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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

Expired film expired cars and fresh resolutions: Documenting the snake mountain car show

As my shoes squeaked underneath dew-dropped grass, I readied my camera — filled with expired film — to document Addison County’s biggest car show of the year. Surrounding the perimeter of popped hoods hiding chrome-tinted engines were flashy semi-trailer trucks and towering off-roading vehicles. Though the cars are mostly old, this experience for me was pure novelty as I watched families with giddy kids ogling at each vintage Camaro or Chevrolet Impala they saw, the owners proudly explaining technical specs and neat facts about vehicles they’ve kept in pristine condition for generations. 

One car owner, for example, has undergone a full transformation of his car into a reflection of his passions. His star-covered hat matched the flame-shaped rear view mirror he’d installed on his car. For others, their cars are not modified in any way at all, keeping their mint condition features. This is the case for an owner who first bought his car in 1969 for driving back and forth between Vermont and Kentucky for college. He told me he has kept it just as it was the first day of his freshman year. One owner even had a miniature toy version of their Camaro mounted on the engine, matching every detail inside and out. 

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As I meandered through crowds sporting camouflage and smoking antique pipes, I found myself in a perfect place to watch the Revving Competition. Cheers of support rang out for each of the competing engines, which made bellowing sounds I couldn’t even imagine could come from a vehicle. 

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As I wound down with some homemade chili and fried dough, I was excited to develop the rolls of expired film taken on a camera that was almost as aged as some of the cars I had shot. But to my surprise, I realized upon receiving and scanning my negatives that the photos I had been so excited to shoot had undergone a darker, more moody makeover. I realized that due to some mechanical error, the film hadn't been exposed correctly. Defeated, I realized that the visual component to the stories I had gathered could no longer tell the story I wanted to tell.

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It was at this moment, though, that I realized that I had just experienced exactly what these owners had been talking to me about all day. While I was stressing over a silly little camera that had been begging to die for the last forty years, I wondered how many days these car owners had invested in their passion projects. From scouring the internet — a mode some admitted they still weren’t used to — for parts manufactured decades ago to roadside breakdowns, the obstacles they had surmounted in keeping up these cars reflected how much they meant to them. These automobiles serve as testaments to forgotten stories, generations of hounding away in a garage, and legacies of entire families preserved in a condition of honor and homage. Their past has not passed. 

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Though winter is approaching, most owners’ least favorite season, I hope to be lucky enough to witness glimpses of sunshine on fall weekends. It’s here where long-living couples, families old and new, and lone riders can sit back and indulge in the fruits of their labor, whipping their timeless rides through the Vermont countryside in a manner no other rider on the road could. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll catch them on film.

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