They look almost like something you’d see in a gallery, but these photos – by Canadian-born photographer Barbara Davidson, Pulitzer prize and Emmy award winner – were actually commissioned by Volvo and shot exclusively with the forward-facing traffic monitoring camera mounted on an XC60 SUV.
The photo exhibition was published early July, showcasing piercing images that capture the humanity of the populace of modern Europe. One slightly creepy computerized twist, though: the people in each image have each been identified by the car’s on-board computer with a rectangular ID box.
Of course, the automated identification and outlining of people is designed to enhance pedestrian safety, allowing the vehicle to brake itself to a stop before harming someone walking or cycling along the roadway—even if there is no driver intervention when a collision is imminent.
“The collection of images does two things. Firstly it is a snapshot of European city life in all its glory; secondly it also highlights the complex environments that we live in. It is thanks to the cameras and other on-board sensors that cars like the Volvo XC60 make modern city life safer for pedestrians and other road users,” says Davidson.
“With this project we connect art and safety for people to see the benefits of this technology.”
Davidson has a soft spot for Volvos after surviving a horrific wreck as a child thanks to the protections of the Volvo car her parents were driving.
The globe-trotting photo-journalist is employed as a staff photographer at the L.A. Times, and wasn’t initially too keen on the premise of the photography project, but after seeing some sample images and video shot by the XC60, she warmed to the prospect of working on it.
“I’ve covered wars, I’ve covered natural disasters, I’ve covered a lot of gang violence in Los Angeles. When I was first contacted about the project and invited to collaborate with Volvo, I didn’t completely understand the concept myself until I was sent some video and saw it,” says the artist.
Commenting on her time behind the “lens” of the XC60, Davidson says the skills she regularly employs to shoot world-class photographs on traditional cameras were surprisingly transferable to shooting with the Volvo.
“I’m really using the car as a camera and I’m framing it as I would frame with my 35mm camera,” says Davidson.
“So it’s very similar as how I would work as a photojournalist, oddly.”
Blending her appreciation for the safety afforded by Volvos with her love of photography, Davidson says the photo exhibition links art and science in a uniquely powerful way.
“At the end of the day, it’s about good storytelling. Through art, we’re connecting [people] to really important technology that saves lives. I think we’re bringing the technical world and the artistic world together,” concluded Davidson.