“I try to make you stop scrolling....That's what I'm going for."
Bill Haleen is an automotive photographer from California. He's got a unique style, like something different is going on in his head than most automotive photography I've seen.
And that's why I wanted to talk to Bill. His style caught our eye for having a certain...something. For one, his Instagram bio says Family Man. Haven't seen that very many times.
So, I called, and asked if we could talk about it. Fortunately, Bill was easy to talk to, and he launched into a story. It takes place in his black Porsche 996.
“On Saturday, we went out all day...to San Diego to look at cars, talk to some people...while we were on our way back home, a guy ran over an 18-wheeler tire; this big piece of tread. It blew up, hit the front of my car. You could hear this big bang, and you could hear glass...
If that would have happened five years ago, I would have been really upset. I would have been devastated. I kept telling my son, 'It's just a car. Whatever happened, we'll just fix it. If it's totaled, we'll fix it.'"
Just a car? That's true, it is just a car. But you don't hear that very often. Before the story, he said he wished his wife could have gone on the drive, too.
So, I asked why he spent so much effort putting his attention on his family. He said it's because he spent a lot of time on the other end of the spectrum.
"You become the car, and that's where I was. If something happens to the car, it happens to you. You evaporate. You're just devastated? You're going to drop into a depression because your car got wrecked?"
His photography proves his focus. Or rather, what he's not focused on. He captures experiences and people, not objects. That California sun is everywhere, a lot of pavement, and the occasional shot of his wife and son make his feed feel down-to-earth. His whole Instagram feed has a generous, open feel. I get the impression that if I met Bill at a show somewhere, there wouldn't be a price of admission just to talk to him.
If I had to guess, I'd say some of his approach comes from his trade: headstones. Or rather, building headstones. I imagine that building grave-related objects makes you ask some questions. Mainly, "When I'm buried, what will still matter?"
For Bill, it's family.
And something else, too. He told another story.
He occasionally sees Jeff Zwart, the well-known photographer and racecar driver, at the various car-related events in his area. As a fellow photographer, Bill wanted to know, “How can I make something interesting that I’m not interested in?”
Zwart told him, “You fake it ‘till you make it.”
That stopped Bill for a second. “No. No, no no," He said. "I can’t do that. I might be poor, I might be broke, but I do have my integrity. Not for sale.”
Zwart laughed, and then told him, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s going to be alright.
Integrity. Maybe that's a good place to start for all of us.
It's working for Bill. He's got a great following on Instagram. He shoots cars on the side, when he wants to. And when he does shoot for a client, he's as focused as any artist trying to become as good as possible.
He said, "I don't ever want to do anything that doesn't make me go, WHOAH."