Smoke & Mirrors: Cars, Photography and Dreams of the Open Road


At once iconic and anachronistic, cars remain “vehicles for our deepest hopes, dreams and desires.” We invited author Adam Hay-Nicholls to talk us through a selection of key images from his new book, Smoke & Mirrors: Cars, Photography and Dreams of the Open Road…  

Todd Hido, A Road Divided (2007)

Todd Hido uses his car’s windscreen as an additional lens, which can become spattered by rain or misted with his own breath. This watery abstraction and shifting canvas gives the pictures a sense of Hitchcockian suspense and Hopper-like isolation. The view is bathed in awkward light, radiating an uneasy feeling about the world outside. Perhaps we’re not from around here, and are unsettled, or we’re nervous about returning to a place we left long ago.


Matthew Porter, The Heights (2008/2018)

The car chase is a cultural icon in itself. Matthew Porter grew up in 1980s Pennsylvania when Knight Rider was on prime-time TV, and maintains an attraction to the dead-end technology of 1970s American muscle cars. The photos are, in fact, an illusion. Porter shoots on location, usually in San Francisco or New York, and then superimposes pictures of 1:18-scale toy cars which he dangles in front of his large-format camera. There’s a sense of joy in defying gravity, but tension too; in part due to the risk of the inevitable landing, but also in the manipulated artifice, between what the eye sees and what the mind knows.


Tom Blachford, Midnight Modern (2016)

Captivated by architecture and using a full moon as a light source, Tom Blachford’s camera is a bridge to a darker world. His pristine Palm Springs homes act as the stage for unwritten narratives, inviting the audience to imagine what might be happening behind these walls. Each automobile – in this case an original Porsche 911 Targa – was chosen to ramp up the cinematic noir and create an ambiguity of time.


Peter Lippmann, Paradise Parking (2011)

American photographer Peter Lippmann keeps a country house in France’s Champagne-Ardenne region and stumbled upon an overgrown field full of rotting motors nearby. This 1930s Renault Vivaquatre hasn’t moved since the war. The photograph almost looks like it was taken underwater, such is the way the moss and branches have colonised the machine-like algae and coral. The trees, vegetation and bacteria are alive, and as they thrive the car is suffocated and dies.


Sophie Green, Dented Pride (2015)

Social documentary and portrait photographer Green is drawn to the dents and scrapes of UK banger racers’ bodywork. The body panels are constantly changing over the course of an event through wear and tear, creating new and unique compositions. Through tightly-cropped framing she turns injured vehicles into abstract canvasses. With vivid colours and graphic shapes, these images have the quality of pop art or graffiti. Green’s approach took some of the drivers off guard: “I’d say to them, ‘Wow, it’s so beautiful – nice scratches!’ and they’d be like, ‘Huh?’”

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As told to Mike Pinnington

All images courtesy the artists

Smoke & Mirrors: Cars, Photography and Dreams of the Open Road, published by Hoxton Mini Press X Penguin Books, is out now 

Posted on 08/10/2020 by thedoublenegative