Vintage Muscle Cars Take Flight in an Homage to Chase Scenes

A 3,000-pound hulk of metal without wings or upward force is not designed to soar through the air and land intact. Getting one to do so—or, at least, creating the cinematic illusion that it does—is a difficult feat. In car-chase movies of the 1970s and ’80s, it involved fearless stunt drivers, computer modeling, and even catapults—not to mention scores of wrecked vehicles and more than a few compressed vertebrae. Today’s filmmakers also use costly CGI.

Then there’s Matthew Porter. He requires only a camera, model cars, and a bit of Photoshop to send muscle cars flying in his new book, The Heights. It’s a resourceful, low-tech homage to some of the most iconic, memorable stunts in the car-chase genre. “There’s just nothing more visceral than a car in the air,” he says. “It’s aspirational and romantic.”

Porter, the grandson of nature photographer Eliot Porter, got the idea back in 2005, after a string of car-chase reboots—Gone in 60 Seconds, Dukes of Hazzard—hit theaters. On a whim, he strung up a toy Mustang at his kitchen table in Brooklyn, illuminated it with desk lights, and photographed it with a Vista large-format camera. By Photoshopping the vehicle onto a deserted street scene, he produced an image that looked straight from Starsky & Hutch. And, of course, people loved it. “It’s like being a songwriter—you write a minor hit, then everyone wants you to play that song,” he says.

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Nearly 15 years later, Porter still browses model-car websites, looking for die-cast replicas of vintage Pontiacs, Camaros, and others to round out his stable of roughly 30 high-performance cars. His shooting process remains more or less the same, except now he hangs the models on a fancy mechanical arm that attaches to the top of his tripod and lights them with professional strobes and colored filters for added effect. He shoots the backgrounds in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, typically at sunset.

In the final images, the muscle cars careen above the streets so high they look like they’re taking off—or coming in for an impossible landing.

The Heights is out from Aperture.

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