Strolling through photographer Jesse Alexander’s Carpinteria, CA studio of black and white motor racing images is like taking a step back in time to the sport’s infancy. Mostly self- taught, Alexander has been a photographer since high school, evolving into a photojournalist and fine art photographer. His primary focus on motorsports began in the early 1950s, with the birth of the sports car movement in the United States.
The walls of his studio are adorned with portraits of legendary motor racing personalities and dramatic action imagery throughout Western Europe and America. Racecar drivers such as Phil Hill, Alfa Romeo, Johnny Neumann, Karl Kling, Juan Fangio and Hans Herrmann were always favorite subjects.
However, motion is prevalent in Alexander’s work, certainly in a sport that thrives on speed and precision. Some of Alexander’s most compelling imagery is captured on rain- soaked racetracks like Le Mans, France and Monte Carlo and through the course of his career, a throng of Grand Prix races. Whether freezing the action of a race car at 150 mph, or easing the action down with a slower shutter speed, the droplets of water spinning off saturated tires captures the feeling of speed as well as the risky nature involved in a dangerous sport.
“Action is captivating,” he says, “but portraits capture the ambiance.”
Alexander’s work has been featured numerous times in Car & Driver, Road & Track and Automobile. In 1967 his images appeared in Sports Illustrated in a feature on motorcycle racing. During the 1996 Summer Olympics, Alexander’s work was part of an exhibit of sports photography. Scores of other images that aren’t visible in Alexander’s studio have been available in his books: Porsche Moments, Driven, Forty Years of Motorsport Photography and Ferrari Grand Prix Moments. From his neatly organized and elaborate archive that not only fills his studio but also three storage rooms, Alexander completed the painstaking task of selecting imagery that appears in a new book. Inside the Archives was recently published by David Bull Publishing. Many of the images have never been seen before.
Now at the age of 81, Alexander shows no signs of slowing down. The passion is still there, evident in his eyes even after 60 years behind the lens. When I asked him if he ever thought of retiring, he scoffed at that notion, as well he should. “No, are you kidding? I’m still very active.”
His iconic images are currently appearing in galleries including the Patty Look Lewis Gallery in Santa Barbara, CA the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica, CA and the Staley+Wise Gallery in New York.