Theme: Romance – The Four Seasons

Let’s accept there is not a lot of romance left in motoring today. That means we have to look back to when it was still romantic.

Photo by Andre Martin from Quatre Saisons, 1979. Copyright.
Photo by Andre Martin from Quatre Saisons, 1979. Copyright.

That’s around 1979 when Quatre Saisons was published. The book comprises a photo essay with the Citroen CX as the subject. Andre Martin’s images are themed around the four seasons, hence the title. The car speeds through snowy passes, through lavender fields and pauses in autumnal woodland: each shot evokes the mysterious potential of a motor car trip and also sings a hymn to the timeless modernism of the CX.

I say romantic but perhaps pornographic is a better word in that the Vaselined images are blurred in the manner of the finest 70s erotica. There are images of parts of the car, teasing us with what remains unseen and also focusing in a fetishistic way on the anatomical details of the vehicle. That’s the way maybe John Berger would view it.

But if you can leave aside the Marxist-Feminist reading, you have a collection where it is assumed one can

Four Seasons by Andre Martin (1979). Copyright.
Four Seasons by Andre Martin (1979). Copyright.

divorce the smelly, plasticised realities of a 1200 kg car from the idealised manner in which it ought to be used. The tedium of driving itself is not hinted at: there are few shots that show the interior and those that do show a hand at the wheel or parts of the A-pillar and dashboard. Most of the images are third person. The romance is taken outside the driver’s point of view and one sees the car as something to gaze at, an object. Ah… I’m back to the Marxist Feminist reading again.

Photo by Andre Martin from Quatre Saisons (1979). Copyright.
Photo by Andre Martin from Quatre Saisons (1979). Copyright.

This relentless positioning of the camera outside the car is at heart a necessity of the romantic view of this car. Yes, they were fine to drive but they were even finer to look at. Page after page of the book captures not only the totality of the car but the way small areas – the wing, the mirror, the blurred alloy wheel – are worth our attention.  It is the car as a symphony, composed of small movements that themselves can be understood in isolation as well as part of a greater whole.

Finally, there is the intriguing paradox of this romantic viewing of the CX. Only Modernism informs the car. There is no decoration. The shapes are simple and spare. The engineering ethos consists of the purest French rationalism. Odd is it not then that this should be the subject of an emotional reading. Or is it possible to be passionately rational?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

2 thoughts on “Theme: Romance – The Four Seasons”

  1. Passionately rational? Definitely! At least this is how I like to see myself; in reality, there necessarily are deviations from this high ideal.

    And for me, it’s no question that I’m passionate about the rationalist CX. This might have little to do with the rationalism of the car itself, but rather with the fact that it forms an important part of my childhodd and youth. I’ve been driven around in three CXs from age four to sixteen, and I remember picknick scenes with the CX parked in line of sight on the border of a curvy, southern French road, not unlike some of the pictures from Quatre Saisons. Very evocative, indeed.

    My own experiences with two CXs I had years later also contribute to this passion, and this, too, is not only linked to the car itself, but to the places it took me to and to the people that were in it with me.

    1. The DS was present for me as a child because my friends’ dads had one each. The CX didn’t actively appear until quite late in the 80s. My uncle had a familiale and seven kids. My cousin had one and seven kids. I don’t remember riding in them. Alas My dad preferred British cars before going Swedish. We had a selection of brown cars through the 70s and 80s before the Swedish grey and silver took over. My Citroenism has more to do with buying an XM by default. It was big and cheap. Lucky me though as it’s a very fine machine.

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