Reviewed: Sports Car Racing in Camera 1950—59
With a title that includes the phrase “in Camera”, you would expect that a Paul Parker’s volume rises and falls with the quality of the photographs; perhaps relying on classic or iconic imagery to tell the familiar tales of post-war sports car racing. You know, playing it safe. The author almost apologetically points out that, by simple availability, color photography of the era wasn’t widely adopted enough to tell the tale only through color shots. The lack of color in the early years doesn’t hurt at all, and the photography is indeed marvelous. Even better, the author did not simply play it safe and instead edited away many of the overly familiar photos of cars and star hotshoes in favor of showcasing the breadth of cars and drivers competing in this glorious era. It is because of this that we see Skodas and Rileys and DB Panhards in marvelous representation here alongside the more familiar Ferraris and Astons and Jags. Damn, those OSCAs are beautiful, aren’t they?
With the photo selections smartly chosen and presented. How then, to best craft the story around these snapshots? The typical approach is to write statistic-filled prose that almost all readers will skip over and cut straight to the visuals. Here, however, is where Paul Parker’s book goes from good to great… Masterful, even. Virtually the entirety of the text is the captions of the photos. Rather than simply identify the driver, car, and race and move on. Parker points out in great detail the background story of the photo, the tale of the race, minor detail points of interest in the background. It is this detail and storytelling method that makes Sports Car Racing in Camera 1950—50 so bloody excellent. Observing small details in the photo, and inviting the reader into the story through them invested me in the story of the photo far more than I thought a simple photograph could. When Parker directs my attention to a can of tire black on the floor of the workshop, the unusual color of a drivers’ suit, the flurry of activity in the pits, I become a more active observer of the photograph, and I become more rooted in the time and place of the event.
This marvelous storytelling device makes Parker’s book feel very little like flipping through a coffee-table book and very like thumbing through the personal photo album of a knowledgeable friend regaling you with stories of great exploits from a personal perspective. It’s an odd sensation, but the feelings I got when reading through the book was much more like the sensation I have from reading well-crafted fiction than from what could have all too easily been just another reference book.
The book is not completely devoid of the facts and figures, each year closes with the major teams, drivers, and results of the year’s major events—usually centering around the world sportscar manufacturer championship, which was just forming in 1953. The balance, though, is such that the racing, as told through these photos and captions, is much more about the stories of the era than it is about who won or what their lap time was. This balance is usually a missed opportunity, with books either becoming an almanac of stats, or an author’s interpretation of the events. Parker has done a masterful job of giving just enough facts and figures to back up the photos’ captions.
I’ll just say it: Paul Parker’s Sports Car Racing in Camera 1950—59 is certainly my favorite automotive book of the year, and perhaps the past several years. I highly recommend it to even the most casual fan of vintage sports car racing. Exceedingly well worth picking up. Somebody will definitely thank you for this holiday gift.