Bit­ten by the Bug

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Paul Wei­de­man

The pho­to­graphs are strik­ing: won­der­ful col­ors, in­ter­est­ing forms, all quite ab­stract un­til you no­tice a fa­mil­iar shape here and there: a tail­light, a fender-mounted turn sig­nal, a char­ac­ter­is­tic, swoopy metal edge, then — of course! — a VW sym­bol. Th­ese are all de­tail shots from vin­tage Volk­swa­gens. The ex­hibit of Jack Par­sons’ pho­tos at Patina Gallery of­fers vis­i­tors an ar­ray of images of VW metal quirked by time and patina, lay­ered paint, and rust. The pho­to­graphs for the show Bugs and Buses were made in 1998. “I did a whole se­ries then,” he said, “and I tried to an­chor them with some part of the Volk­swa­gen that was rec­og­niz­able, be­cause oth­er­wise they look like to­tal ab­strac­tions.” Even so, there are a cou­ple of prints in the show that he can’t iden­tify; he can’t re­mem­ber whether he was fo­cus­ing on part of the hood or the fender or what ex­actly. Some are very close to the non­lin­ear realm. In one photo, a scratched and splotchy red and pink Bug roof looms in the fore­ground like a psy­che­delic boul­der, with the desert land­scape be­yond. The col­ors in all of th­ese prints are in­cred­i­ble; some of the cars had been re­painted, some­times more than once, and you can see the lay­ers of hues.

Par­sons was a long­time, proud VW owner. He bought a new 1961 Bug in Sher­man Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia, for $1,995. “I had that green Bug when I was go­ing to col­lege, which I used to drive non­stop to New York and back, and it just ran for­ever; it was a great car. It served me for my hon­ey­moon 53 years ago, and when I lived in Boul­der, it was great in the snow. I think it was early enough that it had one of those lit­tle levers you’d switch over to the re­serve tank when you started run­ning out of gas. It was so aus­tere, that Ger­man aes­thetic. No frills.

“When I was in New York, I put th­ese French am­bu­lance horns on it, you know that ‘dee do dee do dee do’ sound, and I’d come up be­hind the taxis, which don’t pay at­ten­tion to any­thing, and lay on the horn, and they’d be try­ing to move out of the way be­fore they saw what it was, be­cause no­body had those sirens here then.”

Just about ev­ery­one who ever owned one of the old Bee­tles has stories to tell. One Sun­day af­ter­noon in about 1986, my blue ’67 Bug stopped go­ing. It was near a small town some­where be­tween Olympia and Aberdeen, Wash­ing­ton. I in­ves­ti­gated un­der the en­gine hood and fig­ured out that the ig­ni­tion points were shot. (This taught me to al­ways carry a spare set of points.) I can’t re­mem­ber if I started hitch­hik­ing or if I was just re­gard­ing the car with per­plex­ity, but an­other driver saw me and pulled over. The man took me to his house and called a friend who owned a NAPA parts store. That man met us at the shop, opened up the place, and sold me a set of points for a cou­ple of dol­lars. My bene­fac­tor took me back to

my dead Bug and I was back on the road in a few min­utes. The moral of the story is that when things go wrong, you can meet good peo­ple and come away with a won­der­ful me­mory. Cars that run per­fectly all the time never make mem­o­ries.

The clas­sic VWs with their air-cooled en­gines in the rear have a strong Santa Fe story, too. Vee­dub Bugs and flower-dap­pled “hip­pie buses” were sym­bols of the coun­ter­cul­ture in the ’60s and ’70s, and their own­ers had a gold mine of money-sav­ing in­for­ma­tion in John Muir’s 1969 re­pair book How to Keep Your Volk­swa­gen Alive: A Man­ual of Step-by-Step Pro­ce­dures for the Com­pleat Id­iot, which in­cluded amaz­ing il­lus­tra­tions by Peter Aschwan­den. The guide was pro­duced by John Muir Pub­li­ca­tions, lo­cated in the old Nuck­oll’s Pack­ing Co. build­ing in Santa Fe’s Rai­l­yard District un­til the pub­lisher went out of busi­ness 30 years later.

Bugs and Buses was pho­tographed back in the days be­fore the dig­i­tal pho­to­graph rev­o­lu­tion. Par­sons shot on film us­ing his Nikon F3 and did no crop­ping for his prints. He also fo­cused on unique ob­jects from the au­to­mo­tive world in his 1999 col­lab­o­ra­tion with author Carmella Padilla, Low ’n Slow: Lowrid­ing in New Mex­ico. Not co­in­ci­den­tally, the Patina show hangs con­cur­rently with the first month of the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum’s new ex­hibit Lowrid­ers, Hop­pers, and Hot Rods, which in­cludes pho­tos by Par­sons. Among his other books are The Chile Chron­i­cles: Tales of a New Mex­ico Har­vest, also with Padilla; Straight From the Heart: Portraits of Tra­di­tional His­panic Mu­si­cians; and Dark Beauty: Pho­to­graphs of New Mex­ico. In 2006, the pho­tog­ra­pher was the re­cip­i­ent of a Gover­nor’s Award for Ex­cel­lence and Achieve­ment in the Arts.

The se­ries on VW Bugs and buses cel­e­brates one of Par­sons’ fa­vorite sub­jects: found art — in this case, found in a junk­yard in Alam­ogordo. “I started pok­ing around, and there were all th­ese beau­ti­ful old VWs that were weath­ered to­tally, be­cause they had been out in the desert for God knows how many years.” His de­scrip­tion of the pho­tos is straight­for­ward and simple, just like his sub­ject. He calls them “evoca­tive ex­po­si­tions of a clas­sic car’s char­ac­ter­is­tic de­tails.”

I had that green Bug when I was go­ing to col­lege, which I used to drive non­stop to New York and back, and it just ran for­ever; it was a great car. — Jack Par­sons

Pho­tos by Jack Par­sons

Jack Par­sons: Am­ber Di­rec­tional in Green and Red Stripe; op­po­site page, top row from left, Roof in Red and Gray With New Mex­ico Desert; Curved Ab­strac­tion in Yel­low; Ab­strac­tion in Red and Pink; mid­dle, Bulb in Blue & Yel­low; all pho­tos pig­ment prints, 1998

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