French art photographer Renaud Marion has coveted a car that defies gravity since childhood. With his beguiling, futuristic series “Air Drive” he has made his dream a reality, at least on canvas. In the process he persuaded collectors to offer some of the world’s most rare and beautiful automobiles as guinea pigs for his science–fiction fantasy.

Growing up in the 1980s, Renaud Marion thought that by the year 2000 everyone would be piloting flying cars, like the landspeeder from Star Wars or the futuristic soaring machines from French artist Moebius. “As a child, I imagined the new millennium with flying cars, spaceships, parallel worlds, extra-terrestrials living with us on earth and time travel.” says the photographer. “We would have all been dressed up in space outfits and equipped with laser pistols. These are the dreams of a normal child, I think… I hope.” Marion’s desire to propel a floating vehicle has been brought to life in a series of ‘hover’ vehicles from his childhood fantasies. Motivated by the idea that “Our dreams of today are the reality of tomorrow” Marion developed the unique concept for his Air Drive series. At the end of 2012 in Geneva, the Frenchman shot the first automobile images that he would later manipulate into levitating machines. Capturing the idea in his head of what constitutes a “flying car” and making it palpable required a two-step “manufacturing” process. The first step involved finding the subjects of the shoot and identifying the locations; the second involved the equipment.

Currently living and working in Paris, Marion was born in the French Alps. He began his love of art as a graffiti artist, but found graffiti too fleeting. To lend permanence to his spray-painted works, Marion decided to photograph them. The artist continued photographing street art, after moving to London. While there, he broadened his list of subjects to include people and architecture.

Taking on work as an assistant, Marion had the opportunity to shoot photos in the fashion, advertising and decoration industries before he learned enough to fly solo. “Little by little I became a photographer,” he says.

Marion’s artistic inspiration derives from not only his childhood and sci-fi but also quirky filmmakers like Terrence Malick and Wes Anderson, and photographers such as Alec Soth and Nadav Kander. These references lend his work a powerful cinematic quality that shines through in the Air Drive series.

Marion chose to shoot classic automobiles for his project because they most closely resembled his childhood idea of what a flying car should look like. The first vehicles he photographed included a Chevrolet El Camino, Mercedes 300 SL Roadster and Jaguar XK120.

Finding the appropriate environment in which to shoot the autos meant seeking out spaces devoid of people and recognizable buildings. The achingly beautiful cars take centre stage against backgrounds of mid-20th century architecture in varying textures and muted or neutral colours. The first series was shot in Geneva.

“I looked for architecture dating from the 1970s; for me that’s retro-futuristic. The buildings had to be imposing, massive and graphic.”

To achieve the look of “flying” cars, Marion had to apply a digital assembly technique to remove the tyres and wheel wells from the classic beauties and merge the cars onto different backgrounds, eventually settling on the right scene for each futuristic portrayal.

These photographic anachronisms garnered a lot of attention when they were originally posted online. Science fiction fans and photo collectors were smitten but his biggest fan base developed among classic car lovers, who came forward to volunteer their prized possessions for the project.

For his Air Drive follow-up shoot in Paris collectors offered up a Mercedes 300SL Paul O’Shea, Lincoln Continental, Jaguar Type E, Mercedes 190SL, Aston Martin DB5 and a Porsche 356.

Marion not only borrowed cars but cameras as well: Leica Camera loaned him their latest Leica S to capture his stills. Leica’s re-imagined S medium format camera adopts the 30 x 45mm 37.5-Mpix CCD of the original Leica S2 but adds improved image processing. The Leica S is a revised version of the original Leica S2, the firm’s professional medium format camera intended for both field use and studio photography.

The Leica S features improved image processing with increased sensitivity from ISO100-1600 including an auto ISO selection option. The camera proved to be the perfect choice for creating the dream like quality that Marion wanted for his Air Drive series.

“What if it were true that in their time, Jules Verne or Leonardo da Vinci had unconsciously created universes to condition humans for an unpredictable future, one they could never imagine?”

asks Marion. “It might be the same as today. Science fiction is everywhere. Is it here to prepare us to fly in spaceships, to meet people with powers or simply to drive flying cars?”

Marion says he would like to drive a flying car before he dies, while the child in him hopes that the technology from science fiction stories will one day become reality. In the meantime his images will have to serve as a reminder that the human imagination is able to create parallel universes in which anything is possible.

Albert Einstein said that the human imagination is “a preview of life’s coming attractions” and that “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” Marion has proved his point with Air Drive. The series shows that imagination is more important than knowledge. For, as Einstein said in his biography,

“Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

One can imagine Einstein taking a spin in one of Marion’s floating marvels – and he would probably chose the Porsche.

..Read more in Quintessentially Asia.