Auto Essence: The Photographs of Timothy White

Fairfield County Concours d’Elegance Program, 2009

Seductive and dramatic, poetic while intense, Timothy White’s photographs of cars are romantically evocative. Assured in their dignity and beauty, his automobile models venture from their literal forms to expose their vulnerability and to provide witness to their storied pasts.

“Cars have souls,” White shares. He sensitively captures their essence—their innocence, their character and their history. Theirs is a private relationship bound in the portal of his frame and caught in a fixed moment in time. The edges of the photographs energize the space and masterfully contain the potency of his dynamic compositions. We are voyeurs made privy to the world within the picture that is isolated from an unknown narrative sequence. White presents the scene neutrally, offering us our own experience and dialogue with the car.

White’s low-key lighting, subdued tones and angled perspectives, imbued with innuendo and ambiguity, nod to film noir cinematic traditions. His expressive, dream-like stages elicit a mood of intrigue and mystery.

His works are structurally and perceptually complex. In Untitled Car 1, he delicately balances the varying shades of black that surface the car and enfold it in the solid-colored background. The bands of the chrome window treatment dominate the two-dimensional, flattened picture plane. Efforts to glimpse into the car are thwarted as our attention is drawn to the silhouetted reflection in the side windows.

White’s seemingly simplified and casual shot in Untitled Car 2 is belied by a tightly viewed arrangement of Timothy White Untitled Car 2lines and shapes that dictates our perceptions and confines us to the foreground. The blackened side view mirror teases us with the potential for visual explanation, but save a softened indecipherable form, nothing is revealed.

White shows his affinity with the cars by shooting them from their perspective: from atypical angles and at their height and from their line of vision. Untitled Car 3 leads us along the receding lines of the car, horizon, and overhead wires to an off-centered vanishing point.

His unpeopled photographs are tender and emotive, recalling the contemplative spirituality of Mark Rothko’s paintings whose reductive bands of color evidenced the artist’s belief that “Silence is so accurate.” Untitled Car 4, a scene of a parked car punctuated by vertical electrical poles, is a construction of rectangles with repeats at the top and bottom.

White finds solace in cars. He loves them, “their touch, their feel, their smell.” He is attuned to the Timothy White Untitled Car 4sculptural qualities of cars and the spirit and intent of their designers. He makes pictures of them, spending time with them or spontaneously catching a glimpse of one and pulling off the road. He began photographing in high school and continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. “It is an emotional thing, rooted in growing up and viewing older family photos from the 1930s and 1940s,” he explains.

He has created his own adaptation of the Polaroid process using positive/negative film. After shooting a photograph, he peels the positive Polaroid and immerses the negative in a cleansing bath, allowing it to dry before scanning it and digitally printing the image. He embraces the aesthetic component of the frame by retaining the natural rough edges of the developer “schmutz” that forms around the border of the negative.

White brings the same passion to his portraits of celebrities for which he is renowned. He works collaboratively with them, and as in his car photographs, shows them on their terms, looking glamorous while perhaps not in the most elegant pose or setting. Their spirit and personality emanate in his shots.  His extensive roster includes Paul Newman, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Billy Joel, Alan Cumming, Jennifer Hudson, Molly Sims, Keith Richards, Queen Latifah, Aretha Franklin and Julia Roberts. His photographs grace movie posters for major Hollywood studios (Sony, Paramount, and Universal), the covers of high-end publications (Vanity Fair, Vogue, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Playboy) and album covers and have earned him recognition as one of the most important people in photography by American Photo magazine and the 2004 International Photographer of the Year award. His pieces have been shown in galleries and museums worldwide.

Publications of White’s photographs include Portraits, Indian Larry, Hollywood Pinups and Match Prints. His work can be viewed at