Muse on Wheels

Robb Hallock appreciates car design and functionality. “I believe that the guys who build these cars are true artisans,” he says. “I kind of borrow from their skills and their talents to create my own art.”

When you think about Car Week, you might think about glamour, auctions or eye-catching vintage cars. For Monterey-based photographer Robb Hallock, Car Week is more than that. It’s time to explore infinite possibilities in the realm of his art, which he calls “autostract” – the art of photographing abstract car images.

Hallock normally photographs architecture and food at Batista Moon Studio in Monterey. He has always loved cars, and they’ve come in and out of his professional career; he was a photographer for Concours d’Elegance for a decade in the ’80s and ’90s. These days, he does it for fun. “The car culture has always just been very attractive,” he says.

When Hallock first started photographing car shows, he photographed the entire car and often took photos with the owners in the frames as well. Over the years, his images became tighter and tighter. Especially at the Concours d’Elegance, he had to rethink the way he captured images – the crowded event left little room to photograph the entire car. “So out of frustration, I started moving in closer and closer and closer,” Hallock says, “and finally I found myself being very happy taking just little sections of cars.”

Hallock spoke with the Weekly about his autostract journey.

Weekly: You started photographing car details out of frustration, but came to love it. What do you like about photographing just portions of them?

Hallock: I’ve always been into design, and that’s basically what that comes from. Design layout and borrowing. I freely say that I borrow from the guys who build these cars. They’re the ones who come up with this. [A photograph] is kind of my interpretation of their designs and workmanship.

Do you have a favorite model to photograph?

When I’m out doing photography, I don’t really think about the car. Sometimes, they’re identifiable, you can tell what they are. Other times, most of the time, I just go to an event and walk around until something catches my eye and then I start to look at it more closely from different angles and decide if the shape is right, the light is right. I don’t add any light; I find it in the natural light pretty much 100 percent.

You got involved in photography when everything was analog. Do you still photograph images with film or is it all digital?

It’s getting to the point where it’s about half and half. I made the switch to digital about 10 years ago. I got my first digital camera and started to make this switch just because it was getting harder to get [film developed].

You mentioned you felt fortunate you learned photography during analog times. Why?

There’s an advantage in knowing how the process works. It’s all tied together. It just gives you a more complete understanding of what photography is. Photography is writing with light, and it’s film that was made to capture light. Then we process it out into an image, there’s just a certain magic in that.

There was a time when photographers were known for that kind of thing; not everybody could do it. Some of the mystery and some of the coolness, if I can say that, has gone out of [photography]. But at the same time, I see young people doing amazing things in photography, who don’t have any idea what film is or how to go into the darkroom and process a roll of film. It’s been good to watch the evolution.

Is there any advice you would give to novice photographers?

It all starts with creativity – be as creative as you possibly can. Keep on thinking and keep on looking. There are lots of images out there; it all comes down to creativity.

It can be very slight differences in a similar image, slight differences in composition that make one image much better than the other. Developing an eye for composition is incredibly important.

What do you drive?

A 2005 Volvo V 70.

What’s your dream car?

A 1971 [Plymouth] Cuda. I ordered it from the factory in 1970. It’s the only new car I’ve ever had. And it’s still my absolute favorite car.

Robb Hallock’s work is viewable at Willem Photographic, 426 Calle Principal, Monterey. Open 11am-4pm Monday-Friday and 11am-1pm Saturday, or by appointment. 648-1050,

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