Recent history of the united states is intimately linked to the history of the automobile and the effects it has had on lifestyles. It is the symbol of freedom that has characterized the American society. More than a simple object of consumption, cars have been elevated as a modern way of living. They shaped lifestyles but also landcapes, wich were made around them. Cities such as Detroit or Atlanta are the concrete symbolization of that societal phenomenon, they are made by cars and for cars. As a central issue of american society, automotive and their resuting lanscapes constitue a recurring theme for photograph from 50’s to now.
|Detroit satellite views - Google Maps|
From the outside
The importance of the automobile in society is particulary recurrent among the phtographers wich use Evan’s «Documentary style». The photographic exhibition New Topographics can be seen as a starting point of the car society as a central subject. Sore’s or Baltz’s pictures of suburbian areas with their empty and anonymous huge streets, parking lots and warehouses are a portrait of that part of the USA in wich man made landscapes seems to be not made for humans.
That paradoxical face of the american society, unsightly and bearer of a myth at the same time is also shown in William Egglestone work. Dramatic urban lanscapes are here sublimated by a intensification of colors, giving theme an cinematographic aspect. As hilm Maker Michael Almereyda said on Eggleston’s work : «the commonplace becomes resplendent»
From the inside
In most recent Lee Friedlander work, the automobile is not only the subject for the photographer but tends to be his own frame. As the serie title America By Car suggests, cars are no longer just a founding element of the society but also a way to see it. Most of that pictures are taken through the windscreen, givin again a cinematographic vision of urban landscapes..
A New American Picture by Doug Rickard can be seen as a futuristic version of that work. Pictures are here selected from Google street view system. The point of view is quite different then, above eye level on the roof of the car. The process is automated with a wide angle camera taking everything which can be seen from the street. Cars seem here to take supremacy on human eye, giving theme a social documentary apect.
The symbol of automobile and his role in the american post war society is a major subject for phtographers. It reveals a main face of USA, mixing common places and symbol of supremacy. It also reveals some backhand of that society, such as social exclusion. From that point, those pictures can be seen as well as a political critique of urban development, turning cars into a mode of expression more than a simple photographic subject.