Column: Build Threads Can Offer More Than Just Pictures of Cool Cars

[Editor's Note: This column originally ran in the November 2019 issue of Grassroots Motorsports]

I guess I’ll start out by saying that this column ended up not being about what I was going to originally write it about. I probably should have first posted “spoiler alert,” but here we are. Settle in, I suppose.

Anyway, the original title of this column was going to be “Post Your Project.” See, I helped out a good buddy with a project this past weekend–non-automotive, but follow along anyway. 

He’s a creative dude and had a cool idea for mounting a couple small synthesizers, a portable mixer and two effects pedals on a single, portable rack. He had kind of laid them all out, and they all Tetrised together in a pleasing way, and he wanted to put together a one-rack performance setup that didn’t require running cables and interconnects all over the place. It was light fabrication, and through the miracle of rivnuts and a cold saw, we put together a cool little desktop setup.

But while we were doing it, he was taking pictures–you know, just like we do with our project cars. He planned to post them to a message board dedicated to the brand of synthesizer that served as the centerpiece of this arrangement. They have a section where people post build threads about their particular rigs. If this sounds a lot like the “Builds and Project Cars” section of our message board, you pretty much get the picture.

Being a bit of a synth nerd myself, I was perusing their threads, looking for ideas, which led me back to our message board to check in on some of the builds there. That’s when I got the original idea for the column. I was going to talk about how no matter what you’re building, whether it’s a rack where you’ll produce some phat grooves or a car that will slay some gnarly apexes, it’s better when you share it with someone. 

And I’m right. I’ll probably write that whole column at some point.

But as I spent more and more time looking through our builds subforum–all in the name of productivity, of course–I realized that I wasn’t just looking at the main subjects of the photos. In fact, I realized something that will likely change the way I photograph project cars from now on.

See, the photos that really captivated me were not just the ones that displayed some particular mechanical construction. They were the ones that captured a moment in the life of that project. They were the ones that “painted in the corners,” filling the frame with not only the primary subject, but also with countless Easter eggs that all added to the story.

Earlier this year we all got to see Marvel’s favorite superhero collective save the universe from certain destruction. And while the final reel of that 3-hour epic was the cinematic equivalent of that time you dumped every single action figure on the bedroom floor that first day of summer in order to wage the Battle for Billy’s Room, the thing that separated much of those climactic minutes from run-of-the-mill action films was the use of every inch of screen for storytelling. Every character in those expansive shots was engaged in their own part of the story, living out their own movie.

So it is with the photos in our build threads.

The best photos–the most engaging ones–are the images where the photo taker has taken a step back and given a look not only into their project, but into their world. Hey, I can see the neighbor’s house in this shot? What do they think about their neighbor’s hobby? 

Look at that lineup of shelves on the back wall of the shop. I can tell exactly where they ran out of material and just decided to change the mission parameters. Hey, I have the same drill! Look at that driveway stain: This guy has worked on way worse cars than this. Man, it’s dark out. I wonder how late they stayed up working on things?

These weren’t just photos of struts being bolted into a wheel well, they were still lifes capturing moments in time that exist in a larger world which we all share. These weren’t merely pictures of parts, but pictures of the universe that those parts exist in.

So, to borrow a concept from my original narrative, it is better when you share. But remember that you’re not just sharing inanimate metal, glass and plastic. You’re sharing your passion, your enthusiasm and the existence that gives those mechanical bits emotional weight. 

I’m still going to catalog my project car stories in a way that will help our readers complete similar projects on their own. But I’m also going to take the time to maybe go back a step or two and let the rest of the frame fill with information once in a while. It’s fun to explore the corners of our universe.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Ben Jolly
Ben Jolly New Reader
9/23/20 4:51 p.m.

While I'm fascinated with the incredible shops some people have, I find it encouraging when I see other people working in similar, cramped facilities, what I would call 'normal'.

The thing I find most interesting in a shop backgrounds is tool boxes. Everything from the brand, color, stickers on it, etc is a reflection of the owner's personality and career, both amateur and professional. I think that's pretty neat.

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