Michael Furman seems more excited to talk about the artists he’s showing with during Car Week than he is to talk about his own work. A fine art photographer and publisher who specializes in books about “cars of significance,” Furman’s work will hang at Winfield Gallery in Carmel, at The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering on Friday and at the Weekly’s Press Club starting Aug. 15, just a day before he premieres his latest book, Concours Retrospective, at the Concours d’ Elegance at Pebble Beach.
But it’s the photographs of his colleague Michael Alan Ross (see story, p. 24), whose work will also hang at the Press Club, Winfield and The Quail, and ceramicist Karen Shapiro, whose work (including outsized ceramic oil cans and brake fluid containers, painted to look like the original vintage goods) is on display at Winfield, that seem to get him most jazzed.
“Look at the lines on that photograph,” Furman says, gesturing to a Ross photo – a vintage automobile set in the desolate beauty of the Bonneville Salt Flats. “The horizon line and the colors, it’s just fantastic.” And of Shapiro, he says, “She is masterful. You have to see her work.”
Furman studied photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating in 1974. He then opened a studio in his hometown of Philadelphia and began his career shooting for large advertising agencies and corporate clients. The auto bug bit him when ad agencies started requesting he shoot new cars – a love of vintage and cars of significance soon followed. He’s published 18 books, including Motorcars of the Classic Era, French Curves and Speed, Style & Beauty – Cars of the Ralph Lauren Collection.
The Weekly spoke to Furman as he hung his and Ross’ work at The Press Club. Note – the pictures will come down briefly so they can be shown Friday at The Quail; they will go back on The Press Club’s walls on Saturday.
Weekly: How did you start out in the business?
Furman: I had been shooting advertising and I was known for my ice cream work. In my case, that was a very good fit because I love ice cream. As a photographer, you’re asked to shoot all kinds of things and sometimes it’s something you don’t like. I thought it would be good if I could shoot things I had more of an interest in, and automotive is a major specialty and that’s what’s held my interest.
For people who know nothing about cars, what do you mean when you say you photograph “cars of significance”?
Racecars, historic cars, I call them cars of significance, as opposed to modern cars for sale. A lot of them are older, and a tremendous number of them are pre-World War II and just the fact they’re still with us is significant.
Why are you good at what you do?
You have to have a perspective and a point of view and in my case, my work is being shown to a wide variety, from people who are incredibly knowledgeable to people who have never seen such cars before. We try to communicate to all the different levels and to honestly express the work. My philosophy is that the photo should be transparent and it’s the subject matter people should relate to. The better I can communicate a car’s story, the better people can relate to it. If I can get them to enjoy the car, then I’ve done my job.
Why did you choose Concours as the subject of your latest book?
The author, Richard Addato, and I wanted to look at how important Concours has been in preserving the history of the automobile and significant cars. And not only has it preserved great cars but it’s created car culture.
The epicenter is Pebble Beach. Thecar collector world was upside down post-WWII and it came back here in the U.S., and for whatever reason, Pebble Beach set high standards and kept setting them higher and higher. The people here were serious and sincere about what they were doing. You hear “world’s best” and you go to Pebble Beach and first thing, you walk onto that show field and you know this is the world’s best. Everything else pales by comparison.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked to do in your line of work?
I was asked by a car collector to photograph his yacht. People think you have a camera, you can photograph anything, but this yacht was 180 feet and I’m also extraordinarily challenged by seasickness. I found that if you wear enough of those seasickness bands you can get through anything.
Even if you’ve been around a long time, there are some challenges you can find rather daunting.