I come from a family of welders and mechanics, and I would always ask my father why he never made metal art. Essentially, his answer—and his buddy's answer—would always be that art is for sissies, and that's not what welders do. It seems that the only exception would be what I called "muffler sculptures."
These are statues that are a combination of folk art and advertising, figures made entirely from car parts that you can see adorning the lots of independent auto shops when you're driving around Los Angeles. (These are not to be confused with the Muffler Men fiberglass statues that are iconic roadside attractions in their own right.) You mostly see them in more working-class parts of town, since in newer, more developed areas mechanic shops are usually either chains like Pep Boys or inside mini malls, which presumably frown on handmade statuary outside.
As far as I can tell, every shop with a muffler sculpture I went to for this series was family-owned. Like nearly every small business in America, these places are in danger of being replaced by corporate-owned chains. I wanted to shoot these sculptures because I don't know how much longer they'll be around. I was hoping to showcase a form of art that lots of people see from time to time but hardly ever take notice of—a symbol of working-class spirit.
I always thought that the muffler sculptures were subconscious self-portraits of the men (and it's always men, in my experience) who make them. Very few are feminine, and some have mustaches or other male attributes—including one anatomically correct muffler man. Most of the sculptures are smiling, since they're trying to draw in customers. A lot of them are layered with auto part stickers.
Even if they may not think of these sculptures as "art" exactly, every muffler sculpture creator I met was very proud of his work and happy that I was taking an interest in them.
More photos below: