An adoring glimpse at a flashy past

Call it 90-mile-an-hour art . . . at rest. The "American Dream" at a stoplight. If ever there was a picture from an exhibition, this is it. Call the car show a museum; the Cadillac, polished to a loving peak, its Venus de Milo. The photographer, the lights, the object, all heed the siren song of the open road, the automobile as cult in American life.The photograph joins a literature -- almost a liturgy -- paying obeisance to this powerful icon.

Photographer R. Todd Hoffman admits he shares in this romance, nay infatuation, with the automobile. he can inscribe his feelings with the most devout in the American Graffiti generation. Buy your ticket, bring your camera, share in the American dream. His unrequited passion is crystal clear (or should one say metallically clear) here. Hoffman strengthens the contrasts in order to emphasize the seductiveness of the sculpture. The white light heightens the inky blackness and etches in its preciousness, not just touching the shiny surface of the car but lovingly reinforcing the "painted" pattern on each of its many surfaces.

Is this a cartoon with which he caricatures the car, of is this genuine feeling? Hyperbole, maybe, but funny, no. The fender, the top of the hood, even the grill, curve to create a design of a depth far beyond its reflective qualities. Without the headlights to identify the car as car, one might call this the flatness of a black pool, asymmetrical yet as regular as the crest of a wave, or the vaguely ominous shadows of a strange planet, unsubtle and rich.

The car, says Hoffman, was a symbol of the 1950s, a symbol he cannot release. He neither flinches nor backs off from the excess of his adoration. The photograph dwells and deadpans the object. The car for all its sheen and overblown distortion is relentlessly with us, seen as close as close can be, filling the entire picture frame, saying less of fantasy or humor than of fanaticism.

True, the photograph has an air of unreality. By heightening -- glossing -- the true appearance of its surface, the photographer makes the image as slickly rendered as the brushstroke of a commercial artist who touches up his object to inflate its beauties. Though the photographer's, and the nation's, dream may have turned to nightmare, neither age nor new realities can tarnish its flash, its brassy past. The dream endures.

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