Brain Pickings

Andrew Bush’s Drive-By Portraits: A Meditation on Character

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What a vintage Beetle has to do with speeding grannies and the challenges of family travel.

Many years ago — okay, maybe three — I came across Andrew Bush’s fantastic photos of everyday people cruising the freeways of Los Angeles, thanks to Very Short List, one of my 5 favorite newsletters for a better, more interesting life. This week, Public School reminded me of the Vector Portraits series, immortalized in the excellent coffeetable book Drive — a selection of Bush’s best photographs, exploring the often uncomfortable intersection of the public and the private through his peculiar drive-by portraits.

Man heading south at 73 mph on Interstate 5 near Buttonwillow Drive outside of Bakersfield, California, at 5:36 p.m. on a Tuesday in March 1992

Woman pausing at a Beverly Hills intersection at 2:22 p.m. on September 12, 1990

Man drifting northwest at approximately 68 mph on U.S. Route 101 somewhere near Camarillo, California, one evening in 1989

Each image of car and driver captures the personality of the person behind the wheel with surprising simplicity, candid yet unabashedly creative, resulting in what Cathleen Medwick eloquently calls “a meditation on character, class, [and] the human condition, precarious at any speed.”

Man drifting near the shoulder at 61 mph on Interstate 405 around the Getty Drive exit at 4:01 p.m. on a Tuesday in September 1992

Someone's son traveling northbound at 60 mph on U.S. Route 101 near Santa Barbara at 1:55 p.m. in August 1993

Family traveling northwest at 63 mph on Interstate 244 near Yale Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at approximately 4:15 p.m. on the last day of 1991

Bush takes his portraits by driving alongside his subjects, often at 60mph, with a camera attached to his passenger window. The captions on each photograph, frequently imbued with subtle humor, include notes on the speed and direction he was going. An essay by cultural critic Patt Morrison contextualizes the series and an interview with Bush offers a peek inside the mind and creative process of one of today’s most remarkable photographic artists.

Women racing southwest at 41 mph along 26th Street near the Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California, at 1:14 p.m. on a Tuesday in February 1997

Woman waiting to proceed south at Sunset and Highland boulevards, Los Angeles, at approximately 11:59 a.m. one day in February 1997

High school students facing north at 0 mph on Sepulveda Boulevard in Westwood, California, at 3:01 p.m. on a Saturday in February 1997

With images spanning nearly 15 years, Drive is as much a time-capsule of techno-anthropology, with its evolving car models and hairstyles, as it is a rich and peculiar collective portrait of car culture and the myriad vehicles of human character that fuel it.

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