When one enters “abandoned cars” into an internet search field, millions of pictures are found. These rusted heaps of metal provide a seductive beauty that parallels the “ruin porn” aesthetic of our industrial cities, but these subjects of ruin are more than just idealized images, they are tangible objects and their existence is ubiquitous across America. These discarded machines speak of a growing vernacular landscape that is often ignored. As the palpable proof of the Anthropocene continues to mount, how will we adjust our stewardship, responsibility, and accountability over the disposal of the machines we create?
My personal connection to abandoned cars began in my father’s automotive junkyard. As a child, I would explore the rows of discarded machines with curiosity and questions; who had owned them, where had they been, and what had they done in their lifetime? These machines were more than mere objects, they reflected the cultural values and desires of their time; they lived human stories.
When I began exploring the American landscape as a young photographer, I was heavily influenced by the works of the New Topographic movement. Traveling desolate highways into raw wilderness and towns unnamed on maps, I meticulously studied the depth of man’s industrial impact on remote environments. In my surveys over the last nine years, I have observed an inescapable and growing presence of discarded cars throughout the American landscape. Unlike the machines in my father’s junkyard, these rusting mementos live in improper graves. From the mountains of Alaska to the deserts of Texas, I have documented thousands of specimens; some I have visited repeatedly over the years, and their stationary fate has deepened my commitment to this project. The ubiquitous existence of these automobiles, strewn about the earth like children’s neglected toys, creates a landscape that accepts discarded machines as commonplace.
Individually, these portraits celebrate the seductive beauty of these forsaken machines; sublime objects that prey on our nostalgic sympathy. In my field work, I have been very selective in specifically photographing classic cars and trucks from the fifties, sixties, and seventies, eras of American opulence, for they possess a romantic potency that is too easily excused from accountability. These vintage objects have become memorials and social sculptures, they are admired with awe, but they still vandalize the natural landscape. As a collection, these photographs question the environmental and social implications of the vernacular landscape they represent, a landscape populated with discarded machines that serve no purpose. At what point will it be too late to change the repercussions of this growing concern? Will we continue to simply document, accept, and redefine our evolving American landscape or adjust our behaviors and public policy to provide solutions?