The legendary giant Polaroid 20×24 camera has photographed many icons, from world leaders to Hollywood stars but never in its forty-year history has it photographed iconic Grand Prix cars. This photographic project has significance on many levels but especially as it brings together the landmark camera of photographic excellence with some of the greatest racing cars in history.
Some of the Opus team had already arrived at the shoot location just outside of London on a cold grey November afternoon. The large shutter doors of a hangar are open for me to walk in. A visual feast of colour inside the hangar is such a contrast to the dull landscape outside. As a motor racing fan my eyes are almost popping out of my head as I see racing cars in front of me that I’ve only ever seen in the Formula 1 Opus. James Hunt’s McLaren-Ford M23 that won him his one and only world championship title rubs shoulders with Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari F2002… I’m in heaven! It’s a few days before my 50th birthday and I couldn’t have asked for a better present. This collection is private, it’s not open to the public and its existence is down to the love one man has for Grand Prix cars. In truth, nobody really is aware of what racing cars are actually in the collection. The Opus team that visited the site weeks earlier had taken photos of what racing cars were there but today there were extra surprises including a Bugatti Type 54, one of only four surviving Type 54’s that were built in 1931-32.
“… there were extra surprises including a Bugatti Type 54, one of only four surviving Type 54’s that were built in 1931-32.”
The van arrives from Germany delivering the Polaroid 20×24 camera. With all hands to the pump, the 80kg camera is rolled down the ramp and steered inside. Her mechanical parts are temperamental, she is an old lady, built in 1976, yet the camera is a lot younger than many of the racing cars she will capture this weekend. The imagination and passion of the Polaroid technicians in the 1970s to create something better is the common bond shared with the minds of the engineers who built the world’s fastest Grand Prix cars.
We decided after erecting the backdrops and taking test shots we would call it a night as everyone was so exhausted. A 7 am start the following morning allowed us to have a good run at photographing the similar cigar-shaped racing cars that shared a common lighting set-up. The unique designs of the racing cars were a pleasure to photograph. The exhaust on the Ferrari Super Squalo 555 and Ferrari 312F1, for instance, are design features that would never make it past concept stage today where aerodynamics is a science. The Heritage Collection is so dynamic because it traces the evolution of engineering excellence through landmark Grand Prix cars that delivered world championship titles and records embedded in racing history.
The Grand Prix cars were rolled into our makeshift studio with great care, each worth a small fortune. A technically complicated lighting set up surrounded the racing cars that minimised reflections in the bodywork. The overall distinctive shapes, elaborate design features and detailing determined the angle at which each racing car was positioned. We decided that the BRM V16 MII had a spectacular front engine design and exposed it as a point of artistic difference. By the end of the day, the gallery of Polaroids drying on the floor had grown significantly. A lengthy twelve hour shoot had produced amazing results ahead of our host’s visit the next morning.
The next day was exciting! Bernie was popping in to see how the shoot was progressing and since he is a huge fan of the Polaroid 20×24 camera having been photographed by it in 2006 at the British Grand Prix. Bernie had given the green light for that shoot to take place, which allowed legendary multiple F1 World Champions such as Niki Lauda, Michael Schumacher and Sir Jack Brabham to have their portraits taken by the giant camera.
Bernie arrived fifteen minutes earlier than expected with his wife Fabiana and his life-long pal Max Mosley. They walked up and down the rows of Polaroids drying on the floor. Bernie was thrilled to see the unique style of the analogue prints and spent time inspecting each one. He and Max then looked around the actual racing cars that were parked to the side before returning to the actual camera to see how it was holding up after all these years. He agreed to be photographed once more with his championship winning Brabham-BMW BT52.
“Bernie was thrilled to see the unique style of the analogue prints and spent time inspecting each one.”
With only a handful of racing cars remaining to be photographed the shoot soon came to an end. Bernie left, thanking the team for all our efforts in making the shoot a success. We got a group photo together with Mr E in front of the 6 foot tall camera as a great memory of the shoot and special birthday present for myself.