Can Muscle Cars Really Fly?

Matthew Porter’s Photographs of an American Symbol Conjure Dreamlike Worlds

Matthew Porter, Valley View, 2013; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Empire, 2010; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Overshot, 2005; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Billy Goat Hill, 2018; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Blue Ridge Parkway, 2008; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Metro Center, 2018; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Downtown, 2008; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Gold Hill, 2015; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Sunset Boulevard, 2016; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter, Airport Road, 2009; from Matthew Porter: The Heights (Aperture, 2019). © Matthew Porter

Muscle cars are a quintessential American symbol: fast, powerful, and entirely impractical. But perhaps it’s their impracticability that makes these gas-guzzling, aggressively loud vehicles coveted by so many. Having a muscle car often meant that not only had you made it, but you could afford to have a second vehicle merely for pleasure. And what is more pleasurable than going from zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds and catching air as you do it?

Matthew Porter’s photographs of airborne vintage muscle cars, collected and accompanied by an essay by Rachel Kushner in a recent release from Aperture titled, The Heights, are simultaneously playful, nostalgic, and ethereal. The dreamlike worlds in which these flying cars exist are distinctly American landscapes—rural and urban—and they offer viewers a sort of time portal, transporting them into a sun-soaked scene from a 1960s or ’70s American movie. The realm Porter’s cars and drivers inhabits are times when the world is either waking up for a new day or letting another slip away—those times of transition when the light shifts and the color of the sky evolves by the second.

It’s not only the cars that are suspended in Porter’s images, but the viewer must also suspend disbelief when the cars rise to heights that defy logic—and gravity. And this is precisely because the images are illogical and were created not on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, or the Blue Ridge Parkway, but in Porter’s Brooklyn studio. He photographs the miniature muscle cars and backdrops separately, later combining the images digitally.

The fantastical worlds Porter creates evoke feelings of liberation, release, and flight—feelings we might not experience during an ordinary day, when our feet are resigned to the ground. But that’s precisely the magic of these photographs—their ability to take our minds to a light-filled landscape where we can feel the wind in our hair, having escaped from the burden of gravity and everyday life on Earth.


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