I love cars. .I like cars which perform. Cars either have to be fast or look good.Preferably both. I detest fuel efficient vasectomised cockroaches running on city roads. But then they are a necessity of modern living. For most performance is merely traveling from point A to B. I don’t belong to that category. The experience of driving is essential to my life.
But this Sunday, I came across a group of people who are passionate about their cars. Old cars. Vintage cars. Cars exuding style and many a pall of engine oil smoke from their exhaust. To my pleasant surprise half of them were women. I have special admiration for them. A couple of them in a hot rodded baby Hindustan looked very cool.
It is said that there are no accidents in life. The email application on my Nokia X6 is usually turned off. It is temperamental. It is off right now and with repeated prodding would refuse to activate. So ‘accidentally’, this Saturday afternoon, it miraculously began syncing with my hot mail account. And Lo! I see an e-mail from Dinesh Khanna on behalf of Delhi Photographers that organizers of a vintage car rally were looking for photographers to cover their event which they were hosting this Sunday. And they were willing to pay for the services as well. I simply jumped for joy. The last time I had shot vintage cars was two years ago at the Khan Market. I was determined to get a different perspective this time. So I promptly called Rajeev Joseph, he was the one to contact for the job. We spoke and he wanted to see the kind of work I did. I led him to my homepage at 1x.com ( which incidentally, I had up and running less than a week ago ). Apparently Dinesh was to select the photographer, so I wrote to him too. After looking at my work they approved my participation.
I wasn’t doing it for the money. Frankly, if there were no money involved, it wouldn’t have made any difference to my intent or enthusiasm. Though I must say since there was a bit of money involved, I took care to include the perspective of the organizers. This was good since I discovered many other things in return. Rajeev told me categorically that they weren’t looking at cliched pictures of vintage cars . He told me to include real life in Delhi . I tell you, a photographer must be receptive to every idea there is. It helps in his work. And what a wonderful idea it was. So many stories came tumbling down from all corners of my mind. I’ll shoot the car against this, I’ll shoot the car against that. Well! Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans ( John Lennon). But whatever happened worked out well for me. The perspective was fresh and challenging and I was looking forward to this.
So off I went, with many a preconceived notion to shoot vintage cars. I carried my trusted Nikon D700. My lenses were 24-70 f2.8 ( the workhorse lens), Nikon 14-24 f2.8 and my favorite 85mm f1.8. I ended up using the zooms. Then I carried an SB 900 flash which I intended to use off camera, triggered with an elinchrome skyport unit. D700’s on camera flash works as commander on most occasions, but in bright light it becomes a bit temperamental .I also carried a reflective umbrella, a light stand, a Justin clamp and a tripod.
Sunday morning was as beautiful as most Delhi mornings have been this winter. Tall Jamuns, Pilkhans, Peepal bristled on their edges with orange light. A few trees on the way frustrated me as I recognized them but could not remember their names ( after referring to my book of trees, it was a khirk that I saw). The air was on the chillier side, yet I enjoyed it very much right to my bones. A very translucent haze, almost nacreous hung to diffuse light. The blue sky above made shadows blue, while the angular sun at 9.00 am sent shafts of yellow orange light, cutting through leaves and buildings, blessing everything with warm life in its path.
As I said earlier, I went there with preconceived notions. These cars are about form, grace, attitude. An expression of their designer’s understanding of life. So the first thing to capture was the idea behind the design. Frankly, the age of the car had no real novelty for me. It was how she looked and what she said. The second most important thing to capture was how she interacted with her surroundings. By surroundings, I meant shadows, walls, other cars, buildings and most importantly the sky. Now I have this quirk, if anything cannot speak to the sky, it is not worth looking at. I don’t remember house numbers in Delhi because I don’t care. I don’t care because I don’t like the houses in Delhi.Almost all of them have been designed by shitty architects who hang ugly plastic water tanks on their roofs. I tell you the city looks so much better at night when you can’t see them.Coming back to the point of preconceived notions, I had also decided to use a wide aperture in most circumstances for shallow depth of field. Normally I like texture in my work, but of late, I’ve been in this phase of blurred backgrounds. But contradictorily, I also wanted to show the juxtaposition of modern structures with the older ones. So it was a flexible approach depending on the circumstance.
Vintage cars are also about glamor and high life. Without appropriate inclusion of such an atmosphere, the pictures would be incomplete. My off camera light and umbrella was supposed to capture portraits of collectors and other people at the scene. For reasons of logistics it didn’t turn out that way.
The Le Meridian hotel has its driveway lined with rows of lovely white Frangipanis . Must be beautiful in bloom, but I wondered , while driving down, how many of their shed flowers would get crushed under wheels of cars going to park. Well! the morbid thought soon gave way to a spectacle of an open courtyard where I could see a white Chevrolet Impala standing in a corner. Vying for attention with a row of sparkling domes keeping the breakfast of participants warm in this lovely Delhi winter ( I can’t get over it). Then I was guided into the dark confines of the hotel parking area. I descended two stories down before I could park my car. Carrying the umbrella, stand and what nots soon became a no go. I straddled my camera with the 24-70. The wide angle hung on the right and my flash along with the 85mm in small denim bag on the left. So like a loaded Sherpa I strode into the arena to celebrate life with these beautiful cars.
On my left was the breakfast buffet, adjacent to a sparkling clean white textured wall of the hotel. Sunlight was falling on it directly and thus creating a bright light reflector of sorts. It had to be used and taken care of while taking exposures. I was straight away drawn to the Impala. The Impala, to the best of my knowledge is a deer. I couldn’t find a connect in shape, but wondered how beautiful she was. Lovely light aqua tinted glass. Silver beading running along her length. The finely crafted logo. Shades on her headlamps ,and the exquisite grill. Everything spoke class. Here is the picture of her that I took.
Behind her is an iron mesh screen and a light pole. I thought they are an important part of the narrative. Giving a mechanistic edge to the atmosphere. Whether it is contrasty or a collaborative , take your pick. No. It is not an HDR. The D700 is an exceptional camera. If you expose properly with a keen eye on the histogram, you can get a very wide dynamic range even in harsh light conditions. Believe me, a white subject at 9.30 am is not exactly a photographer’s friend.
Next to her was the Rolls Royce Phantom. A glorious composition of wood, mesh, brass, spoke and that little flying angel. Her rear end was shaped like a boat. She is huge and I went around her enough to have married her, but just could not get a decent angle to capture her full body in a single frame. The same angle as the Chevy’s, was not cutting it for me. So I concentrated on the details. The obvious one was that signature angel .
I think it speaks of the romance of driving a Rolls Royce. The mechanic caring for her showed me her engine. It is straight six fed by a single side draft carburetor. I realized how things have come a long way with variable geometry intake manifolds of cars today. Her intake manifold has no regard for gas momentum, nor is anything evenly balanced. The carburetor is bang ( is it a Weber ?) , hanging in the center , piggy backing the no3. and 5 cylinders with stub of a plenum, whilst the 1 and 6 nos intake ports enjoy the luxury of generous length tracts. However, it is what is over the hood which mattered here. A classic design!. Mixing elements of architecture and technology ( for that era) in what makes Rolls Royce so unique for students of design and anthropology.
I was soon woken up from my drooling stupor by a little red machine, which roared very briskly into the arena. It is a Morgan. Beautifully crafted in its lines and planes. Headlamps sparkling like diamonds. Her owner looked proud, regal and passionate in her open cockpit. His salt and pepper hair and a pony tail under a wide brimmed cow boy hat ( I forget its technical name) going very well with her metameric crimson red paint. I say metameric because in shade it has a subtle blue tone, while in sunlight it appears more scarlet. I was drawn towards her large front grille. Have a look at her. Isn’t she lovely?
Notice the ‘bumper’. The design is clearly inspired by horns of a prized bull. Unfortunately, downsizing of the image has robbed details from the inside of the grill. Original image has all the details. Vertical rows of chrome, backed by parallelograms of a mesh and later the tightly stacked horizontal lines of the radiator. The whole form is so dynamic, aggressive and beautifully balanced in weight and luminosity.The driver’s and co-passenger’s seat is covered with a tan leather shroud. Luxurious as hell! And that exhaust note is to die for. I thought the green pipes in the background add an effective movement to the whole photograph.
I must acknowledge the warmth and generosity which Rajeev showered upon me. I didn’t recognize him but overheard someone calling his name. So I went over to introduce myself, he shook my hand with a gusto that made me immediately trust him. I usually withdraw from people who extend me a limp hand. A good solid handshake is sign of a trusting and an enthusiastic nature. Which was evident to me right through our conversations and later interaction with each other during the day. I had said over our telephonic conversation that it was alright if I wasn’t paid. But he insisted that I get paid for my effort. Then later, even without looking at the result, he handed me the money when I was about to leave. Little things like this make you feel good and make you do good. I shot with a happy heart…
This Big Bertha looks like a powerful locomotive. She is a Pontiac Silver streak. There is very little silver in her, but she shone like one despite her deep plum color. Ah! the grace of metal. She reminded me of a story which I read in class eight. It was called locomotive 59. Locomotive 59 was the name of a rich red Indian. Her nose is graced by a lovely little head of an In jun.
That’s her profile picture. The front suspension seems to be extra stiff. The engine must be quite heavy. Wheel arches and fenders look like pumped muscles. She is quite an imposing figure.
That’s how polished her personality is. I particularly liked the aggressive form of her windows.
One of my favorite cars is the Chevrolet Bel-Air. Like the Impala, it has a sense of history. Here she was dressed in yellow. Her photos at the parking lot aren’t that great. The camera angle and standing next to big Bertha were not going in her favor. I got a sweeping form from her. Sitting low and taking a wide angle.
But later on the road, her cheerful nature took over everything. You’ll see for yourself.
I simply could not get enough of her. So I took pictures in all possible situations I could. I must tell you the situation I was in at this time. Head, camera and upper torso jutting out from the front window of an Innova like an over excited Labrador. Eyes streaming with tears from the incoming air and quizzical looks of motorcyclists whizzing past between us and the car made shooting a bit more challenging. My preconceptions were turning into concepts of adaptability.
Its a nice shot of the old having got left behind in function, but the form is miles ahead of the contemporary.
This along with some other pictures was my take on how passion is ebbing out from our blood. The need to accommodate so many has led us to live in matchboxes. The Bel Air represents the good time of yore. Looking at the front wheel, I wonder whether McPherson’s struts had made an entry in the 1960’s!?
The parking lot at the central Mall at DLF Phase V Gurgaon gave me a different opportunity of juxtaposing elements in an interesting manner. It was late afternoon. These pictures were shot around 2pm. So the sky was turning blue. On one side was the mall with its neo-abstract-meaningless-boxy design. On the other was a hedge, bright green as it comes. Then a wall, fortunately hidden by the hedge itself was followed by the main access road and then, a long gallery of lovely elephant grass. You can see it in this photo. Gold, soft and delightfully articulate in response to breeze.
I was pretty much occupied with the grass behind that I forgot to imbibe the essentials of the car in front. The logo says TD. If the owner reads this blog, please leave a comment and tell us about this car. In fact I request any of the owners reading the blog to share some history of their beloved vehicle here in the comments section.
Besides the buildings under construction there were high voltage transmission towers. These I thought lent nicely to the narrative. Strong, standing tall much like the robotic leviathans of the ‘Transformers’ movie, overlooking the happenings below. Meanwhile the cars in their splendor feeling at home under their gaze. See if it makes sense..
As I said earlier, it was important to understand how the cars interacted with their environment. I used the sky as a major player to create the old underexposed fujichrome Velvia look. The contrast of the white with the blue of the sky stood out here.
There are many such pictures. I was happy to receive the benevolence of the blue sky and then greedily worked on it to create some drama in the pictures. I believe making an image is much like cooking. You need to add spices, textures, colors to make a great dish. Processing of an image is spicing it up. Isn’t it?
But I made no attempt to clone out the wire on top. I thought it is an important part of the picture. Though in some, I have cloned out offending pieces of trash strewn by heartless in the landscape.
The red baby was a dream to photograph. Deep, saturated, proud it stood almost all backgrounds with elan.
At the hotel.
At the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
At the parking lot of the mall in Gurgaon. I salute the graphic/ airbrush artist who made the flame motif on its door. I know its not easy as I’ve drawn plenty of those, but on saris when I was an assistant designer for Suneet Varma. The difference was that I just had to draw freehand with chalk, but these guys have to stencil out the mask, paste it on the surface and then carefully clean up the edges. Needs a lot of patience.
Another thing of note is that she hosts a small racing style steering wheel. I wonder if the putter in the bonnet is original, for it surely would not have power steering. With those fat wheels she’ll need strong forearms, triceps and wrists to maneuver. To go with those looks she should have a turbocharged Gypsy King engine ( for its North South orientation ), Koni shocks and various other performance upgrades to smoke everything on the road. The rusty mild steel exhaust hanging uncouthly is a bit of a let down.
Lets go back to the spirit of the event. Enthusiastic owners/ collectors, chatty mechanics and earth shattering exhaust notes of the super-bikes. Super-bikes? What were they doing here. They were the item numbers of the scene. Orange Hayabusa, R-1, Harley Davidsons , a Triumph which looked like a tractor and the piece-the-resistance ( for me) a Yamaha V-Max. Epitome of pulling power. It has killed many with its brute force but there are crazy bikers who have turbocharged her as well! God keep them safe ( and others too).
Amongst the crowd of machines and mechanical mutterings there were children who were enjoying themselves with their parents. Teen aged girls would occasionally tear themselves off their mobile phones to pay attention to their parents shout. It was a festive atmosphere. Men wore cowboy hats ( some women too), denims and jackets were de- riguer. Breakfast was nice but more importantly the hosts looked after everyone. I heard one collector telling his mechanic to dig into the breakfast buffet.” Don’t be shy” he insisted. Many were dressed to go well with their cars. The diminutive sunbeam carried lovely ladies with a great sense of style.
The name is so apt. Here is another picture of it with the beautiful lady…
Later at the Mall everybody rounded off the great day with wonderful food and dance at the Hao Shi Nian Nian Chinese restaurant. The place has been done very tastefully and for the time fortunately did not play any Chinese music ( That sangeet is beyond me ). I enjoyed taking pictures of participants and their children having a good time ( I love it when people are having fun). It was pretty dark in there and my camera was having difficulty to focus. But it did quite well in the circumstances.
Believe me, it was very dark. This was shot at 1600 ISO . I don’t grudge modern technology here. With film, it is unthinkable. But soon I decided to pull out my flash as the dance floor was hotting up.
Predictably ‘ Munni Badnam Hui’ and ‘Sheila ki Jawani’ have a profound effect on body and soul. The idea is to have a good time.
That’s my gracious host Rajeev Joseph.
Before I round up with the group photograph, I must mention the russet colored Ford Mustang. She can make her fat tires squeal and looked beautiful on the road as well as against the backdrop of the Mall. Here are some pictures.
It was almost an after thought as I just could not miss mentioning her. Now for the group photograph. It reflected the mood of the event perfectly.
So this was it. My next blog will be about a Rock concert I covered for Harley Davidson.
Cheers, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all of you.