OBSESSIONS // MIKE MANDEL'S PEOPLE IN CARS

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Cameras were once a novelty. And people’s reactions to the lens much more instinctual, and honest. American photographer Mike Mandel knew this. His frankly titled series People in Cars is a dedication to their openness.

In the early 1970s Mandel, then a student in Los Angeles, began taking snapshots of people in cars as they pulled up to the busy intersection next to his house. It started as a short-term college project, but he was so compelled by the varied responses and compositions this unsolicited set-up yielded, spending more than a year returning to the same spot, camera in tow. Now, 46 years on, a new book from Stanley/Barker presents an excellent edit of the resulting pictures and their particular protagonists – some smiling, others swearing, others simply surprised.

"It was just one of those really lucky moments: I was walking to the corner, and as I went through the gas station, I saw this car parked there and this woman sitting in it. The light was really bright, there was a nice reflection on the windshield, and the way she looked just struck me.

On the front cover, a sultry female passenger, framed by the car windscreen, reaches across to the driver’s seat, her eyes glazed over. It is, Mandel tells us, one of his favourite images from the 60-plus rolls of film he shot. He expands, “It was just one of those really lucky moments: I was walking to the corner, and as I went through the gas station, I saw this car parked there and this woman sitting in it. The light was really bright, there was a nice reflection on the windshield, and the way she looked just struck me. She was slightly turning towards me and I caught that moment just before she made connection with me. It has a really dramatic quality to it – her pouty expression; the chaos of the San Fernando Valley reflected in the windows; the light catching on the cross hanging from the rear-view mirror. It’s just all kinds of cool.”

People in Cars by Mike Mandel is available from May 12, 2017, published by Stanley/Barker in collaboration with Robert Mann.