Automotive Portraits

By Tom Sebastiano

December 2, 2017

Hi Tom and welcome to Pixsoul. Could you introduce yourself and tell us how you got into photography?

“My name is Tom Sebastiano I live in the United Kingdom, in a small town not far from London. I work in design and sales for a manufacturer of modular aluminum systems.

As a child, I loved to draw and paint. Eventually, as a teenager, I realized that to progress further required a lot of dedication and practice, neither of which I had the patience for. It was then that I thought I could satisfy my creativity using photography. Although I bought my first camera at the age of 15 I never really pushed myself more than the usual teenage photos friends and places I visited. Later when I replaced it with a more advanced camera I had fallen into the trap of automation.

All too often the dial was turned to auto and slowly photographs became what I did when I went on holiday. Over the years I would take time to visit photographic exhibitions or look through books and portfolios but eventually, my camera sat gathering dust. Then finally, in 2010, I bought a DSLR and set about trying to learn how to make photographs again. Very soon after I thought it would be fun to buy a 35mm film camera, just to shoot some film again for old times sake. It only took 36 exposures and I was hooked. Digital is great but film is beautiful and more… well me! Now I mostly use a 35mm CONTAX S2 and Hasselblad 500c/m. I develop and scan all my own work.”

Is photography a new passion for you, is it something that you think you’d go serious, like full-time eventually in the future?

“I have no ambition to be a professional photographer. I use photography to express my creativity so being told what to shoot by a client holds no interest for me. I make no distinction between professional and ‘so-called’ amateur photographers, to me we are all photographers. Obviously a professional uses their skill and experience to produce work, work that has a financial value but not necessarily an artistic value.

In order to do this, even professional photographers have to have their own personal projects in which case they too are no longer professional either, simply a photographer.

Where do you develop your film, is at home with your own black room or at a photography store?

I develop my film at home, kitchen sink style, I also scan at home using an Epson V500 scanner.  Sometimes I make use of a friends darkroom for black and white printing, which is an area hope to explore more in the future.”

You have worked on two projects that have focused on cars, particularly vintage cars (right?). Are you a car enthusiast, do you have a vintage car yourself, talk about your interest in these particular vehicles if you can.

“A lot of my photography centers around portraiture and urban landscapes, the mundane and every day, but I do love cars especially old cars. A photographer once told me that a good way to improve [your photography] was to shoot what you liked and for me, shooting classic cars is my photographic self-indulgence. Although I drive a modern car now, I have owned a couple of classic cars. My last one was a 1985 BMW M5. It was a great fun piece of 80s nostalgia with its shark nose and very powerful engine, but a bit of a drinker. I was forever at the petrol station, it was like living with a gas drunk!

I approach shooting a car much like a portrait, I favor direct compositions and my aim is to find the cars best corners and angles set against a complementary location. For me, they are a kind of automotive portrait. I Guess I’m most interested in cars of the 70s these are the cars of my childhood, but more recently I’ve been quite attracted to cars of the 80s as well, the cars that I first drove.

My series ‘In The Balance’ explores what may at first appear to be unloved cars, ones that are between life and death. These cars fascinate me, with their rust, deflated tires and gathering moss. Often I see them parked beneath their covers for months or even years sitting in driveways and yards. I believe that far from unloved they are often kept in the hope of restoration and revival; the hope of recapturing the owners past.”

That’s interesting what you said that for you they are a kind of automotive portrait! Speaking of the series ‘In The Balance’, where were most of these shots taken at, were they in the scrapyard, in the streets or parked at people’s homes? For example the first and last photo in the series, do you remember where they were taken at?

“Most of the photos from ‘In the Balance’ we taken in owners gardens and yards, sometimes on industrial estates where these cars are stored and sometimes at specialist car restoration yards. The first photo of the Lotus Esprit was taken behind some housing in a garage lot, the last one, shot at night of the Reliant Scimitar was by the side of an electronics factory on a small trading estate.”

Some of the shots you’ve taken of these vehicles are close up and personal, some even look like they were taken from the inside of the cars. How did you get to do that, did you ask the owner for permission?

“Essentially I shoot two types of car photos. Cars that I find parked up on the street or in car parks or cars where I have organized a shoot with an owner. Often if I find a car on the street and if I think it’s interesting enough I leave a message under its wiper. Most often the owners do contact me. I think classic car owners are usually very proud of their cars and the opportunity to have them photographed is probably quite fun.

In return, I offer a print for their wall and that usually seals the deal. So yes I do get ‘close up and personal’ spending time with their owners on the shoot learning about the car is very enjoyable for me. I have a simple routine during a shoot and climbing into the car is a must because so many of these cars have great interiors.”

That’s very clever and generous of you to give them a print on their wall. When you do get a chance to photograph their car, how long do you usually take to shoot their car? Do they tell you or do you ask what their story is with the car? If they do talk and tell you, are you going to publish their story with their car?

“It usually takes about an hour, sometimes a little longer if there is a change of location. I sometimes publish a bit about the story of the car in blog posts and descriptions, but this is not my reason to talk, more than that I always enjoy a conversation about classic cars and it’s particularly interesting to hear the histories of the cars that I shoot. I think owners like to chat about their cars and experience with them too.”

How do you decide if a photo should be black and white or in color?

“I would love to give you an elaborate and creative explanation but in reality, it boils down to the colour of the car. If the car is silver, white, black or grey for example I’m most like to favour black and white film, on the other hand, if it’s tangerine orange… well, you get the picture.

I can add that when I shoot colour I mostly use Kodak Ektar 100 film, which for me is perfect for bright colours and metallic surfaces, if I’m shooting black and white I use Kodak TMAX 400.”

Are there any photographers your work is inspired by? Or just photographers you’re inspired by in general?

“I’m less influenced by any specialist car photographers that I can think of and more inspired in a drip-drip kind of way by all that I see and like. I do spend a lot of time looking at pictures, probably too much time! I can easily spend hours each week enjoying other photographers work.

Most of what I look at is by contemporary photographers on sites such as Flickr and Instagram. When it comes to established photographers of the past I admire the work of Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri as well as Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. In addition, I really like the work of American fashion photographers Toni Frissell and Lee Miller as well as the brilliantly haunting and expressive photography of Francesca Woodman.”

Tom thank you for interviewing with us and I do hope to see more great work from you!

Thank you. I really enjoyed answering your questions and its really good to see some of my photos featured alongside so many talented photographers, here on Pixsoul.

Written by Yung Tsai. Photos ©Tom Sebastiano.
Follow him on Instagram and visit his website for more info.

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