Photographs of GM cars alive, dead, and reborn.

Collected images.
Jan. 14 2009 3:11 PM

Long, Low, Wide, and Sinking

Photographs of GM cars alive, dead, and reborn.

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I photographed vintage GM vehicles in backyards, alleys, and garages. They lay close to the ground, resting on flat tires. Their sleek lines were dented and rusted, their colors faded. In murals, which I also photographed, cars retained their allure.

In a Chicago carwash mural, a red Chevy Impala is painted against the black and sinister Sears Tower and the tapering Hancock Building. On a body-repair-shop facade in Los Angeles, another Impala was set against a red sunset, palm trees, and bungalows. On the wall of a South L.A. laundromat, another low-rider car is resting over an unfinished depiction of the Mayan calendar—a strange juxtaposition of ancient and modern.

In poor communities, cars become extra closets to ease clutter inside the home. The vehicle is sometimes used as an extra bedroom. On car roofs, I saw potted plants and cages with rabbits and chickens. I encountered an inspired monument to the demise of the automobile and the newspaper industries in the middle of a West Philadelphia vacant lot, overgrown by weeds: a bright-red, hollow SUV, overstuffed with bundles of newspapers. It seems to be vomiting them.

Rusted, damaged, and dirty, their headlamps and windshields broken, their rearview mirrors missing, these large vehicles still manage to surprise us. Some of the owners I spoke to expect to fix them and sell them as classics for a good price. To others, the cars represented memories of parents or absent children to whom the vehicles once belonged.

Long, low, and wide, these former vehicles of desire are sinking into the ground. And the grass grows around their perimeters.

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(You can see more of Camilo Jose Vergara's photos on his Web site and can contact him at CV90@Columbia.edu.)

Camilo José Vergara is a 2002 MacArthur fellow whose books include American Ruins and How the Other Half Worships. You can see more of his photos on his Web site and can contact him at camilojosev@gmail.com.

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