Bill Phelps once told an interviewer, “I would have liked to have lived in Europe during the beginning of the 20th century. Paris, Weimar and the Bauhaus, Vienna, many places to choose from and travel…Steam ships, trains, motorcycles. To live in Paris, but traveling to the far East or North Africa, other parts of Europe, I think of it often.” That disposition shows in his work, which has ranged from romantic portraits, fashion and travel shoots for editorial clients to personal projects with a distinctly vintage feel. His series “AUTODROME,” on view at Robin Rice Gallery in New York from January 20 to March 6, continues in that vein, imagining early European car culture and “exotic machinery,” as Phelps calls it.
Shot at the Montlhéry Autodrome, a motor racing circuit in Linas, France, these stylish, vaguely sepia-toned photographs (this is his first exhibition in color) render cars and drivers like characters in a suave and sporty movie. As an avid collector and enthusiast of motorcycles, Phelps features exclusively pre-war automobiles. You can spot an Alvis in one, a Fiat in another—is that propeller-driven car an Hélica? Enthralled by both the chic helmets and goggles worn by drivers and the oil blackened pistons and chains of the cars’ engines, Phelps’s images are equal parts dandy and car nerd. Phelps says he sees these race cars as type of mythological beast, one for which he’s imagined an entire world.