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Jeff Busby's Car-Crash Aesthetics

Author: • Oct 7th, 2005 •

Category: photography, reviews, speed & violence

Review by Andrés Vaccari

Ballardian: Jeff Busby


A book of photographs by Jeff Busby.
3 Deep Publishing
ISBN 0-9580508-2-1

Review by Andrés Vaccari

This handsome and hyper-glossy coffee table book concerns the unpleasant subject of automobile accidents. It’s impossible, of course, to put out a book of photographs of wrecked cars without thinking of JG Ballard; in this regard, Amplification makes a good companion piece to Crash. But Busby’s collection of photographs deserves to stand on its own as a stark meditation on the pleasures and perils of one of the key technologies of modern times.

The pictures were taken at night. A mournful atmosphere pervades over these dismembered, abandoned machines. They look serene, almost like they are sleeping; yet their dreams are full of violence, still reverberating with the aftershock of death. There is no text whatever to accompany the images, and the desolate close-ups of shattered glass, panels and dashboards hold no traces of human presence. I found myself searching closely for traces of blood or other organic matter, any remnant that may bespeak of what happened to the missing victims. But nothing. The very configuration of automobile interiors, ergonomically designed to tightly accommodate the human body, seems to amplify the absence of these (presumably dead) bodies.

The photos are seductive and unsettling, almost pornographic. The paper is thick and sleek, underscoring the brash colours and shadows, delineating the crisp and cutting contours of crushed glass and skewed chrome. The choice of plastic, glossy paper adds a tactile dimension to the whole experience. It feels almost like vinyl.

Busby simultaneously invokes the stylised aesthetics of everyday hi-tech and the brutal ‘autogeddon’ taking place right under our noses. Readers of Crash may recognize the same dialectic fuelling Ballard’s prose, its hypnotic mingling of fascination and horror, its aloof poetic descriptions of the mundane urban apocalypse. Ballard exploited automobile accidents as a perfect metaphor for the logic of modern technology. Our cities have incorporated them into the overall technological system. In a way, our deaths have already been planned, risk-managed, integrated into the equation and codified into the urban landscape.

The automobile is a powerful cultural figure that embodies individualism, the implosion of time and space — all the liberating promises offered by triumphant ideologies of technology. It’s a machine that has coevolved with the city and directed the course of urban development, deeply shaping our lives in the process. In fact, nowadays modern cityscapes cater more for cars than for human beings. The automobile accident is the cemetery of all these dreams.

A certain cryptic logic suggests itself, a kind of technological unconscious. For all the planning and analysis that supposedly goes into the rational management of the technological systems that support us, the automobile acts as an extension of our irrational side. The car is a prosthetic shell that paradoxically exposes our egos and instincts, amplifying and releasing them from the usual social protocols. Automobiles tune into the repressed currents stirring beneath the surface of our minds—the frustration, violence, anxiety, or plain boredom and distraction.

Amplification is a must for that Ballardian coffee table, and a worthy addition to the genre of techno-porn.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Simon Sellars, Adam David. Adam David said: RT @Ballardian: RT @PeterDixie Nicolai Howalt's "Car Crash Studies", almost Ballardian! http://j.mp/amNs2K <–recalls Jeff Busby's work http://bit.ly/9cDhWL […]

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