Motoring art: Dave Friedman

| 16 Feb 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Dave Friedman

From 1950s sports car racing to movies and ballet, Californian Dave Friedman has captured the masters of each craft.

As well as spectacular action shots, Dave is a natural portrait photographer as his studies of racing champions and film stars attest.

This self-taught master’s early interest in motorsport was sparked after trips with his father to watch the Midget racers at the Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles.

But it was California’s new sports car scene that really triggered the possibility of becoming a photographer.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Dave Friedman

Racing driver Richie Ginther smiles through an interview, photographed by Dave Friedman

“Friends started talking about these events at Paramount Ranch out in the Agoura Hills,” Dave recalls.

“I then joined them and wanted to get more involved.

“The best way to watch was on the other side of the fence with a track pass, which gave me the idea to take photographs.”

Action shots were a struggle with his first Rolleiflex, but in the paddock Dave’s fantastic eye for atmosphere and light led to a remarkable series of portraits.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Dave Friedman

Phil Hill was among the famous faces captured by Dave Friedman

“My parents were in the movie business,” he explains.

“Dad was a producer and Mum had been an actress in the silent days, so maybe that gave me an appreciation for composition and characters.”

Young aces such as Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, Phil Hill and Carroll Shelby were ideal subjects, and many later became friends.

Dave’s big break came in 1962 when Shelby invited him to shoot the birth of the Cobra at Dean Moon’s shop in Santa Fe Springs: “The lighting was terrible, but I just set up with a ladder and, amazingly, they all came out.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Dave Friedman

Ken Miles celebrates a race win

“It was a great opportunity for an unknown guy,” he continues, “but Carroll gave so many youngsters a chance.

“I set up my own darkroom in a bathroom.

“Carroll loved coming in to watch and was mesmerised by photos developing from a white paper. ”

Dave brilliantly captured the development of Shelby American, from prototype Cobra to the GT40.

He also travelled to international events, but in an age of relaxed safety, when organisers trusted photographers, he had a few close shaves.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Dave Friedman

Dave Friedman’s portraits capture the informality, atmosphere and intensity of sports car racing in the ’50s and ’60s – here with American driver Parnelli Jones

Riverside inspired some great shots in the early 1960s, but in ’64 Dave was nearly collected by Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2: “Jim lost the brakes and spun out at Turn 9.

“He hit the hay bales where I was standing. I ran like hell.

“Someone got a picture of me running up the hill with cameras flying.

“Back then marshals left you to your own common sense; it was a golden era, but now you’re battling with 20 guys for a hole in the fence.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Dave Friedman

Jim Hall, with his broken arm in plaster following a huge accident in his Chaparral at Mosport

In 1964 Dave started looking for other opportunities, and an assignment on set for The Sound of Music led to a full-time job.

He later worked on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Grease.

“It was a great chance to learn from the masters,” says Dave, whose impressive portfolio led to him becoming the only stills photographer to be elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Dave also photographed ballet, with equally stunning results.

His remarkable archive has inspired more than 30 books, including the latest, Through my Eyes, 1958-1965, revealing where it all began for this renowned racing photographer.