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.
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
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.
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?