Phil Jung

Phil Jung photographs the things people leave behind in their cars.

Around a decade ago, the photographer Phil Jung had just shot what would become the first image in his series, Windscreen. Pointing his camera through the windshield of an old American car in Cape Cod, Jung captured a strange scene: a bottle of aspirin and a toothbrush laid out on the dashboard. “I got interested in the story behind it,” Jung says.

Windscreen, which he’s worked on more or less continuously since then, distills American life down to the pieces of it we leave behind in our cars. “The car represents the American ideal—exploration, class mobility,” Jung says.

Phil Jung

The images possess a grainy, raw quality and capture moments of hope: a tassel swinging from the rearview mirror, a cassette tape lingering in the player, a map rolled up and shoved between the seats. In his years crisscrossing the United States, Jung has trained an empathetic eye on these public slices of intimacy, seeking out hints of humanity in well-traveled machines.

Phil Jung

“I try to raise more questions than I answer,” Jung says. He seeks out subjects anywhere he goes: on walks through neighborhoods, in parking lots, on rural roads. But absent from his images are any hints of geographical specificity; he titles his photos with nothing more than what appears in the scene. “I want the person looking at the images to come away with their own ideas of what’s happening in the scene, who it might belong to,” Jung adds.

The scenes Jung depicts are not always pretty. In one image, clothes and blankets pile up behind the steering wheel, a stand-in for a lost driver. In another, a can of Red Bull rests on a dusty seat, lorded over by a felt cowboy hat swinging from the dashboard mirror. What has stayed with Jung most, though, are the photographs.

Phil Jung

Wandering through a tow yard in search of cars, Jung noticed many of the photographs left behind in the impounded cars—forgotten rows of school portraits and shapshots of grandparents on dashboards.

Jung’s own photographs blur the line between the sentimental and the merely lackadaisical; it’s impossible to tell what’s piled up on the seats or on the dashboards out of intent, or out of carelessness. But there’s a vulnerability to all of it that keeps Jung photographing.

Phil Jung

When he began the work almost a decade ago, the United States was mired in an economic recession. People clung to the materiality of their cars, Jung says; in his images, Jung was trying “to answer questions about where we were going as a country.”

He still is. While the view through the windshield may be constantly changing, Jung has found that what’s left on the inside remains as unpredictable and raw as ever.

Phil Jung
Phil Jung
Phil Jung

H/t The New Yorker

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a pair of homes in Pittsburgh
    Equity

    The House Flippers of Pittsburgh Try a New Tactic

    As the city’s real estate market heats up, neighborhood groups say that cash investors use building code violations to encourage homeowners to sell.  

  2. Life

    The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

    An Apartment List report reveals the cities apartment-hunters are targeting for their next move—and shows that tales of a California exodus may be overstated.

  3. Equity

    A Visual History of the U.S. Census

    Vulnerable communities are bracing for an undercount in 2020. It’s a familiar story that traces back to the Articles of Confederation.

  4. a photo of a Dodge Challenger
    Transportation

    The ‘Airbnb of Cars’ Gets Heat From the Rental Car Industry

    Peer-to-peer sharing services that let owners rent out their vehicles are a focus of concern from traditional car rental companies, who see disruption ahead.

  5. photo: subway in NYC
    Transportation

    Inside Bloomberg's $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

    Drawing on his time as New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg proposes handing power and money to urban leaders as part of his Democratic presidential bid.

×