Golden Eye: Looking Back on My Favorite Automobile Photos
Picking my favorite photo
After thousands of images taken on hundreds of assignments, the idea of choosing my favorite image after all these years is daunting. I contributed to Automobile even before it was a magazine, when founding editor David E. Davis Jr. asked me to help create a promotional road-trip piece by shooting a British sports car in Wales, the land of his ancestors. I can't quite remember why the car he chose for this was a Panther Kallista, a kind of horrifying Morgan Plus 4 replica with an aluminum body.
My most memorable picture, I think, is this 1955 Maserati 300S being admired by a young Italian woman with her bicycle. It was taken in a piazza in Brescia, Italy, shortly before my friend Mark Gillies (then Automobile's executive editor) and I embarked with the car on the 2001 revival of the Mille Miglia. It ticks all the boxes for me, representing the kind of travel adventures I have photographed around the world for the magazine over the past 30 years, not to mention Automobile's unique ethos.
This image combines a beautiful historic car, a location with the unique flavor of its surroundings, and a human perspective. Whether it involves action, a dramatic location, or a simple human moment, a car photograph should do more than just record the work of the designer and the craftspeople who created the machinery. This is why I try to have creative input when photographing cars.
Gillies' brief for this assignment was typically simple and straightforward, just like him. "I am driving a Maserati 300S on the Mille Miglia," he said. "Can you follow and shoot the story?" We decided it might be interesting to not only cover the 1,000-mile dash around Italy in the car but also incorporate an element of a 1950s road test, complete with driving impressions and photographs of the car's details. The plan was for me to chase the Maserati while riding in an Alfa 156 driven by an assistant.
After scrutineering in the center of Brescia where the Mille Miglia starts, Gillies and I took a break at an espresso bar, weary after dealing with the typically frantic tech inspectors. I began shooting some of the car's details while being crowded by tifosi who decided they simply must have a glimpse of the Maserati's gorgeous 3.0-liter inline-six engine. The light was just fading into that warm glow in which photographers revel when this signorina, who was cycling across the piazza, stopped to admire the classic parked on the city street like any Fiat 500 you might find in any Italian city.
At this point I would love to say I picked up my Canon EOS-1N camera and captured the shot in the style of a good street photographer. I actually dispatched my young Alfa driver across the street to chat her up and ask permission to take a couple pictures. She agreed and then afterward just pedaled away, probably thinking she imagined the whole thing.
The Mille Miglia started that evening in torrential rain, and I used napkins from a local café to try to keep my camera dry. The Maserati 300S departed with Gillies soaked to the skin. While my man David drove the Alfa 156, I plotted our route to locations that would illustrate a great car on a wonderful event. The results were published in the December 2001 issue as part of the story, "Trident True."
Except for one problem: My favorite photo didn't make the layout! Instead a simple vertical shot of the Maserati taken in the same location was used. Art directors! You just can't trust them.