Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Search for Tiny Cars That Can ; Photographer Finds Vintage Models to Use in Soaring Chase Shots

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Search for Tiny Cars That Can ; Photographer Finds Vintage Models to Use in Soaring Chase Shots

Article excerpt

Matthew Porter shops online for vintage muscle cars -- miniatiure ones -- that he uses to set up location shots of cars soaring through the air.

Matthew Porter is shopping online for a vintage muscle car, and not just any car will do.

He is tempted by a '66 Dodge Charger but isn't crazy about its glossy white paint job. A '72 Plymouth Road Runner would appeal, but it's tricked out for racing, with "43" painted on its roof and Pepsi decals all over. The '70 Plymouth Superbird? It lacks the steroidal contours he craves. He passes on a couple of convertibles and then discovers a '67 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500.

"Yeah, this is the first thing I see that I'd seriously consider," he says. "I have a few Mustangs, but I don't have a Shelby. They're special because Shelby was a designer and a race- car driver, and he helped engineer this car for Ford. This is kind of exciting."

If Mr. Porter buys the Shelby, he knows exactly what he'll do with it: photograph it in midair, soaring so dangerously high that it will look doomed to a chassis-bending wreck. Happily, he will not need a driver to pull off this stunt. He won't even need gas. Like all the vehicles photographed for what this artist calls his flying car series, the Shelby is a 1:18 scale model, with a length of about 11 inches, or 28 centimeters, purchased from a Web site,

The miniatures arrive in Mr. Porter's Brooklyn studio, a cluttered space in an old building between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Navy Yard. The cars are dangled like marionettes from a mechanical arm, carefully lighted and shot, then digitally fused to an image of a streetscape that Mr. Porter has photographed with a large-format camera. When vehicle and backdrop are seamlessly melded, he has devised a classic image from '60s- and '70s-era television and cinema -- an airborne hunk of Detroit steel, but a hunk that looks hazardously aloft.

To anyone unfamiliar with Mr. Porter's technique, the photographs delight and then mystify. How did he catapult a car like that? And who paid the driver's medical bills? Then comes the realization that the car is sailing impossibly high, and that the tableau must be fabricated. At which point delight returns, along with wonder: If this isn't real, how did it happen?

"Honestly, some of it came from watching the closing of the remake of 'Starsky & Hutch,"' Mr. Porter said on a recent afternoon in his studio. "They do one of those jumps over the crest of a hill, and it froze, and the lens flared over the hood. And I thought, that's the picture I'd like to make, but I don't have the budget or the resources to actually stage it."

Mr. Porter printed his first flying car a year after the movie came out, in 2005, and the images have been so popular that he has made about two a year since -- 14 so far, most in editions of five. They sell out immediately, and his galleries, Invisible-Exports in Manhattan and M+B in Los Angeles, keep a waiting list for new releases. One of his photographs, "110 Junction," is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition "After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age."

"I think of it as a companion to Yves Klein's 'Leap Into the Void,"' said Mia Fineman, an assistant curator in the Met's photographs department. She was referring to a photograph Klein took of himself jumping off a building, seemingly on the verge of a skull fracture. Actually he had arranged men beneath him holding an outstretched tarp to break his fall, which he erased from the final image. Klein's "Void" can be seen across the hall from "110 Junction" in the show "Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop."

"'Leap' and Porter's flying cars have a similar sense of freedom and risk, defying gravity through the artifice of photographic manipulation," said Ms. Fineman, who organized the two shows. "Both artists are engaging the viewer to see how much they can get you to suspend disbelief. …

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