It was many decades before an automobile was featured on the cover of a major architectural design periodical without an accompanying building in the background. Buildings were there to provide context for the car, to normalize it, to give it some design authority. Often in photography of cars, the backgrounds are used to express not only a mood, but an authority to the automotive subject. Putting a car in a run down industrial estate, maybe with some graffiti gives the car some grit or some edge, even if the car is as aristocratic as a hundreds of thousands of dollars Ferrari. And no matter how polluting a straight-exhaust sports car might be, you’ll often find pictures of them on green forested mountain roads, where the brutal imposition of automotive infrastructure is made to look in harmony with a Sunday-driving car used for enjoying the countryside.
Still I sometimes find myself thinking that just the car can make the buildings and the backdrops shine, rather than the other way around. It wouldn’t surprise me that many people find the countryside most beautiful when it’s framed by a windshield and passing by at 60 miles an hour. And I’ll be damned if Central Park doesn’t look prettier with this Audi waiting at the lights amongst the foliage.
Given that it’s hot outside and my usual library for automotive history knowledge is now a good forty five minutes away, footnotes for this article may have to come at another time.