Autophoto is not a book to be taken lightly. And it’s not just the fact that the book spans 494 pages, and each of them is slightly larger than 8×10, so you’re carrying around the equivalent of a ream of copier paper bound between hard covers.
Most of those pages are given over to a series of photographs that follow the theme of the book’s subtitle — Cars & Photography, 1900 to Now.
In fact, the book actually is the catalog for the Autophoto exhibition running from April 20 to September 24 at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris. After paging through the book, absorbing some of the poignancy of the photographs, and reading through the various pages of text, I can only imagine the impact of actually attending that show, and let’s hope it becomes a traveling exhibition that at some point visits North America.
In their introduction, curators Xavier Barral and Philippe Seclier write of the parallel development — and impact on society — of the automobile and the camera, one allowing us to travel, the other capturing and sharing images, our memories gathered along the way.
But now, they note, a new era dawns, an era in which the car not only drives itself, but is equipped with its own cameras.
“But before this new transformation allows us to finally let go of the steering wheel, let us pause,” they suggest, we should pause to take a look at where we’ve been, how far we’ve come. They do that though the presentation of a variety of photographic series that, “show us how the automobile has, over the last century and through the eye of the camera, altered the landscape and, with its recurrent themes, forever changed our society and our way of seeing things.”
There are more words to be read in the book, including a note about movie car chases, about the first use of a “getaway” car by criminals, about the impact of the new Leica camera in 1925 — Henry Ford put the world on wheels, the Leica put practical photography in anyone’s hands — about how Jacques Henri Lartigue’s 1912 photograph of a race car in motion was actually a photographic accident now cherished for capturing speed, about how a windshield can be a frame for photography, and much more.
But the heart of the book is its display of photographs, images that show us — us and our cars and how they interact.
For example, over three pages there are 27 images by Sylvie Meunier and Patrick Tourneboeuf under the theme of American Dream, images that show people standing beside — or in the case of two children, on the hood of — their cars in the 1950s.
And it’s not just Americans we see striking strike such poses in the pages that follow.
There are images of roads; an amazing series by Ed Ruscha on parking lots; a stunningly composed series of America by Car by Lee Friedlander; another by Oscar Fernando Gomez, who frames his photos through the right-front window; a multi-page series in which 10 photographers create Nationale Zero, the so-called Transeuropean highway; a gorgeously photographed series, Auto Reverse, in which Kay Michalak and Sven Volker showcase the underside of vehicles; Edward Burtynsky’s amazing photos of piles of used tires; Alejandro Cartegna’s photos from a highway overpass of what passes beneath; and those are just those that most struck me on my first pass through the book.
But it won’t be my final examination of this amazing work of art and words. This is a coffee-table book that won’t just collect dust.
Autophoto: Cars & Photography, 1900 to Now
Edited by Xavier Barral and Philippe Seclier
By Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, 2017
Hardcover, 494 pages
$65 from www.artbook.com