Published May 19, 2017 in Warp & Woof
Exploring the Sundwick Automotive Photo Library: Part I – Introduction
Roughly nine years ago, I was a follower of several automobile-related blogs. It was the capstone of a lifetime of following auto journalism. I had long since given up on the magazines of my youth (various Peterson pubs, Car and Driver, and Road & Track), although for serious shopping, when car replacement is in order, Car and Driver’s blog still has great road tests.
What struck me, by then well into middle age, was how entertaining it still was to learn about cars. Even though I typically only replaced a car once every 11-15 years, myself, both my offspring were then on their own, but unable to afford cars. So, I could shop with them (since I would be co-owner). In the process of searching for used cars, my own childhood and youth flashed before me. I remembered poring over those mags as a child (pre-driver’s license)! Totally out of control, I then lurched into the fantasy world of the teen-aged “gear heads” of Flint, Michigan … those guys I went to high school with, but who would likely never leave Flint!
That’s when it hit me. I needed to capture this experience in something lasting. I was a trained professional librarian … so, naturally, I thought of a collection, an organized, tagged collection. Since collecting real cars was prohibitive, why not collect photos of cars?
I discovered quickly that there were no restrictions on downloads of most of the images appearing in the blogs I followed. I knew, as a librarian, that didn’t necessarily mean there was no copyright protection, but there were no blocks. I would download the pictures, alter them with a freeware photo editing program (Helios Paint) by creating captions on the photos, then categorize and tag them with Windows Live Photo Gallery (an artifact of Windows 7).
In time, this led to searching the Internet for other automobile photo sources. Soon, I was engaged in a full-blown hobby. My Photo Library was exploding into thousands of images. The structure of the library became layered, as images became more numerous. It needed back-up; fortunately cloud storage had become available, just for that purpose. I could cheaply purchase enough Google Drive space to accommodate a photo library many times larger.
As the years rolled by, however, it became apparent that, as with any good library, mine needed to have limits to the scope of its content – especially since this looked increasingly like an historical collection. So, in addition to ground rules I established when I started the endeavor, I ultimately felt I needed to stop.
Thus, the Sundwick Automotive Photo Library is now a collection of images downloaded from a variety of sources, whose scope includes passenger cars, production-based racing cars, and light trucks, made from 1928 – 2012, in any country.
Decisions Behind This Project (Limits)
All my life, going back to childhood, cars have been a dominant feature of my life, my family’s life. My father was an engineer for General Motors, we lived in Dearborn, MI until I was six, then moved to Flint, when Dad was transferred to a new “plant” opening for his Division (called “Ternstedt Division”). We lived there until I went to college. Peculiar though it sounds, today — we used to change cars every year! So, my childhood development was bracketed by what car we drove that year. Always GM products, but never the same make … Ternstedt Division allowed identical employee discounts for any GM car.
It wasn’t only my family who changed cars frequently, either, but everybody else in town! Always new cars … mostly from GM, but competitors were often seen (the city did support a service economy of sorts, appropriate to its nearly 150,000 residents in those days, and the hourly folks never felt much loyalty to the General). Indeed, about 1958 or 1959, imported cars started showing up on Flint streets (odd brands, often short-lived, we had one neighbor who bought a Skoda from Czechoslovakia, in 1958). They tended to disappear, however, when smaller GM “compacts” arrived in 1960 and 1961. We owned a succession of three Corvairs. The even smaller imports soon were limited to the VW beetle, and a few others, mainly British.
My senses were continuously stimulated by different cars, and the culture in which I was immersed tended to celebrate that. I read automobile magazines bought at newsstands, and my uncle would pass along his old monthly issues of Road & Track. In junior high and high school (prior to the magic age of 16, and drivers’ licenses), much daily banter among my male peers was centered on the latest cars … and powerful V-8 engines! Which one was faster? Only way to find out was on the drag strip … oh, wait, there weren’t any of those around Flint, until much later! It was country roads late at night, and getaways from stop lights! All the mags seemed to be obsessed with speed in those days. Perhaps that obsession fostered the growth of organized drag racing around the country, in the sixties, primarily to promote safety.
I never outgrew the obsession, despite never participating in anything dangerous, like racing, myself. But, it didn’t influence my sober, adult, purchasing decisions in cars. Speed and acceleration, gearhead stuff, DID still capture my imagination, though … at least until I started the Sundwick Library. It was then, as my kids were leaving home for college, that I decided I would start compiling my digital image library.
All the types of cars that had long captivated me would be included, and that was practically everything. History would be a prime consideration, but no earlier than the period covered by the magazines from which I was weaned. This meant a reasonable starting date of 1928, the year Ford introduced the Model A, and rough beginning of the “classic” era defined by those publications (cars older than that were still part of the “horseless carriage” era, as far as I was concerned).
At first, I assumed I would continue to keep up with all the latest developments in the world auto industry, via my blog reading. But, after several years, it became apparent I needed to stop. So, I arbitrarily decided that the end of the auto industry occurred in 2012, the year Saab ceased production (and, I later found out, when many popular models ended their current generation, ready for new models in 2013).
While not wanting to exclude any category of passenger or sports car from my library, I clearly had to limit trucks: only light trucks, i.e., pickups, panels, and, later, SUVs. But, there were still many different genres of automobiles. There are production models (including advertising images), racing cars (included so long as they are based on a production body), and that ubiquitous category of “customs” (these are found in the library regardless of whether they are professional — or “tuner” – modifications; or, amateur efforts at visual alteration of a production body).
As I search through the library, I am impressed by how many, many people have devoted much of their lives, throughout this 85-year chunk of history, all around the world, to the fetishization of automobiles. Sometimes I just sit and gaze on my Windows screen saver which randomly displays images from my library … it strikes me as something almost magnificent, the same way many see nature images, or baby pictures, or cats!
Cars are, indeed, totems for a tribe whose religion is mobility, and whose relative status among their fellow tribesmen is dependent on the unique characteristics of their personal transportation, both visual and mechanical.
Perhaps it is not a universally shared perception among the world’s population, but it is certainly widespread enough to demand respect. Following are some details about the structure of the Sundwick Library, and some samples of images.
Organization of the Collection
The first breakdown is geographical: there are nine world regions, based on where I’ve identified auto manufacturing (and its intensity):
- · France
- · Germany
- · Great Britain (UK)
- · Italy
- · Japan & Korea
- · Other Europe (includes Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe)
- · Other world (Latin America, Asia, Australia, Canada, and … even Africa)
- · Sweden
- · USA (no surprise, by far the biggest part of collection)
Within the broad geographical categories (note: original designs only for each region, not mere assembly of cars designed in other countries), the next division is manufacturer (corporate parent, not make), then comes a chronological breakdown: typically, a range of years somewhere between 1928 – 2012, which varies depending on what I know of product cycles for the makes included.
Then come the brands themselves; and, finally, in cases where there are many images collected, like some U.S. makes, further secondary characteristics (like “customs”, “coupes”, “light trucks”, etc. – sometimes these will supplant makes, because of common platforms or bodies – e.g., “Camaro-Firebird”).
Each of these breakdowns will comprise a folder. Windows Live Photo Gallery allows me to display the contents of a folder, and search within it by tags, or combinations of tags. The search will look in all “child” folders contained within the “parent”. Hence, with a little knowledge of file structure, and search logic, I can extract a small number of images meeting my detailed specs, whenever I choose.
Although the collection started with blogs, notably Autoblogand Autoblog Green (both dedicated to covering the current industry, properties of AOL), Jalopnik(quirky auto journalism, slogan: “Drive Free or Die”), and Hemmings Daily(antique collector interest), I soon discovered other sources. There are many. But, I found myself relying primarily on two especially rich troves of photos: carpicsindex.com(part of carnut.com, emphasis on “street rod” shows in Midwest and Southwest), and the Old Car Manual Project (an amazing crowd-sourced collection of auto sales brochures, magazine advertising, and repair manuals). At present, there are nearly 28,000 images stored in 489 folders. This is the Sundwick Automotive Photo Library. I haven’t added to it in about eight months, but that doesn’t mean the library is closed. I only capped the dates covered at 2012, not the quantity of historic images I’d be willing to include.
Any librarian knows that storage and preservation are only part of the task of maintaining a research collection, the far greater challenge is access (retrieval). Windows Live Photo Gallery allows assignment of any number of descriptive tags to an image. These tags can then be used to retrieve and organize a select group of images. I’ve created tags for production (or model) year, make, model, body type, function, and genre of vehicle. There’s also a tag for “engines,” since many photos, especially from carpicsindex, are under-hood shots of street rods and drag racing setups.
Some examples of refined searches using my tags are these …
1. Images of 1942 model year Oldsmobiles: result = 3 photos (from carpicsindex and oldcarmanualproject)
2. Images of Australian cars of 1964: result = 3 photos
(from Jalopnik and oldcarmanualproject)
3. Images of Corvette engines: result = 10 photos (only showing a few here, all from carpicsindex)
4. Images of Ford (U.S.) wagons from the ‘30s: result = 20 photos (only showing a few here)
(all these photos from carpicsindex)
It’s easy to see how one could retrieve images from the collection, matching a wide variety of specifications.
At this point, the reader may ask: why? Well, if you’re interested in pictures of cars, you can do some searching on Google, where the universe is much larger, but the refinement is probably limited to only makes and models … possibly genres; but, not the specialized tags I’ve created for my library.
I hope to do some of these specialized searches for future posts here in Warp & Woof. Stay tuned.