Petrol and oil runs through James Lipman’s veins. By day he’s one of the world’s top automotive photographers and has worked for some of the biggest brands out there. But when he’s not shooting, he can usually be found with his head buried in the engine bay of a plane or an old car. A couple of years ago, James moved to California from the UK, and now commutes between jobs in a light aircraft.
How did you get into automotive photography?
After leaving school I pursued a career as a press photographer. For a few years I worked at Metro newspaper in London, but my heart wasn’t in it. One day, while flicking through a car magazine, it occurred to me that my passion lay elsewhere.
How would you describe your photographic style and philosophy?
I enjoy travelling light and working quickly. I’ve always been able to adapt to changing situations and use that to my advantage in my work.
How’s coronavirus affected your work this year?
The year started as normal, with a steady flow of work. The first sign of what was to come was when the Geneva Motor Show was cancelled in March. I was supposed to be working for Porsche, and VW group was the first manufacturer to back out before the organisers themselves cancelled the event. Luckily, at almost exactly the same time, my pending permit to build a house extension was approved, so I’ve mostly been working at home, alone, on a construction site since!
You’ve an interesting selection of vehicles to transport you, from a Porsche 912 to a plane. Can you tell us about them briefly?
The 912 is a toy. My daily is a 20-year-old Isuzu Rodeo that was someone’s holiday home car here in Palm Springs. As for planes, until recently I owned a Vans RV-4, and an RV-6 as a rebuild project. The RV-6 needed a rewire and some other work, and I’ve just about finished that after about 10 months of work. In addition to all this, I have a 1992 Buick Roadmaster that I’m putting an LS3 in. The Roadmaster was the first car I bought when I got to the US. It already had plenty of power, but this is America after all. Last week I bought a 1950 Spartan Mansion travel trailer, which is a bit like a giant Airstream. They were built by the Spartan Aircraft Company using techniques almost identical to an aircraft fuselage. Spartan also built my favourite aircraft - the 7W Executive - so I just had to have one.
What motivated you to move to California from the UK?
The increasing volume of work in the US. Also, the incredible light and immense space. We originally moved to Los Angeles but, like so many Europeans, I became entranced by the vastness of the desert. After a year in the city we moved out to Palm Springs. It’s quiet, beautiful and, from my office, I’ve a 40-mile view across the valley to Joshua Tree National Park. I really love it here.
You’ve spent a lot of time in nice cars and beautiful places. What’s the one job that stands out?
So many for so many different reasons. A four-week Bentley launch event in Palm Springs back in 2016 was the point at which I realised I wanted to move here. In 2018, a job for Hagerty insurance in Flagstaff, Arizona, was the moment I worked out that I could commute to work by air and save myself a bunch of time. Until that point the flying had just been a hobby. I’ve shot a number of Bentley and Rolls-Royce product launches over the years and, cars aside, they’re always in absolutely spectacular locations. You end up in these places for weeks at a time, which really gives you the chance to explore and enjoy.
Finally, you’re a tinkerer. Tell us about some of your car rebuilds.
The 912 was a junker which I bought in Fremont for a few thousand dollars, shipped back to the UK, and rebuilt from a bare shell. I brought it back to the US when I moved here in 2018. The car is very light and will just about out-drag a 911SC, which is a laugh. The RV-6 was bought as an abandoned project. It had been wired badly and left to sit after having caught fire in flight. I brought it home (literally, parking it on the patio) tore it down to the airframe and rewired it properly, so hopefully that won’t happen again. The Roadmaster LS swap was something I have wanted to do for a few years. To modify a car of this age like this in California requires a special emissions-compliant crate engine, which is vastly more expensive than the car. One came up as an abandoned project in a Ferrari 400i cabriolet in Los Angeles. I loaded the engine and big 4L65E gearbox into the back of the Isuzu and drove it home. The engine is in the car and almost ready to run. I also have a 1961 IWL Berlin scooter that I restored many years ago after becoming a bit obsessed with East German history. That’s still in the garage in the UK and I’d love to ship it to the East Coast and ride it across the country (I did a similar trip on a Honda C70 about 10 years ago).
Picture credits: jameslipman