Drivers In the 80s is a book of photos taken by Chris Dorley-Brown coming out on May 4th, published by Hoxton Mini Press. The photos date from 1987.
You can view some more samples of the photos here . The Guardian has a review here by their arts correspondent, Sam Wollaston. This part here is worth quoting: “Twenty-eight years on, the pictures make a curious collection. I’m no photography expert but I would say that individually, none of them is winning any awards. Composition-wise, there are all those pillars and mirrors in the way. And on a bright day, with stark contrast between light and shade, all their faces are in the dark; it’s their right elbows that are catching the light.” That’s correct, most of the photos are very banal. The one I selected has a little something due to the colours and composition. Can anyone guess what the car is?
Most of the photo titles describe the car but this one does not. The fact that the photos are now interesting has much to do with the simple passage of time: ordinary things are not preserved and in the end become rare than that which was special at the time. There are certainly more 1987 Ferraris (any single model) on the road than Renault 30s, for example. The other aspect of the images relates to the passage of time lending a certain poignancy to the faces in the cars. Many of the drivers and probably all the cars are now dust and rust.
Wollaston’s penultimate paragraph lumps the cars of the 80s in with the politics and culure of the time. “The horror is 80s horror: crap cars, crap hair, crap clothes, crap jewellery. There’s probably crap music coming out of those windows too, Money for Nothing by Dire Straits most probably, mixed in with the hot throbbing and the diesel fumes of the bus. A nice irony, too – all those people brought to a standstill by the Iron(ic) Lady’s economic progress. Crap politics.”
This level of generalisation needs questioning, the crap car part anyway. By 1987 engine electronics and rust-proofing had eliminated the two main banes of the car owner. If was asked to pick a year when cars stopped being potentially trouble regardless of makes, 1987 would be that turning point. From then until the 00s, car design and engineering entered a sweet spot of relatively simple machines rather well made.
What Wollaston is doing is conflating the depressing and sometimes poorly made cars of the late 70s that held over into the early and middle 80s. By 1987 I would guess there were very few new cars on sale with a production run starting in 1975 or 1978. Even Jaguar’s XJ saloons pass that basic test.