the urban landscape for many years focusing on two related visual
stories: those places where nature and modern humans merge and where
that merger is amplified by the appearance of automobiles.
Cars in the landscape strike me as comical. They
seem almost like alien creatures, mechanical clowns dressed in an
array of costumes.
They have their own world and talk to each other
in parking lots but never quite relate to the arena in which they
perform or to the humans who inhabit them.
Cars and we humans share a strained interdependence but
I’m pretty sure cars are vain and enjoy being photographed.
by Lou Fancher
MORAGA --"The Artist Revealed: Artist Portraits
and Self-Portraits," a new exhibit open through Dec. 15 at Saint Mary's
College's Museum of Art, proves some people are just terrific at packing.
"Cars are vain and enjoy being photographed," Lubliner's
exhibit notes proclaim. From the walls of the narrow, newly-added
gallery, seductive, mysterious "models" demand admiration,
if not outright adoration -- not of the cars, but of Lubliner.
It's rare when a photographer's instincts can
upstage the elegance of a 1937 Airflow or the edgy groove of an Eldorado,
Or elevate the grit of a 1916 Chalmers with shadowy textures a viewer
can feel as much as see. Or unleash a fluid color sense to emblazon
a red Rambler in one's permanent memory and turn a '66 Dodge van
into a desirable destination.
Shot with a 35 mm digital SLR camera (he now
uses a Nikon D700), Lubliner had switched from painting to photography,
a move he calls "excellent for career and historic reasons" in
a response to an inquiring email. He chronicled LA's art scene during
the '60s and 70s: the J. Paul Getty Museum recently purchased his
archive from that period.
Working in both black-and-white and color, Lubliner
is masterful with shadow, which often, ironically, reveal his obvious
sense of humor. In "Tennessee Pontiac" (1974), the amiable
auto inches its nose partially into blistering sunlight, its headlights
appearing to glance sideways -- it's Charlie Chaplin on wheels. Irony
unfolds after the chuckles, in the form of slashing red diagonals,
or, in another image, in a rusted Ford, weathering like driftwood
on a beach.
Lubliner attributes his results to "the
force of the unintended consequence" and "following unconscious
and well practiced habits," concluding, "I have a long,
comfortable and trusting relationship with my muse."
I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1940’s and 50’s. It was a time
when cars were objects of romance and liberation. For the auto
industry, making cars an integral part of every citizens’ life
was a cultural imperative, a grand and well-managed experiment
in financial, technical and social engineering whose world shifting
influence would prove to be the equal to any in history. And
Los Angeles must have been seen as the perfect venue.
Having your own car when I was in high school in the early 1950’s
was not only a rite of passage into independence but also an
absolute necessity for getting around. In the vast, sparsely
developed Los Angeles territory of the time, public transportation
was so limited as to be impractical if you wished to travel beyond
the well-established business and residential corridors. For
a long time, Los Angeles had an excellent public transportation
system. It carried passengers almost everywhere, not only within
the city proper but also throughout the adjacent cities and counties.
Even Hollywood Blvd. had a dedicated streetcar line. But in the
1940’s a joint agreement was reached between the local government,
Standard Oil and Firestone Tire. They decided it would be better
to remove all the tracks and pave the roads in preparation for
the coming growth of automobile traffic, a scheme well formulated
to deliver high profits for the planners and builders. They even
uprooted the rail system that served the distant rural and agricultural
communities throughout the region.
I graduated from Otis Art Institute in 1962 as a painter, taught
painting and drawing classes for some years and then decided
to switch careers and pursue photography. I was fortunate to
become the contract photographer for Gemini G.E.L. the renowned
Los Angeles publisher of limited edition prints and multiples.
I was their contract photographer for ten years beginning in
In 1969, when my friend Judy and I drove Claes Oldenburg’s 1937
Chrysler Airflow from Los Angeles to New York, it was on small
country roads and famous old highways like 40 and 66. Traffic
along those roads moved at a slower pace then. We drove through
seemingly endless acres of farms and ranches, punctuated periodically
by well-settled and long functioning towns and cities, many of
which no longer exist, having been swallowed up by progress.
Oldenburg’s Airflow actually belonged to Gemini. In 1967 Oldenburg
became the artist in residence at Gemini and one of the works
he created was titled Profile Airflow, a three-dimensional, molded
polyurethane relief laid over a lithograph grid. Part of his
concept was to work on what he called “soft objects” and since
the Airflow was Chrysler’s version of an aerodynamic vehicle
and had a curved profile, it served the purpose. The car was
purchased from a former San Francisco Chrysler dealer who kept
it in a garage in near pristine condition. As I recall, it had
something under forty thousand miles and felt almost new. When
the project was completed at the end of 1968, Ken Tyler, the
founder of Gemini, offered to sell the car to me but I was too
broke and too naïve to say yes so Henry Geldzahler, then the
curator of modern art at New York’s Museum of Modern Art agreed
to buy it and that’s why Judy and I made the trip.
In 1956 Dwight Eisenhower’s Federal Aid Highway Act was signed
into law; to that date, the largest public works project in U.S.
history. It changed the American culture, helped ennoble the
romance of the open road and re-energized the auto industry.
Gas was cheap and automobile design was still seen as an industrial
art form as well as a business. We were in a post WWII economic
expansion. There was money for new homes, luxuries and what were
called labor saving devices. The population, for the first time
since the great depression, felt energized. They could afford
cross-country vacations in new cars, auto dealerships were booming
and visiting their showrooms when the new models appeared every
year, was a social event. The Jack Nicholson film Chinatown referred
abstractly to what really happened in the development of the
San Fernando Valley and the resulting struggle for water and
wealth. That vast and fertile expanse survived for something
like seven thousand years as home to the area’s indigenous peoples.
Then in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became the
operating platform for large-scale ranchers and farmers. But
between periodic floods and droughts, access to water was unpredictable.
In 1913 the Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed bringing Owens
Valley water to the basin. But there was a stain on the project;
a coterie was formed made up of William Mulholland, an engineer
and originator of what became the Department of Water and power
and Frederick Eaton, one time mayor of L.A. and a man with a
history of insider deals. They manipulated and deceived the Owens
Valley farmers and residents with hidden purchases and false
promises. For years the Owens Valley populace fought back by
regularly dynamiting the aqueducts’, and impeding its progress
until their cause ended when the governor brought in the U.S.
The Valley’s agricultural boom was eventually replaced with
the housing boom. Beginning in the 1940’s and 50’s real estate
developers began to advertise the benefits of clean air outside
of the central city. They built neighborhoods of tract homes
using what they considered a new and idealized architectural
formula. Residential sections would have homes on quiet, tree-lined
streets with garages for the family vehicles accessed only through
alleys behind the homes. Commercial districts would be in separate
enclaves on the peripheries. That model held for a time until
some developers decided access to the garages would be better
near the front door. So driveways, traffic and parking replaced
the idyllic plan and became the norm.
The automobile was a formidable one. To serve the rapidly expanding
traffic juggernaut constantly moving between the central city
and the several new developments of the valley; between all the
expanding communities of the basin and adjacent counties, between
all communities in the country, new freeways were needed and
When Robert Frank’s iconic book of photographs, The Americans,
first appeared in 1959, I immediately bought a copy. One of the
images in the book was titled “Covered Car, Long Beach”. It was
a photograph of a then recent model Cadillac, covered with a
parachute and parked between two palm trees. I’ve never been
able to explain it but something about that image captivated
me and became my muse. As early as 1960 I began to pursue my
own interest in photographing cars. in their normal habitats
and the photograph of the ‘37 Airflow, referred to earlier, was
done in Colorado Springs during the drive to New York, but the
Frank photograph clarified and expanded my own hunt for images
which I pursued for the next few years.
So cars are part of my DNA.