Photographer Phil Jung explores who we are by looking through our car windscreens

“The car needs to be drivable or just recently taken off the road,” says Phil. “If a car sits for too long uninhabited, it loses something.”

Date
15 March 2023

How much can be revealed of ourselves as we walk down the street? By the clothes we pick out, our haircut or the backpack we carry to work? Perhaps nothing more than what we want to show. But catch a glimpse of the same backpack splayed open for a second on the seat of a bus or at a cafe, and a more enticing story emerges. A car interior is much the same.

For what is essentially a box made of windows, we tend to avert our eyes past the windscreen; as a car owner, it’s easy to forget how on show these spaces really are. The way a car interior defined “the line between public and private space” is something that Phil spotted back in 2007, when he became hooked on the subject for a new project.

By summer 2008, Phil was driving across America in search of cars for Windscreen – a project which would continue for years, and published last year as a monograph by TBW Books. On this hunt up and down the east coast, Phil wasn’t just looking for any old, decaying car – though age seemed to play a part. The more decrepit the automobile and the more flies and water spots caked to the dashboard, the more likely you are to find it in Windscreen. Phil was looking for signs of life. “When combing through neighbourhoods for cars, I look first for the way light enters a car and renders colour,” he says on what it takes for a car to pique his interest. “If I find nothing inside its cabin, that tells something about its owner. I move on.”

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Mirror on Backseat, Saugus, Massachusetts (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

Little artefacts and rubbish from the road accumulate in Phil’s images the same as they would in cars. There’s the usual suspects – like worn out cigarette packets – alongside more emotive objects, like a framed digital Van Gogh print. The latter evokes the question of whether the owner was planning on throwing it out, or bringing it home to hang. “It was not unlike forensics or anthropology – the study of human remains, recording evidence,” says Phil. “I could imagine crime scene photographers working in a similar way.”

But working in the field comes with challenges. “The cars would sometimes need to be half covered with cloth to get rid of any reflections. Sometimes the owners would come back and I would be there under my dark cloth looking into their car with my camera. It made for some interesting conversations.” This was a different time though, and Phil says it wasn’t hard to get owners excited about the project. “Social media didn’t have as large of a presence and people weren’t as guarded.”

With all its gentle light and colour, Windscreen presents a story of soft observations, just as much as detective sleuthing. Phil wanted to capture a “psychological charge”, which you can feel despite the lack of humans – a theme which would continue in his next project focusing on zoological parks. “Paul Schiek said something recently in an interview that really caught my attention,” Phil reflects on Windscreen. “He was explaining another photographer’s work, and described the images as being both descriptive and abstract. I think many of the images in my book fit this description; images that are at once descriptive and abstract.”

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Old Man’s Hand, Hampton, New Hampshire (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Ship Bottom, New Jersey (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Lynn, Massachusetts (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Starry Night, St. Francis County (Highway 70), Arkansas (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Carlton Cigarettes, Groton, Connecticut (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Graduation Tassel, Wheeler County, Texas (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Insects on Front Bumper, Rawlins, Wyoming (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Ouija Planchette, Pomona, New York (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Hood in Early Morning Light, Saugus, Massachusetts (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Side View Mirror, Seabrook, New Hampshire (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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Phil Jung: Windscreen. Sheepskin Seat Covers, Rye, New Hampshire (Copyright © Phil Jung / TBW Books, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.

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