“Years ago I was struck by a simple remark that a visiting writer made while we were stuck in one of L.A.’s famous traffic jams: ‘I wonder where all these cars go to rest at night.’ I started to wonder myself.”—Gerd Ludwig
Photographer Gerd Ludwig has always had a fascination with cars, something that he attributes to the German-engineered cars he grew up around. Now based in Los Angeles, Ludwig has developed an ongoing romance with the classic and modern cars of Hollywood. At night, he ventures into the city to find out where these cars “sleep,” whether covered, uncovered, or hiding beside a garage. With an exhibition and a new book on the way, he answered questions about the inspiration behind these curious portraits of cars.
JANNA DOTSCHKAL: What happened after you started wondering where the cars went to rest?
GERD LUDWIG: Driving in L.A. in the dark, I began to consciously observe where these iconic Los Angeles inhabitants reside at night. Soon I discovered their marked differences. Nestled in the low-lying fog of distinctly Los Angeles neighborhoods, they take on personalities of their own. They rest against backgrounds of varying ambient light on the winding streets of the Hollywood Hills or the flat, gridded suburbs of the Valley. I especially fell in love with the loners, those who command their own space and enjoy showing off their presence.
JANNA: What caused you to see them as “sleeping”?
GERD: I find covered cars more in L.A. than anywhere else. It was an immediate connection in my mind—that the cover was like a nightgown. With this spark, I looked for those that gave me the feeling that they were resting, tucked away, napping, or laying in wait. Some are powerful, dangerous machines, but this is when they are most vulnerable. It’s like Tom Waits said: “You’re innocent when you dream.”
JANNA: What visual cues did you look for when searching for cars?
GERD: I search ceaselessly for cars that speak to me. Like a devoted bird-watcher I have learned to recognize their sleeping patterns. With voyeuristic pleasure I’ve spied on them in their nightgowns. I’ve watched some sleep in the nude, some take afternoon naps, and a few lucky ones get to sleep together.
Like many of my journalistic photographs, the car images are layered. I’m aiming [not only] to portray the personalities of these cars but also how the way they are covered reflects the attitudes and cares of their owners, and how the surroundings speak to Los Angeles, undeniably a city of cars.
Middle-class families generally own more than one car here, but their homes only have one-car garages. So many cars are left parked on the street for an extended period. They are lovingly covered, especially during holidays, when their owners treat them like crated pets.
JANNA: How did you capture each car’s personality?
GERD: The cars in this project are photographed as I find them. No car has been moved—nothing has been arranged for me. Since I mostly photograph at night, the images require long exposures and subsequently a tripod. I often use small handheld strobes to unobtrusively enhance the lighting. But there is also room for serendipity—the headlights of passing cars can create an eerie glow, and in a few rare cases I light the scene with my own car lights.
Occasionally, proud car owners will ask me if I want them to move or uncover the car for the photograph, but I generally don’t like to disturb the cars in their slumber.
JANNA: What do you hope people will take away from this project?
GERD: In many images, the car cover hides the make and the model of the car. All that is left is a vague form and suggestion of the car’s shape. We all have our own relationships, memories, and feelings about cars and we bring those with us when we see these photographs. The images invite us to attach personalities, beginnings, and ends of scenes to these images.
Like what Edward Hopper does with his woman on the bed or ushers in the movie theaters, I give these loners a story. You can find the romanticism of an outsider in these photographs. The project is my love letter to the Los Angeles I have adopted and that has adopted me.
To me, the city reveals its true colors at night.