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Images of rusty old cars, is it really art?

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

By Tony Batchelor

This Riley 1.5 reached the end of the road a very long time ago (image Arty Pie - Bigboxart).

Whilst researching the internet for future blog topics I came across a number of images which some readers might find distressing, so you have been warned.

Now as a classic car lover I must confess to initially being somewhat saddened at the sight of what I consider to be beloved classic cars as simply rusting hulks in what is effectively a graveyard. But then I looked at them again from a photgraphic perspective, and to me the images have an artistic interpretation.

It is curioius that what one person might consider to be art has occurred simply because of the innocent action of others many years ago. I found myself asking whether the images provide me with some lasting pleasure, or whether I would have preferred the cars to be crushed into a cube to be used as scrap metal. I will leave it to the reader to come to their own conclusions on this topic.

However, for me the images conjure up thoughts about the good and the bad times these cars would have had. The pleasure they might have given to their various owners, families driving around in them enhancing their lives, or indeed giving pain and anguish.

I prefer to think possibly the good times, so images of our beloved classic cars is preferable to them being crushed and lost forever.

Graveyard (image Daily Mirror)

Same graveyard (image Daily Mirror)

Now I would not say I know much about art, there is a great deal of "works of art" I have looked at which have left me cold. But I know what I like, and I like to look at these images, so I guess that makes them works of art.

Whilst web searching "rusting derelict 1960's cars" I came across the following images.

Kids playground of the 1960's, Health and Safety? (lol) (image Daily Mail)

When I first saw this image I went back 50 odd years, it was quite a shock. I thought this was me when I was a young lad, 7 to 10 years old. Out playing in the not-so upmarket streets in Central Croydon with my friends. I was having a great time, without a care in the world, although we might have been keeping an eye out for "a copper" out on foot patrol. Not that it was illegal to climb on or play in abandoned cars, but the coppers liked to shout at you in those day for no real reason, and unlike today most kids then were actually frightened of the Police.

Playing in or on abandoned cars was commonplace in the 1960's, there was so many on the streets, or where I lived anyway. The introduction of the MOT Test in 1960, coupled with cars being manufactured to a poor quality standard (built in rust), unreliability issues and people having little money to repair them, often the easiest and cheapest course of action to get rid of it was to "dump it" in the street and let the council take it away.

Not so popular Ford (image Daily Mail)

Abandoned cars made an ideal playground before the Council finally removed them, but never fear there would be another along soon after.

The image below is from an Observer article entitled "Road Wrecks" which was published in May 1966. Car dumping was widespread across Britain in the sixties, Journalist and photographer David Newell-Smith documented the blight for the Observer.

Abandoned cars on the Walworth Road in London. Photograph: David Newell-Smith/The Observer

The article read:

"More than a million vehicles are abandoned each year in Britain’s streets and on waste land. The Greater London Council is taking over the task of dealing with the 25,000 left derelict in London’s streets alone. “At present the job belongs to individual boroughs, who use various disposal methods,” a spokesman said.

The GLC and the home counties may make use of the £1million American-developed car-smashing plant announced last week. Its backers are looking for a 20-acre site near London so that they can start operating next summer. Three similar machines are operating in America. Only a few councils – like Croydon and Bristol – have adequate equipment to deal with the wrecks. The one in Bristol – called “Chip Chop Charlie” – deals with 2,000 cars a year and costs over £5,000.

Mr Alan Shellcross, of Bristol’s Transport Office, said their plant would not make a profit for some years. “But we are keeping the cars off the road at no extra cost to the ratepayer.” Other councils claim they cannot afford the breaking-up equipment and don’t get enough vehicles to make a scrapping operation pay. But, as one council spokesman said: “The real cost and major difficulty in dealing with abandoned cars is the vast administrative problem involved. We have to try to trace each car owner and check that no hire-purchase payments are still owing. One private agency does nothing but check on this sort of thing for us. There have been cases where councils were sued by hire-purchase dealers because they disposed of the car before full payments had been made.”

Most councils sell or give the wrecks to scrap-iron dealers. Sometimes, however, they have to pay the dealer to take them away. Many of the car owners are eventually taken to court, which presents further difficulties for the local authorities.

The GLC admits: “We are still not sure whether we are going to cope. The number of cars abandoned each year increases dramatically and no one really has the administration or equipment to deal with the problem efficiently. This new plant may solve our difficulties, but we shall still have the job of transporting old wrecks to the plant.”

Question, is this art?

(image Fiveprime)

I have studied this image for quite a while trying to ascertain the intention behind it. I am still none the wiser, but so many thoughts have gone through my head.

It makes a really compelling photograph, you cannot simply glance at it, you end up studying every detail, I bet you do. I believe that is that what art is supposed to do.

Is this therefore art, it is up to you the beholder to decide.

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