps no city on earth has such a symbiotic relationship with the automobile as Los Angeles. US artist Ed Ruscha’s series of 34 black-and-white aerial photographs of vacant car parks within Los Angeles looks at the impact of the motorcar upon the landscape. Thirtyfour Parking Lots was one of 17 artist’s books that Ruscha published during the ‘60s and ‘70s (“I want to be the Henry Ford of book making,” he once said).
Another brilliant work tackling this theme is a project called Vector Portraits by the American photographer Andrew Bush. After settling in Los Angeles in 1985, Bush took photographs of cars and their passengers taken while he was driving in the city’s streets and freeways. With the help of equipment installed on his passenger seat, Andrew Bush captured drivers framed by their car windows and the surrounding landscapes, either stopped in traffic or traveling, lost in their thoughts or interacting with other passengers. The portraits reveal how connected drivers and cars are; just as we tend to say how much dogs and their owners look alike, it seems as though cars and drivers also share a close identity.