Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Catching up with the man fascinated by the relationship between humans and their personal vehicles.
When Ryan Schude was attending art school in San Francisco in 2001, he came up with a photo project in which he'd document people with their vanity license plates. It turned out however, that the most interesting plates Schude found were often on boring vehicles. A decade later, he came up with an even simpler concept: have people pose with their cars.
In a series titled “Them and Theirs,” Schude, now based in Los Angeles, photographs friends, friends of friends, and the occasional stranger in front of their personal vehicles. With a playful approach to each shot and a sharp eye for color, the images appear as stunning portraits of each person, the cars as an extension of their owners.
In a recent interview with Slate, Schude explained that behind every photograph in the series is a lengthy planning process, one that includes determining the right location and theme but never a specific budget nor any shooting permits.
Schude has long been photographing cars and people separately but with "Them and Theirs" he's been able to combine the two in a way that brings new life to both subjects. The longer the project goes on, the more he hopes to see it evolve. For now, most of the people he finds are in L.A. but he'd like to hit the road more often to diversify his shots.
We caught up with Schude earlier this week via email to find out more about what goes behind making the photos in "Them and Theirs" and where he'd like the project go:
What inspired you to first start the project when you were in art school?
The vanity plates were the original inspiration. I hadn't worked on a series before and wasn't aware of anyone else who had shot this particular subject matter. There are lots of series about people and their cars but the plate angle made it unique.
What was the reason for the hiatus?
Many of the best plates were on cars that didn't interest me visually and I lost interest as the plates didn't seem compelling enough to merit the viewer looking at such mundane vehicles.
The majority of my personal work is staged, narrative scenes which are cinematically lit and art directed. I also have been shooting documentary style portraits of cars by themselves on the side of the road as well as simple portraits of individuals for some time now. These two worlds seemed to naturally collide into the motivation for the series.
How do the people, the cars, or the surroundings you shoot dictate the atmosphere you end up creating in each shot? Has that decision process changed since you started?
Much of that is dependent on the subject. Their car, personality, background and other factors play a big part in figuring out how we are going to proceed. With Sven and his Suburban for example, since he has been involved with a lot of set design, I knew he would understand and get behind a more staged scene so it allowed me to push it further in that direction than I would otherwise. The conversation with many of the subjects lasts months before we decide how to proceed.
Is there a photo in this series that was the most challenging to pull off?
Jimmy Marble's was pretty intense since we illegally hung a giant 30 foot tarp off of a highway overpass. There was a Swiss film crew in town shooting a documentary on me and they had a small window of time to get any footage from a shoot. At any moment I expected the tarp to rip itself down into traffic or for us to get shut down for trespassing and shooting without a permit. The tarp held tough thanks to Graham Keegan's genius thread work but a passer by ended up calling the cops and claiming that someone was threatening to jump off the bridge. Not sure how they got that idea but when the cops arrived and realized we were just shooting a photo, the trespassing and permit were the last things on their mind and we continued with their blessing.
You've said previously you can see "Them and Theirs" going on forever. Are there certain ways you want to see it evolve?
One of my favorite aspects about this project is the interaction with the subjects. Many are creatives as well and working with them to develop the concepts has been a blast. I hope to engage them even more in the future and also to branch out regionally. Los Angeles makes perfect sense since I live here and it is easy to find people to shoot but I'd like to diversify the backdrop a bit and take some road trips with shooting car portraits in mind.
Top image: Emily Caldwell and her Chevy Corvair. Malibu, California. November, 2013.
All images courtesy Ryan Schude.