“Can art show how a car feels, rather than simply how it looks?” May asks and the short answer is: not really. Cars are notoriously hard to turn into art (bright swatches of paint on racing BMW’s do not count). Whether in photographic or painted or filmed form, the car can almost always be counted on never to transcend itself.
The same cannot be said of humans. Take Steve McCurry’s portrait of Sharbat Gula, better known as the Afghan Girl, which has appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic Magazine and about a million other places since. It is a portrait which transcends magazine covers, girls and Afghanistan to show warfare at its 20th century industrial worst.
Maybe what’s going on here is that humans, due especially to their facial musculature, can convey a wide range of emotions while cars are simply inanimate objects.
Except that they aren’t. Cars cruise and break and rush and dash and turn and race and oversteer and blow up and rust. Perhaps not quite as broad a range of expression as allowed by subtle twinges of the levator labii superioris muscle, but enough to get started on.
May’s take on the matter:
A skilled portrait photographer can produce an image of a film star and tell us something about what that film star is like as a person. There must be a way of doing this with cars. This is an unexplored avenue of expression that could add to the sum of human understanding, a bit.
This only works with significant cars, of course, because only they have something to tell us. I struggle to see how a Kia Sedona could be depicted as anything other than a spacious mobile box.
As a first exercise in the search of cars as art, I collected a gallery of photos which depict Porsche 911’s in ways which perhaps rise above mere pictures of cars and bare the beauty and flaws of this decades-old icon of German engineering.
This is, of course, an invitation to post better examples here in the comments.