Oh my God! by Harrod Blank

From the Art Cars series — one man’s obsession with America's mobile masterpieces

Photographs by Harrod Blank

ARIZONA — In 1977 I was a freshman at Santa Cruz High School, a place where the kind of car you had, if you even had a car, was a big deal. I really wanted a Mustang but all I could afford was a $600 white 1965 VW Beetle. Embarrassed to drive it, I painted a rooster on the passenger’s door — I was raising exotic poultry at the time. My popularity rose quickly after that, so I was encouraged to keep decorating. I covered the entire car in objects until it became known as “Oh My God!” — the number one response from people who see it. 

What I like most about riding an art car is seeing people totally blown away. They can’t believe what’s before their eyes. For years I tried to take pictures of their reactions, but as soon as they saw a camera, they would act differently. Then I had a dream about a car covered in cameras, and the next day I woke up and thought, “I’m going to do a camera van”. It took me two years to figure out how to make it. It has more than 2,500 cameras on it, ten of them functioning film cameras, and it really works — it takes pictures! It’s like I’m on a spaceship and everywhere I go people are staring at me. I have the time of my life driving around taking pictures of people’s expressions as they see it. 

I’ve spent my life documenting art-car culture. I’ve made a calendar, two books and two documentary feature films on the subject. In 2005, having three art cars of my own as well as a few collected from friends, I was having trouble finding parking. I opened up a museum in Douglas, Arizona, called Art Car World. We now have 21 cars on show. It’s still under construction, but when the building is finished there will be a replica of “Oh My God!” on the top with a beacon of green light and a hot tub inside.

When I was photographing art cars, I always focused on individuality. It wasn’t just the art car that was of interest; really it was the person who created it. The product is this mobile,