Adam Lerner: Ralph Lauren’s Car Collection for Autoweek
“That’s how I saw them. I saw them as moving art,” Ralph Lauren says in conversation with Graham Kozak, features editor at Autoweek. “I saw it long before most people did.”
Initially, you’d assume that Ralph Lauren was discussing clothing. After all, he is the executive chairman and chief creative officer of the Ralph Lauren Corporation, his all-American fashion empire that has brought him to number 71 of the Forbes’ definitive ranking of the wealthiest Americans.
“It’s my eye: I love the way cars look. I could stand there and look at the tailpipes.”
In the 51 years since beginning his own company, Ralph Lauren’s car collection has amassed a great deal of notoriety within the community of car enthusiasts. While the first car Lauren purchased new was a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet (pictured below), his collection dates much further back.
“When I ordered it, I said, ‘I want tan leather seats, I want a tan canvas top.” [The dealer] said, ‘You need black leather seats, a black top.’ I said, ‘No, I want tan.’ That’s just how I saw it. That was my taste, my voice.”
Last October, on a pretty ordinary day, Manhattan-based Adam Lerner embarked on a pretty extraordinary task: photographing Ralph Lauren’s car collection hidden in a multi-level lair about 40 miles from Manhattan. “The shoot was a bit surreal,” Lerner admitted. “Showing up to a nondescript location that contains one of the most coveted and valuable car collections in the world is a lot to digest. I had to put aside my feelings of awe and excitement to focus on the task at hand. Being a car nut myself, I could have easily spent all day just looking at the cars, but, since we only had 6 hours from load in to load out to shoot everything on our list, I had to work fast.”
Lerner’s work certainly paid off. In his vibrant and rich photos of Ralph Lauren’s car collection, he maintained “consistency with the look and feel across all of the images,” working around the vehicles as they sat in their natural setting. Below, he goes in more detail with us about the passion behind this photoshoot.
How did you come to be involved with this project?
I was contacted by Autoweek Magazine, an ongoing automotive photography client that found me through Wonderful Machine. Autoweek is based in Detroit; however, they always contact me for shoots that take place in or around New York City. I have huge respect for the magazine and love working with them.
Where does this project rank among your work and how did it affect your professional work ethic?
I’d worked with Autoweek a few times; however, when they asked me to shoot Ralph Lauren’s private car collection, I was beyond thrilled! Not only was I excited about the chance to photograph this exceptionally rare and coveted collection. This was the first time that an automotive magazine was granted access to photograph Ralph Lauren’s private car collection, and I was selected as THE photographer for this job! Ralph Lauren’s private car collection is one of the most valuable and prestigious in the world, and it was a privilege having unlimited access for a day. There are dozens of cars on display covering thousands of square feet in his warehouse. But we had to limit our coverage due to time constraints. Still, we were able to cover quite a bit of the collection. Since the images were going to be used for the cover and the feature, I wanted to be sure to provide many options and worked methodically to capture the best angles and lighting of the cars we selected.
How did you plan for the shoot?
Ralph Lauren’s people maintain a very high level of secrecy and discretion for the collection, and rightfully so. Some of the cars are so rare, they’re literally priceless. I worked with Tara Klein, Senior Art Director from Autoweek, as well as Graham Kozak, Features Editor for Autoweek, to coordinate logistics and determine the list of cars we needed to cover. I was given complete creative freedom to capture the cars in my style, which allowed me to achieve my signature look on the photos without delaying the process for intermittent approvals.
What was your creative process?
I’m accustomed to high pressure shoots, but this was a bit overwhelming. How do you cover this expansive collection in a half day? In the weeks prior, I devised a methodical plan for quickly and effectively shooting the cars on our list in order of importance as well as coming up with a game plan for execution. Despite being granted creative freedom, I spent a lot of time pre-visualizing and planning my shots, since I knew this was probably the one and only time I’d be in there, meaning that there was very little (or no) room for error.
Were there any particular challenges or pleasant surprises?
We were treated to a delicious catered lunch spread and ate around the shop table inside the facility’s actual shop where they perform maintenance to the cars. We got to sit with some of the folks that run and maintain the facility – it was a treat to hear their stories.
What was your stylistic choices did you make for this project?
I wanted to portray the cars in their natural habitat and show off their beauty as honestly as possible. I also wanted to maintain consistency with the look and feel across all of the images. Being that there was no time or possibility to move any of the cars, open doors or hoods – I had to plan on working around them in their natural setting. Shooting portraits of cars is as much of a collaboration as shooting portraits with people. I try to get the best out of them while preserving their natural beauty and nuances.
What has been the reception of these photographs?
The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Since the article’s publication, I’ve been contacted by several new automotive clients. And I can say that I am incredibly proud of the work as well.
Is there anything else interesting that you can share about this project?
Autoweek is an old-school magazine that’s been around since the late 1950s. My dad was a car enthusiast and would have been so proud and excited for me. Being of similar vintage to Ralph Lauren himself, my dad appreciated this collection immensely and would have loved to have seen the finished article, so I thought about him quite a bit during this particular shoot.
Client: Autoweek Magazine
Senior Art Director: Tara Klein
Assistant Art Director: Emily Trexler
Features Editor: Graham Kozak
Check out more of Adam Lerner at AdamLerner.net!
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