Jonathan Michael Castillo: Car Culture

Artist Statement

Culture is defined by anthropologists as the learned patterns of behavior and thought that help a group adapt to its surroundings. My work is both a study and interpretation of individuals who participate in the driving culture of the greater Los Angeles region. The space that these individuals inhabit while participating in this cultural behavior exists in a public space that also has a certain amount of perceived privacy. This perception serves to shield a vehicle’s occupant from the surrounding public arena. By highlighting the occupants and interiors of vehicles, I bring normally private moments into the public space.

- Jonathan Michael Castillo

Opening in 2021, Jonathan Michael Castillo: Car Culture, is the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work and features his arresting, candid photographs that capture Los Angeles’s driving culture.

The contemporary car is a high-tech cocoon, designed to insulate its passengers from the world they are moving through, even as their presence radically reshapes that world. Castillo’s photographs evoke that sense of insulation while simultaneously eroding it. His photographs of people sitting in their vehicles, shot from the rear of his car, move between the familiar and the surreal. The images feature individuals from all walks of life, their windshields offering a brief glimpse into their stories and lives: a woman in a green Volkswagen smokes a cigarette amid the party balloons filling her car. A couple stares straight ahead, lost in their own thoughts.

In Car Culture, Castillo is participating in a photographic tradition of documenting a way of life that is passing, enabling viewers to see a social life that is changing (or about to disappear). Now in a time when the foundation of the everyday has come a bit unmoored, his images take on a nostalgic hue – a signal to how his series will evolve over time.

Jonathan Michael Castillo’s rearview portraits of unsuspecting drivers is Car Culture, an ongoing photography project that employs state-of-the-art camera and lighting equipment, along with a bit of bravado, to capture LA commuter moments in life.

At first glance, Castillo assumes the role of photographer as archivist, preserving the southland vernacular figured in the culture of our roads – a quasi-typology of a society defined by cars and settings. In his images, a chronicle develops about time, place and society situated on the streets of his hometown. But his images are not clinical; they are infused with drama, stage-lit and with minor post-production to enhance the cinematic appeal…the very essence of LA.  Read the interview >> 

Photo by J. Daniel Hurd


“It took me a while to get serious about photography as I was originally a business major who hated being in school studying business. Eventually around 2007 I started focusing on photography and art and taking lots more classes at Moorpark College and that was a turning point for me. I went from barely being able to finish one class a semester to being a full-time student earning top marks and winning scholarships. The faculty there were incredible in so many different ways.

"I wouldn’t be doing any of what I’m doing now if not for Moorpark College."

Jonathan Michael Castillo

“All those professors at Moorpark were wonderful but John Grzywacz was really the person who made everything fall into place for me with believing that a career as a photographer, visual artist and educator were all things I could and should do. He founded the photography department at Moorpark College and taught there for over 40 years before retiring. Moorpark is a pretty special photography program and I’m really grateful for all of the experience and support they gave me over the years.

“After Moorpark, the faculty at Cal State Long Beach played a huge role in developing Car Culture as an ongoing series. Then at Columbia College where I earned by MFA in Photography, the faculty provided strong guidance and mentorship in my professional career, allowing for exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences that continuously challenge, inform, and support my artistic development.”


“I list multiple things as my titles. I think many people are finally coming around to the realization that people are often more than one thing, I still like to make it very clear.

“I have cobbled together a career in photography, visual art and teaching that so far is letting me do the things that are most important to me while also making a living so I think it’s important that I describe what I do to reflect that and not let people put me in a box too easily.”


  • Current Diane Dammeyer Fellow in Photographic Arts and Social Issues for a socially engaged photographer to produce a compelling and dynamic body of work highlighting human rights and social issues.
  • MFA from Columbia College Chicago; BFA Photography w/Minor in Anthropology, CSULB (Cum Laude); AS Photography & Photojournalism, Moorpark College.
  • Photography teacher at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago.
  • He can shoot an apple off your head with an arrow from 90 meters, play a rendition of “In the Mood” on the Tenor Saxophone that would have made Glenn Miller proud, is a retired semi-pro paintball player, once performed in a musical version of Ghostbusters on roller skates and he has pictures to prove it.



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