"Raped" is a word that photographer Scott Mc Kiernan uses several times to describe his new show, "Stripped": 12 images of abandoned, battered cars whose next stop will undoubtedly be the crusher. It has the desired effect, dredging up the requisite ugly associations—yet for Mc Kiernan and for this show, his first in more than a year, it is entirely appropriate.
"Stripped" is cars as you may never have seen them, even at the junkyard; these are vehicles on the streets of New York City mauled beyond recognition, their usefulness nearly exhausted for all but the most dedicated thieves. And photographers.
"The Grand Prix there, it's still bleeding," Mc Kiernan says, gesturing toward a photo of a metallic-blue something, its rear end poised on a jack, its entire front crumpled in a collision. It's a Grand Prix? Okay. The driver, he says, had recently been hauled off to the hospital, the car left to bleed out just yards from one of the city's many bridges—which, like incredibly promising morning and evening skies, appear in virtually every shot in the show. And when Mc Kiernan found the Pontiac, he was alone with it. Until the man who'd taken the radio earlier returned.
"He said to me, 'Are you with the police?'" remembers Mc Kiernan—head of Dana Point-based photography wire service ZUMA Press, who photographed turmoil in El Salvador while still a teenager; who left Somalia just days before the Black Hawk went down. "And I said, 'No, I'm not.'" And for a few brief moments, the two men co-existed—a scenario Mc Kiernan says was strikingly similar to his meeting with an armed mugger in Red Hook, when he ended up photographing the man and his gun.
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The car in that incident—a first-generation Bronco, one of only three in his show that could readily be identified—waited, mute. As expected; in Mc Kiernan's frames, cars are invariably sans wheels and radios. Hoods are gone, doors open, trunk lids agape—their contents strewn about—windshields smashed with extreme prejudice, so much so that it prompted a young woman at the recent opening to ask Mc Kiernan about staging the shot in question. Was he ever tempted to throw a rock, for art's sake? He said no. Time and, sometimes, tragedy have done the job for him.
"What fascinates me about cars in New York is that they're people's most expensive item," he says. "It's like Lord of the Rings: this is the precious ring." And yet they wind up abandoned along highways, under bridges—or partially submerged under the Jones Beach causeway.
"It," Mc Kiernan says, "is urban decay." And, unlike most decompositions, it is very well-lit and -documented.
"STRIPPED AAA: ABANDONED AUTOMOBILES OF AMERICA," PRESENTED BY THE BIG GALLERY, AT OCEAN AVENUE BREWERY, 237 OCEAN AVE., LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 481-3747. THROUGH MARCH 31.