For me, Vivienne Scholl has been able to achieve something that many photographers struggle to achieve: a signature style.
The thing I admire most about her work is how instantly recognisable her images are. She has an ability to combine classic, easy on the eye automobiles with stunning urban architecture. The structure and perspective within her pictures resemble scenes found in artwork or paintings.
The passion she has for both cars and buildings is evident in her photography. I decided to reach out to Vivienne to speak about where this passion comes from and how she got into car photography. Enjoy the interview!
How long have you been a fan of cars?
I’ve had an appreciation for vintage cars since I was a kid. I grew up in Central New York where they’re a rare sight. It snows there in winter and cities put salt on the roads to help melt the snow and ice—but salt accelerates rust, so people tend to keep their precious classics safely in garages. So that meant we only really saw them in summer. And they were always moving, never parked, so they were fleeting, which made them even more special. Whenever one would drive by my brother Bert would make sure everyone stopped what they were doing and looked—and we did. (He ended up buying a ‘68 pink Cadillac when we were teenagers). So I grew up knowing there was something really special about old cars.
How did you first get into car photography?
A few years ago I had a back injury, and one of my doctor’s orders was to walk. I live in San Francisco, which is an extremely photogenic city, so the way I motivated myself to get out and move was to walk and take pictures. I was capturing scenes that had elements of Victorian & Edwardian architecture, great exterior & landscape design and the beautiful, expressive trees we have here. And at some point I started to notice how many vintage cars there were—and parked right on the street—which seems crazy, until you think about the fact that there are only a finite number of garages in the city. I think people here love their cars so much they just decide parking on the street is worth the risk. That gives us these lovely, colorful tree-lined streets dotted with classic cars. All of that coincided with my discovery of Instagram. I love taking pictures, using the Instagram tools to enhance them, sharing them, getting feedback and chatting with other car lovers (and yes, I admit I enjoy the instant gratification).
You do a fantastic job of combining architecture and cars in your photography. Am I correct in thinking that a lot of your pictures are taken from a side view/side profile to feature both the car and the building in the background?
You’re exactly right. In terms of the profile, there’s something magical to me about that perfect, low angle profile of a vintage car. As for the backdrop, I’ve tried photographing at car shows, or fields of vintage cars in rural areas, and it always leaves me uninspired. It’s the interplay of the car and the backdrop that excites me. You may have noticed that my photos feature vintage cars and often old buildings, but they don’t really have a vintage feel. This is intentional. While I love vintage, what I love more is a mix of old and new. Rather than trying to simulate the past, I like to marry contemporary and classic, and my hope is that in doing so, I’m creating something new.
After taking a look at your Instagram account, it is clear to see that you are a fan of classic cars. What is it about classics that you admire the most?
I think for decades, car design was really highly valued at every price point in the automotive industry. But then somewhere along the line, maybe in the late 70s, that ended. For the everyday car brands, gas mileage became the most important priority. Aerodynamics was king and, in my opinion, unique and interesting car design died. Today it’s only the super high-end brands and a very few attainable brands that still bring good visual design to their cars.
The era I admire most is the 60s. The 50s are considered the heyday of car design, with the bubbly, exaggerated shapes and curves. But in the 60s, all of that mellowed into an understated cool that to me is perfect.
I saw some of the amazing pictures you recently posted from your trip to Mexico. What was it like taking pictures there?
I was SO excited about wandering and finding vintage cars in a new environment—one that I was anticipating would be as unique and beautiful as San Francisco. We visited two towns, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, which are pretty different from each other. Guanajuato has a bright and lively Caribbean palette while San Miguel de Allende has more of a natural, subdued, warm palette, with terra cottas, pinks and bright spots of reds and golds. Both beautiful in their own ways. The funny thing was, in the ten days we were there, almost all of the vintage cars we saw were Volkswagen Beetles. The only exceptions were a Buick Skylark and a Datsun 510 Wagon. Carspotting there was super fun, but San Francisco definitely has it beat in terms of diversity.
As a fan of architecture and cars, there must be loads of places you would love to visit and take pictures. Name some of the top locations on your bucket list?
Is this a wish list? If so, first I’ll take an all-expense paid trip to Havana, Cuba, preferably for two. London seems like a great choice as well. Beyond that, I’d need to do a little research. It’s that magic combination of old architecture, a population with an appreciation for vintage cars and some motivation or reason for people to not hide them away in garages. I’d definitely welcome any suggestions.
How often do you go car spotting?
I usually go out about two or three times a week. I don’t own a car (we sold our boring old aerodynamic Honda Accord in 2016) so if I have an appointment or a meeting in another part of town, I take a cab over there and I walk back home. It’s good for my body and great for my art, so I work my schedule around it.
Name some of your favourite car spotting locations in San Francisco?
Haight-Ashbury, Noe Valley, Castro, Mission and Glen Park are where I walk the most. I’m sure there are other neighborhoods that I should be hitting. If anyone has any amazing spots I should be exploring, please message me!
What made you decide to start an Instagram account dedicated to car photography?
I started to notice that there’s a huge, international artist community on Instagram, and I thought if I had a specialized account I would meet more people with similar interests, and see more inspiring art—which has definitely happened. I’ve found that artists on Instagram are incredibly supportive, positive and community-oriented.
What photography equipment and editing software do you like to use?
I do own a camera, but my car photos are all shot with an iPhone. I’m not sure how unusual this is, but my photo art exists purely because of the convenience of technology. I spend a lot of time on a computer working on my design business, so I really can’t stand the idea of spending more time on the computer in my down time. I do almost all my editing in Instagram. The only exception is if I’m going to print a photo. Then, if needed, I’ll edit in Photoshop just to make sure it’s frame-worthy. The ability to do almost everything from a handheld device is like a dream.
Who is your favourite photographer?
I don’t know that I have a favorite photographer, but I would say my biggest influence in terms of my aesthetic is Ed Ruscha. He’s a Los Angeles-based fine artist and photographer I learned about in college. I like photography with an authentic, unmanipulated feel. I like that about his photography. I also love the dry, deadpan humor in his work.
Name a few of your favourite Instagram accounts?
Where can people go to buy some of your prints?
For now, people just message me when they want a print (on Instagram, Facebook or email). I have a price list that shows the different substrates we can print on (like wood or metal) in addition to photo prints. I can also help people put together a set like a triptych or a grid of images, which can be printed as separate pieces or all on one panel. We have a grid of six wood panels in our living room and they’re pretty cute!
I would like to thank Vivienne for taking the time to speak with me. Be sure to check out her Instagram page and give her a follow: @parkedportraits
Also, check out her website: parkedportraits.com