Cadillac; Fins & Flags by Lloyd Ziff

The Cadillacs from the ‘50s got longer, wider, badder (in the best sense of the word) every year. It’s no surprise that whenever Hollywood and the music business need an ultimate symbol of the Fifties, they wheel out the ‘59 Cadillac.

I’ve loved cars since I was around five and learned I could please my father by recognizing the various makes & years as he and I cruised around Detroit, the Car Capital of the World then. 

In the Fifties we moved to Los Angeles. Every autumn the car dealers soaped up their windows and held private little cocktail parties for their best customers to preview “next year’s” models. Styling changed dramatically every fall. Cadillacs were, as their advertising told us “The Standard of the World”. Cadillac INVENTED fins in 1948, and never looked back in the rear-view mirror. The Cadillacs from the ‘50s got longer, wider, badder (in the best sense of the word) every year. It’s no surprise that whenever Hollywood and the music business need an ultimate symbol of the Fifties, they wheel out the ‘59 Cadillac. There never was a higher fin, a chromier rear end, a more suggestive front bumper. Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” was a ‘59. So was Aretha Franklin’s. 

I started making photographs when I was a senior at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1967. Of course I started photographing Cadillacs at the same time. New York’s streets became a treasure hunt for me. Cadillacs are an especially evocative treasure of my youth, my day dreams, my ideals of success. Thanks Dad.  

Around 15 years ago, while editing my photographs, I noticed that American flags seemed to be lurking in the backgrounds of many of the Cadillacs I shot. It became a game for me to “find the flag” when I spotted a Cadillac, and now I’m not surprised that I do find an American flag more than often than not. That suggested the original title for this book: American Dreams. As the Fifties became the Sixties, more became less, and Cadillacs – and all American cars – lost the optimism of the “too much is never enough” school of design. Though for a short while astronauts went to the moon, most Americans went to the mall – in Camrys rather than Coupe de Villes. 

My friend Matt is the only other person under 40 I’ve ever known who bought a new Cadillac. As I write, Cadillac is making a bid to return to its glory days. Though an Escalade is big, everyone who knows knows it’s really a Chevy Suburban. We who love Cadillacs are longing for another Eldorado, and werent satisfied with an ELR. But love, mine at least, never dies, as these photographs attest. In 2015 I finally bought my first Cadillac: a silver 2014 CTS Sport Wagon . . . my current Cadillac Dream Car. I wish they had made it when I was 40, but back then they were trying to sell little Chevy Citations badged as a Cadillac Cimarron. I bought a Porsche.

About Lloyd Ziff

Lloyd Ziff’s photographs are included in the permanent collections of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Palm Springs Art Museum, and The International Center of Photography, New York. His books include Lloyd Ziff-New York/Los Angeles: Photographs 1967-2014, and the just published Desire, Photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, 1968-1969, plus his photographs are included in Patti’s autobiography Just Kids. He has had one-man shows in New York City at Danziger Gallery and Robin Rice Gallery, and Earl McGrath Gallery in Los Angeles. Previous to his photography career, he was an award-winning art director/design director of Vanity Fair, House & Garden, Condé Nast Traveler, and Rolling Stone. Ziff taught magazine design, photography, and illustration at Art Center College, Pasadena, California, and for 13 years at Parsons School of Design, New York City. In 1999, he was elected to the Board of Trustees of Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, his alma mater (1967). [Official Website]

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