Flash, Click, Hit the Gas
The drive-by photography of Andrew Bush ’79 leaves you wondering where the people behind the wheels (and an entire city) are heading...
Story by Mark Kendall / Photos by Andrew Bush
Driving around Los Angeles in his sensible-gray Nissan Sentra, Andrew
Bush ’79 was just another anonymous motorist, sealed off from the
passing world, until he decided to take along a flashy companion.
Bush mounted a medium-format camera in his passenger side window
using a special bracket and, starting in the late ’80s, set off on a series of
marathon excursions along the freeways. The photographer wanted to show
people driving their cars, and the freeways provided the widest range of possible
subjects. “We pass hundreds of drivers at 50 or 60 miles per hour every
day,’’ says Bush. “But we seldom see or remember them.” Over the course
of a decade, Bush’s project yielded thousands of photos and, because this is
L.A., the inevitable car chase.
Bush knows well how we love to drive somewhere, anywhere, to be free
and in motion. How we’ll find a way to justify going 30 miles for, say, paper
clips, just to be on the open road. “Being sealed off in a car is not too different
than being in a movie theatre by yourself,” says Bush, whose freeway
photos were recently published as a book, Drive, from Yale University Press.
The difference: “you’re sort of the director of your own film and also the
person running the projector. You project your fantasies onto the windshield
and steer your car to what you want to see and into your own denouement.”
Cut to the chase, you say? Bush’s was the low-speed variety, though he
still was fortunate to escape unscathed. After he photographed a passing
Ferrari, the driver followed him down the 405 Freeway, so Bush switched to
the 10, which runs into Pacific Coast Highway, where there’s a stoplight,
which, of course, Bush got stuck at. The man got out of his car and
demanded the film. Bush complied, just to be rid of the guy, but the hothead
still grabbed Bush’s keys from the ignition, tossed them into the street
and threatened to kill him if he ever “messed” with him again.
Such rage was the exception. Really, what sort of expectation of privacy
should drivers have while hurtling along a public freeway with thousands of
other motorists? “When you’re driving, you’re a voyeur to begin with,”
Bush says. “I’m just a voyeur looking at other voyeurs.” Some subjects were
flattered, even flirtatious. This was their paparazzi moment. “I wanted to
make drivers stand still, and photographing them with a flash turned them
into a celebrity, gave them a face and identity in a place where they seemed
elusive, anonymous and invisible.”
The result of all his behind-the-wheel artistry is a collective portrait of
L.A. that makes you wonder just where the motorists—and the city—are
The photos have gone on exhibition at such venues as The Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and,
most fittingly, the Department of Motor Vehicles office in L.A. There will be
simultaneous exhibitions of the work this April in New York at the Julie Saul
Gallery and Yossi Milo Gallery.
Bush didn’t have the project published in book form until this past
spring, holding off, he concedes, because there were just too many photos to
sort through without the aid of a computer—nor did he want to acknowledge
that the project was over. No car-loving Californian ever wants to reach
the end of the road.