A Work In Progress
I met Bob, the owner of this beautiful ‘56 Chevy, Bel Air at our local annual car show on Main Street in El Segundo, California. Right away I was struck by the classic, almost iconic nostalgic look of his restored ride. It’s fair to say that I have seen nicer, more extreme examples of this retro mid-fifties cruiser here and there in museums around Los Angeles, but here, in front of me now, was clearly a guy who loved working on the car himself. The pride in craftsmanship, and passion for this particular example of our American heritage was evident on Bob’s face every time somebody would stroll by to talk “car.” Having driven a 54’ Chevy when he was a kid in high school, this now is a very close, nicer version of those same wheels he used to cruise around in all those years ago.
As we were talking about his great looking ride, and the possibility of maybe working together to create a photograph, I was given a little history of this automobile in particular. She was built in Oakland, California in February of 1956, originally made with a 265 cubic inch V-8. Referred to in car lingo as a Chevy, Bel Air, two door, hardtop, two tone, Bob picked her up about three years ago. The seller at that time was explaining that the previous owner was a 78-year-old gentleman out in Mojave, California, located up in the high desert.
Another previous owner from about 8 years earlier still, had redone the interior fabric and exterior two-tone paint job. Somewhere along the line, somebody else had installed the existing 327 cubic inch V-8 in her. Bob explains that it’s hard to delve too far back regarding past owners, and what effort each of them have contributed specifically to the car, as each time she changes hands, it’s only the oral history that’s forwarded onto the next owner. As a matter of fact, when Bob really got into cleaning up the car after his initial purchase a few years ago, he came across buckets of sand and credit cards hiding under the seats and floor boards, lodged in there all those years ago from a previous life up in the high desert.
Since taking over this project he has re-chromed or polished all the metal bright work inside and out (bumpers, handles, shifters and replaced the wheels). This in addition to spending the last three years color rubbing out the paint job to what is now something approaching spectacular. He is also just about to take a trip to another car show in Lake Havasu with the hope of picking up a new real axel and suspension. Together with a rebuilt 350 cubic inch V-8, fuel injected engine sitting on his garage floor back home, along with the power steering and power brakes upgrades already in the works, these further purchases will make for a substantial refinement to what is, I suspect, an ongoing project.
When delivering the eye popping large prints of the finished photograph to Bob and his wife, Cathleen, a couple days ago, I heard his wife comment, “Well honey, are you happier with the car now?” My curiosity tweaked, I couldn’t help but ask, “Bob, were you thinking about getting a different car, what about all the work you put into her already?” His reply, “I’m always sort of thinking of a new and different project.” And so, I guess the story continues with possibly a new owner someday, who will carry the torch of restoring this classic piece of American automotive history. It is indeed a never ending work in progress.
My initial inclination for the styling of the photograph we made together was to create something with a look and feel very much like American Graffiti. Similar to an advertisement for those burger joints of the 50’s and 60’s, with that sort of heavily airbrushed, illustrated flavor to them. Bob recommended the perfect nostalgic restaurant located in Torrance, California not far from his home, called (in case you haven’t guessed) Ricky & Ronnie’s. The manager of the restaurant, Rafael (pictured in far right background) and the owners were very helpful by allowing us to use their location for our little art shooting, at no charge. The carhop girl on skates is Terra, herself one of the hostesses of the restaurant.
While we collectively brainstormed through ideas for propping and styling the shot, Bob came up with a perfect idea for filling in a large empty hole I had in the bottom left corner of the composition. While doing research on other vintage car shots, he noticed that they often used wet ground to create a refection. Perfect! This shot after all, only has 3 real elements, the car, a neon sign, and a girl. (We tired including Bob’s high school age grandson leaning against the car as a 4th element, but that didn’t look as good, so I kept him out of the final print.)
During the course of shooting the first two guys in different posses, inducing them to strike expressions of casualness or intensity, it finally was Terra’s turn to pose for the camera. After placing her in just about the right spot, in relation to the car, she asked, “Well, what’s my motivation supposed to be?” I explain that, “It doesn’t really matter, in my limited experience with shooting pretty girls in photos, all you have to do is be!” Ultimately, I think the shot will come down to a photo of a car and a pretty girl on skates. Nobody cares about anything else.