California Dreamin’

Ryan Schude Photographs the American Dream: People and Their Cars

Cars are like dogs—they often reflect an eery similarity to their owners in looks and personality. Photographer Ryan Schude explores these connections in his series ‘Them & Theirs.’

Ryan Schude

Adi Goodrich with her 1988 Chevy Cavalier

Most of the time, a car reflects its owner's lifestyle—vans for large families, sports cars for thrill seekers, and hybrids for the eco-conscious. Photographer Ryan Schude explores these connections in Them & Theirs, a portrait series that “blends documentary and staged approaches” to reveal links between vehicles and their owners. Using both acquaintances and spontaneous strangers, Schude gains inspiration from his subjects to create elaborate sets around Southern California at which he stages his shoots. Schude talks to The Daily Beast about the vintage cars he found—from Volkswagens to Porsches—and the personal meaning and connection they have with their owners. 


Here, "Adi Goodrich is a production designer, and we wanted to utilize a prop that might be relevant speaking about that. Her car was heavily involved in her carrying materials around for work, so my idea was to have this fabric spilling out all over the place. Many of the images have a color accent that runs throughout. This one obviously was red so we found an outfit and location that worked both with the reds and blues."

Ryan Schude

Jimmy Marble and his 1991 Jeep Cherokee

"Jimmy Marble is a director who has had this Jeep as his first and only car since he turned 16. We were discussing locations for his portrait when he showed me this building under construction with a giant tarp hanging off the side. I wanted to recreate that feeling, but use a specific shape in the tarp. The triangle is what you get on a keyboard when you combine the ALT key with J for Jimmy."

Ryan Schude

Emily Caldwell and her 1963 Chevy Corvair

"Emily Caldwell is a photographer who travels all around the country in this old Corvair documenting her experience. We met up in Malibu at this epic lookout while she was passing through town. The hills leading up to the location took their toll on the vehicle, and we barely snuck this in before sunset. The green fabric is another visual element that runs through a few of these set-ups to add an additional design element to the photo."

Ryan Schude

Matt Hummel and his 1956 Porsche 356 Cabriolet

"Matt Hummel is a Porsche collector and restorer. This 1956 356 Coupe is a rare breed in that world and he still drives it all across California often. He is a super chill dude in general so having him relaxing at this beach at Point Dume in Malibu was an obvious location. Sometimes the series get a little staged but if the subject and vehicle call for it, keeping it natural and simple can be best."

Ryan Schude

Sayer Danforth and his 1984 Subaru Brat

"Sayer Danforth is a director and artist who has put a bunch of time and effort into customizing this Subaru Brat with his own hand cut, wood grain decal which perfectly imitates the original Brat logo. One of the few shots in the series shot on an old toy film camera, this was an impromptu moment at a random lookout in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles."

Ryan Schude

Amelia Parks and her 1963 Ford Falcon

"Amelia Parks is a fashion designer, and we first shot her in a dress she made at a completely different location. Just as a second option, she changed outfits and we did this overhead shot really quickly, but, since I ended up liking it better than the first one, we stuck with it. I love the well worn aesthetic of her car's finish in conjunction with the dirt lot."

Ryan Schude

Nicole Dreyfuss and her 1971 Volkswagen

"Nicole Dreyfuss is an artist from San Francisco who drives this VW Squareback down to L.A. to visit family and friends where she's originally from. This old diner in Burbank just happened to perfectly compliment the car's color, so again we ended up at a naturally lit sunset portrait as oppose to adding any narrative to the photo."

Ryan Schude

Sven Barth and his 1985 Chevy Suburban

"Sven Barth is a furniture designer and musician who has also done a fair amount of set design. The location choice was based around the staircase, andagain the fabric was used as a visual element to allude to his experience as a painter and create a more surreal backstory. The Chevy Subuarban is one of the few vehicles that can fit a 4x8 sheet of plywood flat along the floor, which was a key factor in his decision to own it."