Francois Bellabas’ photographic series Motorstudies is an ambitious mix between documentary photography and a search for idealized aesthetics. Described by Bellabas himself, the series “is a photographic study that questions the car and its representation, but which also uses it as a referent and a measurement tool. It’s a documentary about the issues, the challenges and the aesthetics that are generated by the automobile realm”.
Hailing from Paris, Bellabas provides a European point of view on North American car culture. Taking place in Los Angeles, Bellabas’ photo series moves from wide shots of freeways to close-ups of individual details of vehicles – a combination which was carefully planned and executed.
Many of Bellabas’ shots can be appreciated on an aesthetic level, but also contain a deeper level of meaning. Above, we can admire the sweeping and intermingling lines of the overpasses purely for their grandiose presence, but they also cause the viewer to contemplate the functional existence of these structures, and what they represent in the everyday lives of the inhabitants of Los Angeles. And on an even broader scale, they bring into question what may have existed before these floating passageways were erected, and how much space similar structures occupy around the globe.
Not only do Bellabas’ shots vary from wide angle to close-ups, but they also vary from perspective and tone. Bellabas carefully switches up different points of view, purposefully taking photos from the perspective of the driver, the passenger, and the onlooking pedestrian. These points of view are rearranged within the series in order to create fragments of a bigger, more global story.
Bellabas explains that his series is meant partly to be an aesthetic reflection, but that the deeper theme of his series is encouraging viewers to reflect on the space that the automobile takes up in everyday life: “The automobile is the epicenter of a bigger mechanism – one that affects and infects the environment, even beyond the lines defined by roads”
Although thinking about the environmental impact that human beings have on the planet can be unsettling, Bellabas keeps a balance of serious and playful by moving between more thought-provoking images like the ones above, to images that are more minimalistic in nature, and that invite us to appreciate the nostalgia and romance that exists within the realm of automobiles.
Through an excellent use of colour and composition, Bellabas explores the space that vehicles inhabit within their physical environment, as well as the space they inhabit in the hearts and minds of their owners. In the lives of many people, vehicles carry a great deal of sentiment and occupy a great deal of time. Interestingly, Bellabas explores this concept without featuring a single person in his images, bringing a sort of haunting and empty element to the series, and further questions the value that so many of us place on physical possessions.
Bellabas’ images also serve as a reminder that over time, destruction and decay are inevitable – and that we ourselves are no safer from the burden of aging than our vehicles.
Overall, Bellabas’ work serves as a thoughtful arrangement of images that direct us to ponder the past, present and the future of the automotive world. Even if one cannot appreciate the aesthetic beauty of a vehicle itself, it is much harder to deny the beauty and excitement that one feels as a new destination rolls over the horizon and flashes by the car window.