Back when he was a little child, Serbian artist Vladimir Nikolic thought about mimicking the expression of a car. On his way to school, he would shoot yearning glances at passing vehicles and secretly imitate their “faces”. In 2001, this game evolved into a series of Autoportraits, featuring interpretations of 16 car faces discovered in the streets of Belgrade, demonstrating the artist’s creativity and sense of humour. Nikolic’ work, however, aimed for something beyond the obviously effects of his photographic exercise: “In my native tongue, autoportrait means ‘self-portrait’, making the title a play of words that hints at the car’s function as part of our human identity. Although cars consist of no more than metal, plastic and rubber, we tend develop strong emotional bonds with our vehicles. We choose a car that matches our character.” We meet Nikolic at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart where he works on a new edition of his Autoportraits series.
During two nights – and offset by dramatic lighting – he photographs himself with select Mercedes-Benz models. Just like any thorough character study, Nikolic views the cars from all sides to discover the right angle with the most striking expression. After wrapping up the production, Nikolic reveals the emotions he associates with six select models.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.
“A truly beautiful car. I like the way it presents itself as a powerful sports car without any sense of intimidation. It seems to say, 'Although I could beat you any time and anywhere, there is simply no need to play on my strength.'
At the same time, its similarity to a seagull somehow makes it very likeable.”
“From this angle, the metal contours around the headlights resemble the eyebrows of a sad face.
The bumper evokes similar connotations – it reminds me of a slightly disappointed mouth.”
Mercedes-Benz W 25.
“As a racing car, the W 25 has no headlights, so I, too, keep my eyes closed. The car’s entire front runs towards a single point, as if it was pursing its lips and trying to kiss someone.
So, my own face also focuses on my pursed lips to capture the essence and look of this dynamic and very erotic vehicle.”
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.
“A superb car without any overt sense of aggression. It was a challenge to pinpoint the right look and perform it,
but in the end I thought its headlights exuded a certain sense of cool.”
“This car was a real challenge. While the radiator grille reminded me of bared teeth, it also seemed have an eerie, provocative smile. 'He he he, now I will show you!'
So, I opened my mouth a little and only gave the camera the tiniest smile, as if I was actually trying to hide it. And that seemed to work in the end.”
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé.
“The shape of the headlights conjures up an aggressive look with slightly raised eyebrows while the bumper seems to say, 'get out of my way!'
The whole composition also vibrates with a sense of anticipation, as if the car is about to head off at any moment.”