Chasing Cars & Concrete with Sarah Feeney

Instagram can be a fairly bland, polished and brand orientated place these days. So when we saw beautiful images of decaying concrete buildings, obscure travel destinations and Eggleston-esque car shots on Sarah Feeney’s Under Rocks pages, we were hooked.

So, we had to showcase her work and get her in for an interview…….

First off, give us a bit of background on yourself.

I just travel really, have done for nine years now. I no longer own ‘stuff’ – just a suitcase of essentials – but I have a flat in London. More often than not someone else is using it but if its empty, you might find me there. 

When I’m travelling, I stay in Airbnb places but I’m in no way an advocate of theirs, far from it. 

Since 2011 I’ve visited 41 countries – probably over 100 different cities. Brexit and climate change will have an influence on my travel habits in the future. I certainly aim to take less flights, travel by train wherever possible. This year I’ve got my sights set on travelling through the former Soviet Union / Eastern Bloc so train is a valid option anyway. 

For a living, and to pay for it all, my Under Rocks agency does stuff for brands. Strategy, positioning, tone of voice, insights, that kind of thing. I can do it all remotely, so I do. 

As a side hustle, I write and photograph for The Modernist – I just guest-edited the December issue: Junction, and this year I came up with a new project for them: Knick Knacks. But The Modernist isn’t mine – its Jack and Eddys – and I don’t work there with the rest of the team either. I’m just lucky that they occasionally like my often-half-baked ideas and say ‘oh-go-on-then’ quite a lot. 

I photograph cars and concrete. Do a bit of life drawing. 

You seem to have been all over the place in the last year, Berlin, Bucharest, Mexico, California. Was it the architecture that took you there?

My travel is mostly influenced by where my clients are. Attending meetings, delivering documents etc. Either that or I’m doing on-site visits, research. Photographing cars and concrete came out of that. It kept me sane when I had hours to kill and gave me a sense of purpose outside the professional stuff. Something to do. I try and donate time to trips that are where I fancy going – Mexico City and Bucharest were two such destinations –  but mostly, it’s client commitments that get me up off of my arse and out there travelling. 

I’d be interested to hear what you thought of Bucharest as i lived there for a few years and found it a fascinating place architecturally speaking, a real mixed bag

I love history and I love to see a city’s history played out in its architecture – see it evolving over time. I’d like to be a time traveler but alas, I can’t be, apparently. Architecture is the only tangible way I can experience what life must have been like in decades gone by. Standing in a street or in a building that looks the same as it did generations ago. If you’re lucky. Sucking-up the atmosphere of the place. Bucharest is one such place. It’s a city of revolution and triumph and you can see and feel that in its streets and buildings. It’s a very moving and atmospheric place.

What draws you to Modernist architecture?

It’s all about the proportions and the clean lines. The concept of the outside being in and the inside being out – light and space. I actually love Georgian architecture just as much – its proportions and overall ‘feel’ being pretty much the same as that of modernist architecture. When Goldfinger built his modernist home in traditional Hampstead his defense was that it was just a modern interpretation of a Georgian house. And therefore, totally appropriate and sympathetic to the local architecture. (The local planning committee agreed.) 

At the other end of my affection is Victorian architecture which, in my opinion, is utterly preposterous. I think St Pancras Station is a monstrosity. The only decent Victorian architecture is its pubs, its Gin palaces. 

To be clear though, I’m really not an academic on architecture, not at all. I’m just a half-wit enthusiast. Don’t ask me any questions – I can’t answer them.

What’s your favourite destination you visited so far?

Berlin has always been my favourite destination and always will be. I’m gooey about the place. My greatest regret is that I’ve never lived there and now with Brexit I’m not sure I ever will. 

As a general rule of thumb my favourite destinations are those that are walkable or have a good public transport system and don’t rely on cars. Destinations that have many different cultural territories and neighborhoods. Ones that look and feel uniquely themselves, places that are so distinctive you could drop someone in them, take off their blindfold and they’d know exactly where they were, even if they’d never been there before. Tokyo and Manhattan, for example.

Some cities have areas that conform to a homogenized idea about ‘regeneration’. If you’re in them you could be anywhere else that has adopted that same formula, they all look the same – all have the same signifiers of ‘progress’ – boutique hotels, shared work spaces, food trucks. Pragmatically speaking and without casting negative judgement these are my least favorite places to visit. Not that you asked ☺  

The most surprising place?

I’m still hoping to be surprised to be honest – pleasantly surprised – by the ‘holiday experience’ – in a beach-type place. But nope. Not happened yet. These places just aren’t my cup of tea no matter how hard I try. Sand, sea and palm trees just don’t do it for me. In fact, I don’t even like ‘holidays’. I live in hope that I will one day surprise myself by having a nice time on a beach with a coconut. A bit of sitting around on my backside all day would probably do me good. You know, read a book or something. Hasn’t happened so far though….   

Where are you off to next?

I haven’t known where I’ll be for more than a couple of months in advance for about ten years now so I’m not really sure. But I suspect America, and a couple of places in Eastern Europe. Hopefully I’ll see a lot more of Scotland as it really is god’s country. (If there is a god.)  

What would be your dream ticket?

A time-travel ticket to the past. 

I’m guessing as you’re in Manchester you have an association with the Modernist Society. What’s the scene like up there?

I’m a Northern-Londoner, born in Wythenshawe but haven’t lived in the North West since about ’93 so I don’t really know anymore!

What do you look for in your photographs?

An absence of people. I’ll wait for hours for people to shift out the way so that I can get my shot. I’m far too polite to ask them to move but I do know some photographers that will just shout, ‘Oi – shift!’ 

Wish I could be more like them. 

Why cars?

My photography hobby started with the cars. I’d spend a whole day walking a city so it goes without saying at some point there would ALWAYS be a decent car somewhere. So I’d photograph it. It’s now become a kind of game, an added bit of intrigue and excitement to the day – wondering what car might be around the corner. And why not, classic / vintage cars are gorgeous and again, it’s another tangible way of experiencing the past. But come the end of the summer, all the old cars disappear – tucked safely away from the snow, grit, rain and ice. Conveniently though, this is the exact time all the leaves fall off of the trees and suddenly you can see, and better photograph, architecture. So that takes over as my subject matter during the winter months. Cars in the summer, buildings in the winter. The two passions complement each other well – keep me busy all year round. 

Your favourite publications / blogs / grams?

I’m really bad at this – I don’t have print publications because I’m always moving around and can’t carry extra stuff and have nowhere to store it after I’ve read it. I tend to live in my own travel bubble and all my reference points and information comes from what I see on the streets (the streets mostly in the literal sense not just the lateral, cultural sense!)

Views from the window of a train, views expressed by the people I meet on my travels, museums, galleries, enthusiast’s collections, gossip, mythology and handed-down bits of news and information. And I’m ok with that because 99% of the stuff I see online only puts me in a foul mood anyway. 

Obviously, The Modernist is a fave. I love the angle of its commentary on design: informed and insightful but never earnest or overly-worthy. It has a good dollop of humour. It’s egalitarian – it understands that you don’t have to be an academic to appreciate or be interested in the designed world around you – and why should you be? We all live in it, we’re all entitled to have a view.

Photography by Sarah Feeney.

See lots more at underrockstravelproject.com and her Instagram page @under_rocks_sarah_feeney