Todd Midler captures the enthusiasm and unexpected beauty of car racing

Putting his own spin on the much documented event of car racing, the LA-based photographer unlocks a surprising gracefulness.

14 May 2021
Reading Time
3 minute read

The practice of photography has long been a way to gain understanding into new worlds. Whether it’s a particular part of the globe or a niche practice, the viewpoint of a photographer allows us a look-in – and often through the snapshot of just one image. In the world of niche hobbies and practices in particular is Raceway, a series by Los Angeles-based photographer Todd Midler. Offering viewers a way into the practice of car racing, Todd’s soft lighting and considerate approach not only shares the thrill of the sport but the character behind it too.

“Let me preface this by saying, I am not a car person,” Todd admits to It’s Nice That, as we begin to discuss Raceway. “I enjoy how they look and the idea or function of a car, but my infatuation ends there.” Being relatively new to the practice (a bit like us, apart from Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive, of course), deciding to build a series around the subject has allowed Todd to create a body of work offering a beginners eye to car racing. For instance, where we might usually see high-flashes of drama, Todd offers a calmer point of view. Amongst speeding clouds of smoke that linger in his frame are the finer details – the covering of a tyre, still life’s of maintenance works, and individuals dressed in the jeans and t-shirts working behind the scenes.

What led Todd to spend time in an area completely new to him was a chance look through the New York Public Library’s photography archive, where he “stumbled upon old photos of race cars, and drag racers with their cars”. Inspired, but keen to develop his own approach for a subject “heavily photographed for documentation or commercial purposes,” Todd headed in to the project armed with a goal of doing things differently, adding how it “presents a fun artistic challenge, I think.”

GalleryTodd Midler: Raceway (Copyright © Todd Midler, 2021)

Looking at photography in this way has always been a consideration of Todd’s. Introduced to the medium through skateboarding, and a black and white darkroom class at his high school, “my relationship to photography has changed a lot now that I do it professionally,” he says. But a variety of subjects keeps him curious and excited. As a result, he describes his approach to photography as creating “kind of quietly silly images… but I’m also interested in taking subject matter that usually isn’t considered ‘artistic’, like race cars or basketball, and trying to put a creative spin on it.”

Todd explains how he created the work by trying to blend in as much as possible, acting as if he were a “car photographer” – “I hovered around car enthusiasts and racers as if I was one of them, interested in which car is the fastest, sleekest and more powerful,” he explains. Overhearing these conversations, and almost getting into the mindset of the enthusiasts, also led to the unique detail the photographer picks up on. “In reality,” he adds, “I was interested in finding moments of irony and aesthetics existing in a setting that is typically taken very seriously for the patrons and racers.”

The final series is one Todd hopes offers an honest glimpse into what a day at the side of the tracks actually looks like. “Not only to a patron, but also to a photographer or racer, or even someone looking at historical documents of the place.” By telling all sides of the sport, the photographer in fact unlocks a gracefulness to an activity we often consider as brash and loud. “There’s tons of unexpected beauty and grace that gets lost behind the power and machismo of a car related event.”

GalleryTodd Midler: Raceway (Copyright © Todd Midler, 2021)

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Todd Midler: Raceway (Copyright © Todd Midler, 2021)

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.

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