Used Cars

Photographer Jay Nebel on his “Used Cars” series:

I started taking photos a little over a year ago in response to not writing poems. My first book of poetry was coming out after five years of rejection. One of my poetry heroes, Gerald Stern, had picked the book. I should have been excited, right? But I found myself in the worst depression of my life. And I had no energy and no desire to write. With two kids, a wife, and a job delivering juice at 4am I was struggling to find time. For some reason I started taking photos with my phone. I liked the process of going back and editing photos. I liked trying to discover the real subject within a photo. I liked the surprise and the rush of capturing a particular image. The photographic process felt similar in many ways to the process of writing poetry but it was also new and raw.

All of the photos I picked for this feature were shot on 35mm film using a pair of cameras I own: a Canon and a Holga. The Holga, a cheap piece of crap, shit the bed shortly after shooting some of the photos you see here. All of these photos were taken in Portland minus one. The photo of the Volkswagen bus was shot in Astoria. In terms of selection, I picked all of these photos because I wanted to show a side of Portland that often goes unnoticed: the used car lots, abandoned shopping carts, outdated apartment buildings, damaged cars and roller rinks. This is the Portland I grew up knowing.

Jay Nebel is a poet and photographer living in Portland, Oregon. His first collection of poems, Neighbors, was awarded the 2014 Saturnalia Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Narrative, Ploughshares, Tin House and other journals.