I stumbled upon Michael’s Instagram page (@smittync) while browsing pictures tagged with the #carspotter hashtag, and I am so glad I did. I was instantly drawn to his gritty imagery and the way that his photographs felt like much more than just a picture of a car. His pictures had substance and invited my eyes to take in more than just the subject of the photo. For me, the scene and setting of Michael’s pictures are just as important as the vehicles within them.
His pictures are like a blank canvas upon which your mind can create a story. They are a true example of powerful, artistic and timeless photography.
I decided to reach out to Michael to find out more about him, his photography and his passion for cars.
How long have you been a fan of cars?
How did you first get into car photography?
In late 2001, I started photographing parked cars in Montreal’s Milton-Parc neighborhood. I was consciously interested in documenting time and place — fixing, for the future, a moment when the weak end of the used vehicle market in a cold, salty city was filled with the seventies and eighties cars I’d known as a child. I saw that past melting around me and needed to hold on. I wanted to understand what cars meant as physical, sculptural objects in public spaces – street furniture – but I didn’t yet know how to express or understand those ideas, and I hadn’t yet learned how to locate those questions in the broader frameworks of design, mental models, taste, trend cycles, etc.
Later – perhaps ten years ago – I discovered the Auto-Anthropology Flickr group. I didn’t post anything, but the style propagated by Patrick Joust and other prolific contributors influenced photos I was making at the time. Their photography helped validate my interest in context (and not just cars themselves).
Your Instagram page focuses more on older/classic cars, rather than new cars. Tell me where your passion for these vehicles was born?
Most cars are ephemeral. Their forms reflect periodic trends and design movements, telling little stories about the individuals to whom they were intended to appeal, and about the deeper mindsets that informed their shapes. Industrial design can be read as a barometer of a civilization’s base moods and tones, and the old cars that remain are tangible reminders of those ways of thinking. I love that the meaning we read in designs is transient — that they land differently today than yesterday.
The same sort of rationality can inform an interest in old buildings or clothing or design of any sort. I’ve chosen cars because they’re important to me. As an enthusiast, I love how they extend the physical body. As a design researcher, I see them as the ultimate personal avatar, extending an individual’s presence.
To that end, I’m interested in the ways these echoes of the past – especially examples which remain in common circulation – influence the visual language we share today. How much of our own self-image is reflected in the cars we choose? Is there a feedback loop?
I’m also fascinated by the fact that cars have been designed to withstand stresses in very specific ways — that they can sit for decades on the streets of Manhattan, on the nasty edges of a sleepless traffic river, through riots and rains and gangs and grime. And that a single hard punch from any of the millions of cabs passing inches away could end it.
Beyond all that stuff, I’m just a sucker for old cars and unfiltered experiences. Mid Century industrial design was subject to fewer constraints than its modern counterpart. The cars were happier.
I have noticed that a lot of your Instagram posts include poetry. Are they all written by you or are they poems by other people (or both)?
It’s all mine! Well, that’s not true; my wife has contributed two poems (for which she received attribution). This Instagram presence is intended as a personal creative outlet, so everything on it is necessarily self-generated.
Leading on from the last question, I think that poetry works really well with your car photography. How did you come up with the idea to couple poems with your pictures?
Thank you! I’ve been writing little poems and song parodies for years. This seemed like an obvious extension. My Instagram is mostly a writing project; if I don’t have anything to say, I don’t post.
What made you decide to start an Instagram account dedicated to car photography?
Just under two years ago, a red 1974-76 BMW 2002 crossed my path on the way home from work. I posted a photo to an Instagram account that had been dormant for a while. The following day, I felt like doing it again. As it turned into a routine, I realized how fun the challenge of a daily post could be. Since then, it’s come to fill various roles: hobby, sounding board, creative outlet, sharpening post.
How often do you go car spotting?
Not as often as I’d like! Depending on my bandwidth, I try to get out every two weeks or so. My preference for fast lenses and slow film reflects the sunny Saturday mornings on which I usually find the time.
Tell me about some of your favourite locations to take pictures in New York City?
The East Village (Manhattan) and Red Hook (Brooklyn) are always stocked with good cars and great stories! I’ve got favourite places in all five boroughs but find myself returning to those. It’s very easy for this sort of project to devolve into poverty porn, and it’s definitely not my aim to celebrate others’ misery. You learn quickly which neighborhoods are governed by shame, not pride.
What photography equipment and editing software do you like to use?
I use a Pentax 6X7 with the 105mm f/2.4, 150mm f/2.8, and 55mm f/3.5 lenses. I shoot 35mm with a Canon FT-QL + Canon FD 50mm SMC f/1.4 and Olympus MJU II. Digital is handled on a Canon 5D + Canon FL 55mm f/1.2, but that camera doesn’t get used too much anymore.
I don’t edit the film photos at all. Digital stuff gets pushed through Lightroom.
Who is your favourite photographer?
Name a few of your favourite Instagram car photography accounts?
@thingspeopledrive accomplishes in five words what takes me 500. A must-follow.
@melocargotodo has a great eye and all the passion.
And I love @beerruncalifornia
I would like to thank Michael for taking the time to speak with me. Be sure to check out his Instagram page and give him a follow! Click here to visit Michael’s (@smittync) Instagram page