The artwork featured in the project “You Will Never Look At Them In The Same Way Again” are photographs taken of the surfaces of dumped burnt out cars.
Please Don’t Say It’s Rust
The artwork is not about rust, in fact, I reject images that have too much rust colour. I’m interested in the way the original paintwork is affected by fire and the changes to colours and the textures that are created.
This is my artist statement
My photography aims to capture the disturbance to surfaces created by acts of joyriding and arson by zooming into scorched, disfigured vehicle parts that are occupied in the lifecycle of corrosion, the natural process that tries to reclaim human made objects to an elemental state more in line with the energy of the molecules the objects are made of.
Torching accelerates this journey of returning to the earth and I look to capture, investigate and at times distort results of the advancement of its lifecycle. Using results of the explosion; scorched metal, molten glass, fabrics, and plastics, the rust and the gallons of water from the firemen’s hose I strive to turn a negative blot on the landscape using technology, photography and oil paint to transform the textual image into a positive beautiful landscape.
There was John whose job is clearing litter and Fly Tipping rubbish from public parkland.
I asked many dog walkers while walking my own dogs. But by far the most productive scout has been Esther, who cycles everywhere and also designs cycle routes for Cycling For Beginners classes. Cyclists cut through where cars can’t go and this is where most of the dumping takes place. Esther and her daughter Imogen are brilliant. When they find a car I get a WhatsApp message, photo of the car and a location on Google Maps. This is not only brilliant, but essential, because the wreck could be anywhere, across a sports ground, or along a river bank well out of view from the nearest road.
Another regular burning area is in the inner city along the roads of back street garages and factories. Here I have the white van drivers who deliver to these backstreet garages and in the light of morning they can find the results of arson in the dark, quiet night streets.
The Accessibility and Location of a Burnt Out Is An Important Factor
Sometimes I don’t have the opportunity to photograph a burning car for a variety of reasons. For example a lack of access, the light and of course there was always the inherent danger of being so close to a burning car. This was true of the last two car fires that I attended. The engine of the first car caught fire while parked in the long stay car park at Birmingham Airport. It was in the evening and too dark to photograph the surfaces and there was also the factor that there were many purpose built vehicles and personal on site to clear the car so, unfortunately for me’ it was removed before the first light in the morning. Another car was burnt out at the main entrance of the Fox Hollies Leisure Centre. As this is not the image they want to show schoolchildren attending swimming classes, it was reported and removed immediately. However, if the fire had taken place on the far side of the car park, out of sight and rarely used, it would have remained there long enough for me to get some photographs. Only on one occasion did I come across a car but didn’t have a camera, I now carry a camera everywhere I go.
Once I found a van with the best scorch marks I have ever seen but I needed a step ladder to get up on the correct level, in the 20 minutes it took me to go home and get my steps, the van had gone.
As Well As Finding Burnt Out Cars, I Burn My Own
I have been asked on many occasions do I ever torch the cars? Well, the answer is no, I don’t.
When attending a car fire the fire brigade have to isolate the fire in the engine as soon as possible, in order to make the incident safe and when they do this I noticed that they would often leave pieces of metal debris at the side of the burnt out car. I decided to take these panels home to photograph at a later date. I had accumulated quite a pile dumped at the bottom of the garden, some being a few years old and in that state they were useless. So, I started to work cleaning the panels and this produced some interesting results, which was a little bit different to the new burnt out metal but in a similar genre.
I spent months developing this work, noticeably during a period when the burnt out cars were a little bit scarce and I was worried my supply would dry up. I carried out experiments burning metal by using small blow torches, or a bed of charcoal, and I even tried putting the metal on the garden bonfire. I experimented on painting the surfaces, although this never worked because I found the paint would blend into the metal surface and it looked like another flat layer on the metal. I tried using acid solutions in order to clean the marks, but leave the corrosive contours. I used varying different strengths of acid, as sometimes I wanted a very quick full clean, while other times I wanted it to take a long time so that I could measure the effects as I go. I found that Coca Cola and HP Sauce have great acid values when I want a very slow process.
As you know, generally oil and water don’t mix but they can create beautiful colours. This is often true of other substances found around the home. For example, I will often pick something like linseed oil and coat it with WD40 to see how it looks. I raid garage workshops for any liquids such as engine cleaner, brake fluids. I’m always interested when new household products such as fly spray, bleaches or cleaning products come on the market along with natural products like the juice of a lemon. I try to stay away from rust but sometimes I will actively encourage it. Perhaps by soaking a sponge in salt water and letting it slowly drip across the metal, and if I see something I like, I will preserve it by spraying varnish on the area.
When I see a metal area that is just right, then I get my camera ready and now, ideally, I can position myself comfortably. As you can imagine when I’m working on a car “in the field” I have to make do with the available lighting conditions, intrusive shadows interfering across the perfect point of view and a never ideal height or angle (I have known a situation when to photograph a great surface I had to hang upside down over a car, yes it was worth it). Of course, in the garden I’m never working under the pressure of the car being towed away before my eyes as I try to get the final images on camera.
Photographing metal in these “roll your own” conditions is more precise and controlled. I generally experiment in the garden and during the daily throwing of the ball for my dog’s exercise, I view the metal in different lights and angles, as the journey of decay and corrosion continue. I keep an eye on it until the metal develops into an image that I am happy with. At this point when everything comes together, I can set up photo studio conditions using lights, reflectors, and/or gels, working with a tripod and position the metal in the right angle for the shot. However, sometimes the metal may never get to the photograph stage and I am often frustrated when markings on a surface look initially promising, but ends up being a let down when seen through the lens or on my computer screen.
I’m always on the lookout for car metal and avoid paying the scrap dealers, and when I replace my car one of the deciding options on a purchase is the amount of room in the back and can I get a bonnet in there or even strapped down on the roof.