Things of beauty

Ken Simmons
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There aren't too many gearheads who do not see beauty in their favourite vehicles. Designers spend a lot of time and put in a great deal of effort to make their creations as attractive as they can. After all, if it doesn't appeal to the buyer, that buyer is going to look elsewhere.

Of course, that beauty, like all beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. This guy likes Harleys, and the multitudinous black-and-chrome clones, while that girl likes sport bikes and their flashy body panels. This young bayman has a thing for hypertuned import cars, this townie longs for a rock-crawling 4X4.

You get the picture.

So did David Harry Stewart.

Stewart is a U.S. photographer ( who has trained his lens on, among many other things, the culture of speed. A recent collection focused on machines of drag racing and speed record pursuit and - perhaps more interestingly - the people who share this passion.

Stewart is, he says, seeking out "honest human moments," satiating his "curiosity for tribes." Don't take offence, fellow grease monkeys. We belong to a welcoming tribe, and Stewart found what he was looking for in the pits and on the strips. He calls his chronicle "American Drag."

In a release announcing the collection, he explained, "These images are concerned with story telling and discovering beauty and truth within moments of honest humanity. The drag and speed world is in many ways of another earlier time, despite the technology involved in the vehicles. It is a world of close families, of individual style, of pride of competition without prize money. It is a world of fetishized machines where style and speed are both valued."

Can't argue with that.

"American Drag" does offer artful images of the machines. A land-speed contender sits on a streamlined motorcycle, cracked earth beneath his feet, his head hung in concentration. Another streaks across the frame, the velocity of the car accentuated by the shaken image, a trail of dust rising above streaked land and sky.

Engine parts curve into abstract impression; eye-searing paint leaps from an image, the stationary racecar exuding speed just from its graphics. Stewart imparts soul to the soulless, animates the inanimate, but is the in the faces of the participants he finds the real heart.

Heavy helmets hide features, but nothing can subdue the sparkle of a driver's eyes. A hint of coloured shadow, the lines of joy tell us this is not her first trip to the staging lanes. Others give away other emotions; a young head with downcast eyes. Bad time? Broken car? Lost love? The observer is left to make his own decisions.



Geographic location: U.S.

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