‘The Salvage Mission’ Photo Series Gives Old Cars New Life

Patty Maher "The Salvage Mission"
Patty Maher | “The Salvage Mission”

Photographer Patty Maher’s new award-winning photo series, “The Salvage Mission,” focuses on a car graveyard near Maher’s home. She was instantly enchanted by the rusty old vehicles, the stories the cars might tell if only they could speak, and how best to visually represent them before they fully decayed and became lost to time.

‘The Salvage Mission’ Gives Old Cars New Life

In many ways, Maher’s title of the series, “The Salvage Mission,” represents how she perceives her mission. She gave the cars new life through her art, placed the cars within a new background and context, and provided a visual return to life for the ancient automobiles.

Patty Maher "The Salvage Mission"

Describing her first visit to the “car graveyard,” Maher tells PetaPixel that it was overwhelming. “There were rows and rows of [cars], some with whole trees growing through them. It was a tangled mess of cars and nature.”

“I took quite a few pictures because it was all so unique and interesting, but I really didn’t know what I would do with them since my photographic aesthetic is fairly minimal.”

Patty Maher "The Salvage Mission"

Maher Digitally Transports the Cars to Create Clever Composites

Maher opted to “digitally extract” the cars from the graveyard. She began cutting out a few in Photoshop to see if she could realistically transport the vehicles into new scenes using compositing techniques, which is when the idea for the entire series began to take shape.

In total, Maher visited the car graveyard for source images three times. Once she knew her artistic vision for the project, finding suitable cars for the series was easier.

Patty Maher "The Salvage Mission"

“Once I had a clearer idea of what I was doing with the series, it was easier to spot the types of vehicles I was looking for. I would then digitally extract a car from a photo with photoshop and then place it into a variety of different backgrounds until I found the one that worked best – where it just seemed to ‘sit’ as though it belonged in that location.”

Maher has a large library of backgrounds and scenes she’s photographed at her disposal. However, she needed to capture some new ones to fit the stories she wanted each photo to tell, and how each car might interact with different models.

Patty Maher "The Salvage Mission"

Maher’s 9 Photos Win Major Prize in Fine Art Photography Awards

“As with all the work that I do, the process is very eclectic and I work by inspiration rather than a specific formula. I tried many ideas that didn’t work for various reasons, and ended up with a series of 9 photos that I really like,” Maher tells PetaPixel.

Maher’s series recently won first place prize in the Fine Art Photography Awards, earning the top award in the Professional Fine Art category.

Patty Maher "The Salvage Mission"

Maher’s Artistic Vision Goes Far Beyond “The Salvage Mission” Series

There are aesthetic similarities between “The Salvage Mission” and Maher’s other award-winning work, including an emphasis on minimalism and using models with distinct clothing and obscured faces. This is very intentional, as the new photo series was built with Maher’s new book, “Story,” in mind.

The book features many of Maher’s photo series, and “The Salvage Mission” introduces a theme of the “ephemerality” of life, as Maher describes it to PetaPixel. Life is short and fleeting, and the cars in the graveyard help illustrate the unavoidable effects of time on objects that were once beautiful and new to great effect.

Patty Maher "The Salvage Mission"

The Beauty of Death and Decay

The decay itself has a certain beauty too.

“For a long time, I have been caught by the concept of wabi-sabi beauty that occurs when time and erosion affect physical objects. When I found the car graveyard I realized that this was a perfect example to use since the cars themselves were eroded and decayed by nature and time, and yet this decay and erosion had created its own brand of beauty through rust and decay,” says Maher.

The cars aren’t just visually interesting subjects and if of themselves, they’re also symbolic for Maher.

Patty Maher "The Salvage Mission"

“When I discovered the car graveyard I was struck by the idea that all these cars had once had their own story and were now discarded – left to rust and decay and eventually be reclaimed by nature. The thought struck me that ‘everything deserves a final story’ and so I set out to do just that: give some of these cars a final story.”

Acceptance of Inevitable Death Informs Maher’s Art

Photographing objects that are well past their prime, and no longer serving their purpose, also reflects some of Maher’s general approach to her art. She explains to PetaPixel that she spends a lot of time thinking about the temporary nature of life, and that death is inevitable. While that may be morbid or morose to some, for Maher, it’s something she embraces. It motivates her to take risks and be bold.

Patty Maher’s Photography is Now on Exhibit

The rest of Patty Maher’s visually stunning photography is available on her website and her new book, “Story,” which is available now. “The Salvage Mission” is also on display as part of a solo exhibition at Abbozzo Gallery in Toronto.

Image credits: All images copyright of Patty Maher