Indirect Inspirations—CARS: New York City, 1974–1976

The Riviera Project has many inspirations, both direct and indirect. An indirect one I’ll write about in this post is Langdon Clay’s CARS: New York City, 1974–1976, which I received as a holiday gift in late 2018.

Cover of CARS: New York City, 1974-1976
(courtesy Steidl, © 2016 Langdon Clay)

CARS: New York City has 114 photographs of automobiles—and they’re almost all cars, with just a few trucks and vans. The vast majority of the images are side views, nearly all were shot in New York City, and all of them were taken between 1974 and 1976. Langdon Clay shot the photos on Kodachrome using a Leica with a 40 mm lens and a tripod. The images have an unusual look (at least to me) because Clay used sodium-vapor lights and long exposures. As Luc Sante writes in his foreword, the cars are “arrayed like mugshots but lit like Hollywood stars.” Published by Steidl Books on high-quality paper, this book has given me pleasure in a way few of my automotive books do.

Langdon Clay, “White Tower car, Buick Electra, Meatpacking District” (1976) (courtesy Steidl, © 2016 Langdon Clay)

There is a Riviera in the book—a boat tail whose large front bumper makes me pretty sure is a 1973—but that’s not why I’m writing about this book. The point is Langdon Clay’s artistry from another place and time; as he says, “the cars sort of picked me.”

The selection of models seen in CARS: New York City is definitively from another age. A Datsun is the only Japanese car featured. No BMWs or Audis make the cut, though Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen are reasonably well represented. Almost half of the photos are of General Motors products, with nearly half of those being Chevrolets of some sort. The sole SUV is a Jeep Wagoneer. “Dead” marques represent almost a third of the images and include AMC, Checker, Jenson, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Pontiac, Rambler, and Saab.

CARS: New York City is available in a hardback from many sources, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.