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In two brief years, automotive photographer Jesse Alexander went from shooting La Carrera Panamericana to Monaco’s glamorous Formula One race. And in that time, his stature in the racing world grew immensely too.

Car Stories – Jesse Alexander

But unlike many photographers, he was a car guy first and shooter second. It all started, as he recalls, when he was a boy riding in the back of his dad’s Packard convertible in the American Legion Fourth of July parade. From there, his love for cars blossomed.

Alexander grew up aware of art, but it wasn’t until he went to college that he really considered it a possibility. However, the idea of making a picture really excited him. Around this time sports car racing was gaining popularity in California and he really enjoyed the atmosphere surrounding the races. Not that success came immediately. That he shot La Carrera was mostly a function of its proximity to his home in Santa Barbara.

While he shot photos in Southern California and had seen a few British car magazines, he was acutely aware of the racing scene there. It was a European trip with his first wife that really made him fall in love with it and as previously mentioned, he subsequently returned to photograph Monaco and document automotive racing culture.

His visit to Monaco spurred his move and cemented his career. The first magazine that noticed him was Sports Car Illustrated and he began attending Formula One races for them, and photographing but also, filing the race report.

“It was incredibly exciting,” Alexander says. He not only covered the races but befriended many of the drivers and crew members. It was better than being a fan because he was actually allowed unfettered access to the era’s heroes.

His favorite event was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, due to the race’s scale and length. “That really is the one place that is a perfect example of what my career was about.” His favorite spot was the pits, due to the non-stop activity. “Being in the pits, was really where all the real color was, all the activity and emotion. And there were images all around me.”

When asked what he looks for when composing an image, Alexander replies that he’s “looking at a good one right now.” But rather than describing the image in terms of contrast or composition, Alexander describes the image as a story. “[Porsche] rent this garage in this French village, and it’s a very charming scene with the schoolkids in the doorway looking in and the workbench in the back and these full racecars for Le Mans right there.” We all know the “1000 words” cliché, but Alexander illustrates its significance. It’s art, but it must tell a story.

His motivation throughout his career was that he wanted to be known as a fine art photographer and constantly sought to learn. Asked about modern photo technology, he enjoys playing with Adobe Lightroom and says that in some ways it’s more creative today. “Everybody is taking pictures, it’s a very exciting time.”

Alexander’s only advice for photographers is: “Do what you love to do and be self-critical… Believe in what you’re doing and enjoy it.”


Listen to new CarStories Podcast episodes every Tuesday and subscribe on iTunes.

Podcast Interview by A.J. Gordon / Article Written by Yoav Gilad

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