Andrew Bush’s “Vector Portraits” – a series of pictures taken while driving alongside his subjects on the roads and freeways of California – was one of the signature photographic series of the 90s. Original, perceptive, and with a fresh conceptual twist, it explored the culture of Los Angeles as well as issues of privacy, danger, and the American dream.
Now, after a decade in which the pictures were slowly slipping from public sight, Yale University Press is about to publish a selection of 70 photographs along with an interview by Jeff Rosenheim, one of the Met’s brightest curators. (The book comes out next week.)
Bush took the pictures by mounting a 4x5 camera and simple strobe on the passenger side of his car and remotely snapping the picture while driving at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. Photographed when Bush is directly across from them, the subjects are framed by the car window to make a separate picture within a picture.
Deadpan titles record not only where and when each photograph was taken, but information about speed, weather, etc. These captions give a faux-scientific aspect to the work, recalling Ed Ruscha's books of the late 1960's in which Ruscha photographed and catalogued such commonplace symbols of Los Angeles as parking lots, palm trees and gas stations.
Despite their humor, Bush's pictures make for fascinating socio-psychological documents. The car is, after all, a unique area of personal space - half public, half private. And as much as we may be what we eat or wear, we are also what we drive.
Man heading south at 73 mph on Interstate 5 near Buttonwillow Drive outside of Bakersfield, California, at 5:36 p.m. on a Tuesday in March 1992