Ten Minutes With Jesse Alexander

Photography by ©2016 Toni Avery

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While attending Montecito Cars & Coffee, you meet a variety of interesting enthusiasts, from the guy that has so much money he doesn’t know which of his thirty cars to bring out, or the other guy that comes to look and admire. Sometimes you can also meet various automotive celebrities.

Recently I struck up a conversation with a nice man carrying a professional looking camera that seemed to really enjoy the event. It wasn’t until my dad said, “that’s Jesse Alexander who photographed practically every Formula 1 driver your can imagine from the 50s through the 70s.” I didn’t want to seem start struck so I didn’t ask him until the next time we met if I could take a couple minutes of his time for a quick interview.

A quick interview turned into seeing his beach-front studio where he had photos so unique you could spend hours looking through them. Since I was there, I wanted to see if he had any prints of my favorite Formula 1 car of all time; the Ferrari Shark Nose, piloted by Phil Hill. He did, and it’s the most incredible image I’ve seen of the car.

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Covering Formula 1 during your career, which driver stands out the most?

  • JA: Well, there are two. My friend Phil Hill, who was world champion one year, and Juan Manuel Fangio, who was the Argentine world champion. It’s a tough question, because many of the drivers are good friends.

Which Formula 1 driver do you feel was the most talented from the 50s to the 70s?

  • JA: I think Fangio and Stirling Moss were two leading faces in those years. Fangio was looked up to by everybody. He was known as the old man, Fangio.

What Formula 1 team or team owner did you most admire?

  • JA: I think it would have to be Ferrari. Because there were so many fascinating personalities and the whole kit and caboodle was run from Modena by Enzo Ferrari who was known as Commendatore. Phil called him the Old Man.

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What Formula 1 track did you find to be most interesting?

  • JA: It would be two tracks. The first would be the Nürburgring in Germany. The other would be Spa in Belgium.

Who was the best Formula 1 driver to not win the championship, in your mind?

  • JA: The name that comes to mind is Peter Collins. He was a good friend, but whether he was the greatest or not is very much a matter of opinion.

Which Formula 1 car do you consider most beautiful?

  • JA: The Ferrari’s, I think. That’s a tough one. And then Lancia. I think the most beautiful Italian Formula 1 car is the Lancia D50. It was a wonderful car, but not terribly successful.

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Do you have a favorite location that you like to shoot?

  • JA: Nürburgring Ring, Germany. Le Mans was pretty good too.

When living in Europe, did you own anything fun?

  • JA: With the factory in Stuttgart just an hour and a half away from my home, European delivery was a cinch. My first was a 356 cabriolet-then a 356 Super 90 coupe…followed by a 300SL coupe from the Mercedes home on the other side of the city.

It was a thrill to meet Jesse and to see some of his work. He has by far captured some of the most interesting decades in Formula 1 history. And now I get to have a small piece of that on my wall.

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14 comments on “Ten Minutes With Jesse Alexander
  1. The first car race I ever attended was the 1961 Spa F1 race (I was 7 years old), so the Sharknose Ferrari also is a special car for me…there were four American drivers in that race – that made it very special for a small American kid in Europe – great article and great pics, thanks for sharing.

  2. Jesse Is one of my favorite people, a class act, a real gentleman. I love that he has never lost his passion for photography, he just keeps shooting.

  3. You have a great sense of what is truly special in Car Land — and Jesse is one of the special people who has greatly enhanced what we know and remember. I have “Inside the Archives” with a great shot of that sharknose and have loved his work for a long time. Thanks for connecting with him and sharing with us. (And keep shooting and telling stories, both of you.)

  4. Hi Toni, great article, I enjoyed it a lot. Your work keeps getting better. One of these days we have to make it to the Santa Barbara Cars ‘n Coffee. One question I would have liked to ask Jesse: “What do you think of digital photography?” Not sure he would approve but his answer would be interesting!

    ~paul

    • Thanks Paul! It would be good to see you at the show if you make it one day. That is a good question…maybe if you make it to the show you may be able to ask him yourself.

  5. There is a great video on his website created in 2010 by Michael Van Osterhoudt where he addresses digital photography, he is shown taking pics with a Canon Eos and then picks up his Leica. His website is very well done, it gives the same feeling as his photography. Toni captured that feeling in her pics of his studio. I think all the comments above reflect – this is your best work ever…I lost my morning yesterday looking at Jesse Alexander pictures…

    • Hi Paul,

      you are on the right website.

      If you go to the about section there are a few videos – one is a Vimeo and mentions that he loves the digital age but holds up his trusty Leica and breaks out in a great smile… the website is worth spending some time on…I like it when he does not call himself an artist…I have always thought that is for someone else to determine. enjoy

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