Update August 6 2020
Martin Port updates us on his forthcoming book on the
Trans Africa Land Rover
When I first photographed the rather down-at-heel 1959 Series II Land-Rover that sat, covered in ivy, outside a Shepherd’s Bush townhouse, I had scant knowledge of its past adventures. There were, of course, some rather obvious clues still very much evident on the outside of its aging body and as I sat and talked to the family of the first owner, the anecdotes born of a trans-African expedition flowed; stories handed down over the five decades which had passed since Philip Kohler – a young Australian, had piloted the vehicle back to the UK in late 1962.
Above: As found, in London's Shepherd's Bush
Having never had the privilege of meeting the plucky and carefree traveller, it was left to my own imagination to inject some aged colour into those stories. Yet, a year a later, the discovery of several hundred 35mm Kodachrome slides painted a very different picture – one that was full of vibrancy, excitement and challenge as Kohler documented his attempt to complete his ambition of crossing the Sahara with just his Leica M for company.
That collection of images sealed my own obsession with this particular Land-Rover, but it also set me on a path that would change various aspects of my own life, just as it had done with Philip Kohler.
While in Arusha, the former agriculturalist had found work on the set of Hatari!, the Howard Hawks epic starring John Wayne and Elsa Martinelli. Further into his journey he would do the same on The Lion – even appearing as a stunt double for lead William Holden at one point. These ‘on the hoof’ opportunities would eventually see Kohler spend the rest of his working life as a location and production manager on big-screen box office hits such as The Empire Strikes Back and Full Metal Jacket… all thanks to him buying a Land-Rover – one which he refused to ever part with, just in case the lure of the open road ever proved too hard to resist once more.
Above: Behind the scenes on the set of the film Hatari
When, following his passing, Philip Kohler’s family kindly trusted me with the task of putting the vehicle back on the road and securing its future, I made it my purpose to not just preserve and use the Land-Rover (it is my daily vehicle), but also to tell his unique story and share the fantastic images he took. It has been at shows, in local schools, picked up the odd accolade, thanks to its originality, and been used for everything from trans-European jaunts to Le Mans, to the school run and motorway-based London commutes.
Thanks to the shared enthusiasm of Porter Press, the dream of producing a book – something which I promised his family I would one day do, is now becoming a reality. The first stop? Revisiting the hundreds of images taken by Philip Kohler since leaving home in his early 20s. When I first went through them back in 2016, I did so in relative haste, selecting only those that included the Series II, but there was so much more on offer: from the fresh-faced traveller aboard the SS Toscana, to lunching among the ruins of Pompeii and a portrait of Africa in a period of post-colonial change.
Above: Philip Kohler (on left) eating his lunch in Pompeii which dates back to 79AD
There are the behind-the-scenes images he took with his unprecedented access on the aforementioned film sets – its stars caught in relaxed off-camera poses, the pure overlanding romanticism of an old Land-Rover, sandscape stretched beyond as far as the lens could capture - is still almost impossible to beat. As with any book, the difficulty is going to be deciding just what to leave out...
Above: The remarkable Trans-Africa journey was logged by Kohler on the Land Rover's hardtop
An update on Chas Parker’s next book ‘The Michael Turner Collection’
Chas has spent the last two months writing 70,000 words for his book about the Michael Turner Collection of Christmas cards. To the uninitiated, this is not a collection of holly- and robin-covered seasonal greetings, but over 50 years of paintings by the world-renowned motor sport and aviation artist Michael Turner. Each year from 1963-2016, he painted scenes from that year's Grands Prix, which were sold as Christmas cards through his company, Studio 88. The cards quickly became highly-collectable and are collectors’ items today.
‘I’ve spent many hours on the 'phone to Michael, speaking with him in detail about each of the 300 plus cards, why he chose a particular Grand Prix to include, and why the scene or incident was important enough to be recorded,’ Chas explains. ‘I’ve also written a brief synopsis of each race depicted in order to put them into perspective. Interviews have had to be carried out on the ‘phone rather than face-to-face, for obvious reasons, but with both Michael and I both being slightly hard of hearing, it hasn’t been the easiest of tasks…’
Chas has collected the cards himself for over 40 years and says that this is the book he always wanted to write. It is now being edited by Steve Rendle before Martin Port works his magic on the layout. The large-format book will be published in October In plenty of time for the Christmas market.
All books by Chas Parker