CityVisions - Malcolm Lubliner Photography
Malcolm Lubliner ~ Photography & Art Since 1965
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I’ve photographed 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.

Inside Bay AreaNovember 6, 2013,
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 1968.

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. Army.

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 provided.

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.

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