Art and the Automobile: Vector Portraits

James Kraus

Man cruising south-southeast at 65 mph on Highway 101 near Toro Canyon on June 19th as the tide is coming in, 2010

Man cruising south-southeast at 65 mph on Highway 101 near Toro Canyon on June 19th as the tide is coming in, 2010. Tap to view full-size

On a trip to Modernism Week in Palm Springs earlier this year I visited the home of a prominent art and vintage car collector. While attending to a glass of distilled spirits in his library, I was entranced by a pair of outsize Vector Portraits by Los Angeles photographer Andrew Bush. Initially garnering my attention were the vehicles depicted: a 1968 Porsche 911 and a 1964 Ford Falcon Ranchero.

Unlike static portraits, these dynamic documentary-style images captured their subjects in motion, moving through time and space while cocooned within the semi-private environment of their personal vehicles.  

Man rolling along (whistle audible?) on U.S. Route 101 at approximately 55 mph on a summer day in 1989

Man rolling along (whistle audible?) on U.S. Route 101 at approximately 55 mph on a summer day in 1989. Tap to view full-size

A number of artists today describe themselves as street photographers when their milieu is not actually the street, but sidewalks and other pedestrian thoroughfares. The Vector Portraits are genuine street (and highway) photography.

Man and woman traveling southeast at 68 mph on Highway 101 outside of Camarillo, California after 3:31 PM but before the Summer equinox of 2010.

Man and woman traveling southeast at 68 mph on Highway 101 outside of Camarillo, California after 3:31 PM but before the Summer equinox of 2010. Tap to view full-size

The Vector Portraits were shot between 1989 and 2010. To obtain the images, Andrew fixed a medium-format camera on a tripod directed out the passenger side window of his car, driving until he came upon an inspiring subject. As can be seen, some drivers noticed the camera, while others remained oblivious to its presence. No motor drive was used; generally only a single photo was taken.

Woman heading west at 71 mph on Interstate 44 outside Rolla, Missouri, at 11:43 a.m. in January 1991

Woman heading west at 71 mph on Interstate 44 outside Rolla, Missouri, at 11:43 a.m. in January 1991. Tap to view full-size

Images were captured on 70mm or 6x9cm medium format film and C-printed on Kodak Endura or Fuji Crystal resin-coated paper. Meant to be experienced near full-scale, finished portraits are printed in generous dimensions up to a substantial 50 x 60” (127 x 153 cm) in size.

In line with the Vector moniker, titles of all the portraits incorporate the speed and direction of the subject at the time they were photographed.

Man traveling southbound at 67 mph on U.S. Route 101 near Montecito, California, at 6:31 p.m. on or around the 28th of a summer month on a Sunday in 1994

Man traveling southbound at 67 mph on U.S. Route 101 near Montecito, California, at 6:31 p.m. on or around the 28th of a summer month on a Sunday in 1994. Tap to view full-size

Most of Andrew shots incorporate subjects driving vintage machinery. With few exceptions, the series encompasses vehicles from the 1950s through the 1970s. Andrew has expressed a preference for cars of this era due to their classic lines and aged patina.

The images here are my personal favourites. Not surprisingly, all feature subjects driving original, unmodified automobiles of the 1960s.

Man traveling southeast on U.S. Route 101 at approximately 71 mph somewhere around Camarillo, California, on a summer evening in 1994.

Man driving family south-southeast at 61 mph after traveling north-northwest for tacos, tacos, tacos in the summer of 2010. Tap to view full-size

Portraits from the Vector Series have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tinguely Museum in Basel.

Images courtesy of Julie Saul Gallery, New York

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One thought on “Art and the Automobile: Vector Portraits

  1. These photographs capture what British architectural critic Reyner Banham called “the rapture of the ride.”

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