.Josh Marcotte’s ‘Cul-de-Sac Cruisers’

Lost San Jose photog documents the South Bay's rusting beauties

In Josh Marcotte’s 2015 photograph, ‘In Bloom,’ a rusting classic car is juxtaposed by young, blooming flowers. Photo by Josh Marcotte

Bright orange and fuchsia mandevilla crowd the left-hand corner of the 2015 photograph, In Bloom. The petals are reaching out toward a 1960s sedan sitting alone and forlorn in an alleyway. Corresponding flowers of rust form in clusters across the car’s roof and trunk. Pale blue paint is wearing away to silver and gray.

Photographer Josh Marcotte has cropped the right side of the car out of the frame. His talent for composition and his muted palettes are the painterly details that grab your attention in his solo show, Cul-de-Sac Cruisers (a Phantom Galleries exhibit at the Pierce Apartments).

Marcotte is a fourth generation San Jose native and the last member of his family who still lives in Silicon Valley. On his website lostsanjose.com, he declares the modus operandi of the artist behind the lens: “Lost San Jose is a collective series of ongoing photo projects documenting my day to day life in the neighborhoods where I live and work, as well as the overlooked and shifting landscapes of Silicon Valley.” Those qualities, of things and places being overlooked, permeate the images in Cul-de-Sac Cruisers.

But he and curator Vivian Giourousis narrowed the focus of the show after she told him that it was going to be located at 2 Pierce Ave. in San Jose. In a phone interview, Marcotte says that he remembers the old Firestone building that once occupied the space now taken up by the luxury apartment complex.

“In my head, I was picturing images of automobiles and the environment that they create,” he says, “just due to the fact that that was one of the big buildings that had been torn down to create the new space there.”

His photographs of vintage cars, in various states of decay, came out of his Lost San Jose project. As curated for this exhibit, they’re also temporarily reclaiming the paved-over space on Pierce Avenue that was once an automotive hub.

“I’ve always been drawn to the automobile, to cars in general,” Marcotte explains. “Walking through any neighborhood, anywhere in California, you’re going to find automobiles that people have held onto for various reasons. We have a very strong car and commuter culture here.” On his excursions around the city, he looked for cars that reminded him of “the landscapes that made up my time here in Silicon Valley and what my life is like.” Sometimes the owners talk to him about the car’s history. But even when his audience doesn’t know that history, the photographs are evocative enough to tell stories sans commentaire.

A bowling ball-size dent sits in the middle of a sea blue Plymouth Valiant’s trunk in “Smaller and Smaller. Portland, OR (2015).” Marcotte frames the car in an empty parking lot, below three painted lines—red, yellow, black—on a white brick wall. The date in the picture’s title is the only clue that suggests he didn’t travel back in time to the 1960s to take it. He approaches his subjects—or, more accurately, objects—the way that Robert Bechtle did when he photographed his grasshopper green and wood-paneled Alameda Gran Torino in 1974. Both images reveal something about the owners despite their absence from the frame.

The pristine Gran Torino rests in the driveway of a clean suburban home. This is a well-cared-for family car. The Valiant, and Marcotte’s other cars, like the rusted one from In Bloom, answer the question Bechtle’s work suggests: “What will become of this vehicle in time?” It won’t remain immaculate. Instead, it will age and succumb to weather or neglect. Marcotte cites a Raymond Carver poem, “The Car,” which accounts for our attachment to automobiles even when they no longer gleam.

“There was this wonderful Raymond Carver poem that I liked, talking about the relationship that he had with his car,” Marcotte says. “He had this negative relationship with this car, but it was also something that he could rely on, even in that negative relationship.”

Carver lists 50 things that have gone wrong with his car before he ends the poem, “The car with payments that couldn’t be met. / The repossessed car. / The car whose clutch-pin broke. / The car waiting on the back lot. / Car of my dreams. / My car.”

He and Marcotte both convey that American ideal of ownership and what that implies—a burden, often mechanical and always financial, but one that can also set you free, barring Bay Area traffic, to explore the open road.

Cul-De-Sac Cruisers
Thru Jul 31, 9am-6pm, Free
The Pierce Apartments, San Jose


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