Foundation Cartier’s ‘Autophoto’ Exhibit Explores The Aesthetics And Impacts Of Automobiles
When is a car show not a car show? Well, when it’s a photography show. The Foundation Cartier in Paris is exhibiting hundreds of photographs from the dark rooms of Ed Ruscha, Man Ray, Martin Parr, and dozens of others who’ve captured the myriad aspects of the automobile with their lenses. For car nuts who are hoping to see a few in the metal, you might want to move along: the only vehicles on display here are those frozen in 2D.
From the ‘Los Alamos’ series, by William Eggleston, c1974. Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London. © Eggleston Artistic Trust, Memphis
The title of the exhibition, Autophoto, is reflective of the French fondness for wordplay. It’s a known fact inside language classes up and down England and likely elsewhere that there’s nothing more certain in the world than a French man being reduced to a chuckling pile of brie and frogs because of a really good pun. The French take their puns so seriously that many of their towns have double meanings in their official names—and to top it off the mayors of these places all belong to a town-naming group called “Association des Communes de France aux Noms Burlesques et Chantants.” In the case of the title of this exhibit, if it wasn’t already blindingly unsubtle already, “Autophoto” refers both to self-portraits and to photo of cars. Cute.
Untitled, by Valérie Belin, 2002. Courtesy of the artist / Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris / Brussels. © Valérie Belin/ADAGP, Paris 2017
But we’ll let the title slide, because for all of the “oh aren’t we so clever” pats on the back they’ll be giving themselves, the title still invokes a serious point. A society’s relationship to inanimate objects have far reaching consequences—think of food, drugs, clothing, or nuclear weapons for instance—and cars have arguably been a mostly neglected subject in academia. Without cars, Arwed Messmer’s Reenactement series displayed in the exhibition would probably show people using animals in unusual and ineffective ways to escape from the Stasi in East Germany. As far as I am aware, there is only one academic book written on the subject of cars and people. Exhibitions like this are what will change that.
Car Poolers #12, by Alejandro Cartagena, from the series The Carpoolers, 2011-2012. Courtesy of the artist
Cars and cameras grew up together as siblings. As cars became ubiquitous, so did cameras. The technological pace of improvements in the auto and photographic industry came at an even pace and so many of the comparisons are to do with speed—sharping, faster focusing and turbocharging for instance. A comfortable comparison can be made with having a photo in focus and having a car in the correct gear. And we haven’t even begun to think about how the replication of images is directly comparable to the production lines that piece cars together, highlighted by images that belong to a series. These similarities were far from lost on curators Xavier Barral and Philippe Séclier when they were first drawn to the idea of having a photographic exhibition that focused exclusively on cars.
Traction Citroën 7, by Peter Lippmann, from the ‘Paradise Parking’ series. © the artist
Cameras are as ubiquitous at car shows as the cars themselves, and likely outnumber them at times, with every individual representing another perspective on what there is to see. But the quality of images that a mobile phone user will take at these kinds of events pales in comparison to the average owner of a serious camera, let alone if the person with their finger on the trigger is Martin Bogren. A lot of that has to do with taking the machine in your hands seriously—much like taking the car that you’re sitting in seriously. Just as you don’t feel like spanking an automatic Toyota Corolla around like it’s a Bullitt-esque fastback Mustang, you probably wouldn’t start darting madly around a car event looking for interesting angles if what you’ve got to capture the moment is an old Samsung.
But when talent is coupled with the gear that facilitates its expression, interesting angles, on both the cars and our relationship with them, is what you’ll find. The photography here has been selected to capture how cars have changed landscapes and societies across the globe.
Autophoto is on view until the 24th of September at Foundation Cartier, Foundation Cartier 261 Boulevard Raspail, Paris, 75015. More details can be found at the Foundation Cartier Website.