s u r f a c e a c t i v e
My interest in photography (particularly in documenting graffiti and street art) began in 1981 when I attended a summer session drawing and painting class for high school art students at Parsons School of Design in New York City, where I would later major in communication design. After class and before the long train commute home I would explore lower Manhattan on foot, trusty Pentax ME Super 35mm camera in hand.
Here was a completely alien landscape for a kid brought up in Southern California. There was a solidity, a history, a sense of permanence to the architecture that didn’t exist in suburbia out west. And of course the scale of the place was like nothing I had encountered before. SoHo and Greenwich Village became favorite destinations due to their close proximity to school and high concentration of creative types there who couldn’t seem to resist throwing all manner of graphic detritus on just about every available vertical surface.
Posters, flyers, propaganda, stickers, graffiti, murals - it was all there. The City as communal art project, an evolving collaboration between the artists and the degradation brought on by time, weather and continuous additions to the canvas, all speaking a silent agenda to us passersby.
These random graphic constructions I liked to photograph existed only for a brief period before being changed by someone adding to or removing
something from the design, or via a more gradual deterioration from the effects of time and exposure to the elements. I found this fascinating because it was a natural process impossible to predict, control or duplicate. You never knew what you were going to get - you just had to be looking in the right spot to get it.
It is these early experiments in recording the beautiful yet transient graphic abstractions of New York City that directly influence my automotive photography today. As you’ll see throughout this website, I’m drawn to the neglected, rusted hulks, the barn finds and the junkyard dogs. My focus is often narrowed to a few square inches of real estate on a car where man, nature and time, in a collaboration totally unique to every vehicle, have conspired to create a gorgeous pallet of form, color and texture for me to document.
I’ll leave photographing examples of gleaming automotive perfection to much more talented photographers with the studios and equipment to do them justice. For me, the passion to create these works of art comes from not only an appreciation (well, maybe it’s an obsession) of classic automobiles, but of their passage through our lives, the historical record of their existence left behind in beautifully rusted steel, corroded paint and pitted chrome.
Austin Steele Huntington Beach, CA 2016