When a car comes to Aadlen Bros. Auto Wrecking in Sun Valley, California, it is drained of oil and transmission fluids, some of its parts are sold off to buyers, and finally, after some time, it is crushed. But before that that can happen, the car must wait in a sort of auto purgatory — ownerless and no longer drivable, a shadow of its former self.
Photographer Pej Behdarvand visited the junkyard in 2012 as part of an assignment for Car and Driver to document a 1993 BMW 325i’s journey from a liquidation center to a scrap metal recycling facility. Behdarvand had never been to a junkyard before and as he was driven around on a golf cart through the facility, he became fascinated by its large but contained universe. After the story was published in Car and Driver, Behdarvand returned to Aadlen to work on his series, “Deathbed,” which captures cars in that strange transitional stage before they’re crushed. “I believe that things are always changing and that we are always in between places in our lives. The purgatory here seems quickly, easily, and visually readable. The cars are no longer with the person who drove them and they are no longer in the functioning world that we live. They are removed, like in a convalescent home, waiting for what is to come next,” Behdarvand said via email.
Rather than photographing the cars in the yard, Behdarvand photographed them against black fabric in a garage. “The images I like most and the ones that I create tend to be focused solely on the subject of the photograph and not much other information. I like to isolate my what I am photographing. Personally, I find images without a context to have more of a visual impact,” he said. “ I wanted the cars to look like they were being catalogued and more like a precious object.”
Before the shoot day, Behdarvand went in to the junkyard to pick the cars he wanted to photograph. Since he knew that he would be photographing the cars against a solid background, Behdarvand wanted the cars to either have an eye-catching shape or to be culturally significant. “The brand of the car is symbolic of how we perceive it. A Rolls Royce represents wealth and luxury. The Galaxy with the flames represents an independent spirit. The Corvette could represent American craftsmanship or a man’s mid-life crisis,” he said.
While Behdarvand’s photos capture the cars in deconstructed and depersonalized states, the photographers still saw evidence of the cars’ past life and owners. “There are some objects in the cars that were left behind that you can’t see in the photos such as compact discs and a baby seat. The paint job on the Galaxy definitely showed love for the vehicle,” he said.