Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Quantum of Cars

Interior, '27 Nash roadster

I don't get the chance to philosophize much in my line of work. We're far more concerned with paint curing times and combustion chamber shapes than the effect of the car on the psyche, or its place in art. But last week, I shot a 1927 Nash roadster that hasn't run since the fall of 1951; it is, literally, in a hundred pieces.

My editor tells me I'm overthinking this, but I don't think you can call this a car as a physical object. Inarguably, though, it's still a car in Bob's mind: This is my car; it doesn't look like one to you, outsider; but just because it is no longer car shaped doesn't mean it is no longer a car. It doesn't matter to me if it's on the road in a recognizably carlike form; or disassembled and scattered across the world. If it can still be made into a car, it is one.

I think that's one of the things that differentiates car people from non car people. To us, a car is, literally a state of mind: I believe this is a car; therefor it's a car. To a casual user, a car is an appliance: That's a pile of parts, thus it is not a car. But we're seeing different things. I was not looking at what was in front of me last week; I was looking at the past and the future, on both a philosophical level (Bob's wonderful story; what will happen next) and a practical level (hey, this wood is really solid; almost no rust;  wow, an extra fender). "Now" only existed inasmuch as I was also in that same moment of time, and it allowed me to take pictures. But none of us there on Thursday were thinking about now. Bob was thinking about when he was 17; Mark, the restorer, was thinking about what he would do with wood and metal; and I was thinking about what story I would tell.

The car is a process. It isn't now, it's the voyage of it carrying us through time, the past, present and future all at once.

Bob, with '27 Nash carburetor