Steve Coonan Time Capsule – The Rodder’s Journal Rough Cuts
Steve Coonan, the owner and publisher of The Rodder’s Journal, single-handedly changed the look of hot rod photography in the 80s and 90s. While most magazines back then were stacking up feature shoots at car shows in broad daylight (as many as ten per day), Coonan took an artistic and methodical approach after he became a full-time freelancer selling his work to titles like American Rodder and Easy Rider. Prior to that, he spent the better part of a decade at both Los Angeles area hot rod publishers – Petersen Publishing and McMullen/Argus Publishing.
Coonan went a different direction than the others when it came to presenting imagery. Being able to take his time with photo shoots, he was our scene’s first lensman to perfect “golden hour” hot rod photography capturing countless hot rods and customs after the sun had snuck behind the horizon. Further yet – he became a master at back alley photo shoots in and around his native Maryland as well as other locals flush with early iron. Steve’s ability to blend the car’s colors with the landscape was unmatched.
He also excelled in the studio long before it was popular. “Steve really championed the artistic studio look for hot rod parts back when nobody was really doing it. Engines, parts, and all of the intricate catalog photography – he did it better than anyone. He also pioneered bare metal in-studio hot rod features,” said his Executive Editor Geoff Miles. We can personally vouch for Coonan’s detailed studio work. One evening when we were assisting him, it was ten hours of prep before the first shutter dropped. He’s that dedicated to his craft.
Taking influence from Steve Pezman’s Surfer’s Journal, Coonan launched The Rodder’s Journal in 1994. With its brilliant photography, in-depth articles and perfect-bound coffee table style, it quickly became the country’s preeminent hot rod magazine. To this day, its quality is unmatched. And Coonan’s photography has seriously evolved from the days of medium and large format film cameras. His location photography is better than ever and his renowned studio work is still at the forefront of the hot rod hobby. Nearly all of it is shot with digital SLR’s these days.
Coonan pulled up stakes and moved his operation from his native Maryland to California in 1997 eventually settling in the company’s current South San Francisco office. The Rodder’s Journal is now in its third decade of publication, still churning out quarterly issues to the delight of upper-crust hot rod aficionados worldwide. While he now relies on world-class freelancers like John Jackson and others to help carry the water when it comes to car features, he’s still actively involved in dropping the shutter.
He’s also still driving his ’32 Ford hi-boy roadster. As far as cool cars, he’s had his share. Before his black ’32 hair blower, he had a ’34 3-window coupe (Jim Ewing’s Super Bell ’34 and Jake Jacob’s ‘34 coupes had a profound influence on a teenaged Coonan). In addition to his trusty ’65 Buick Riviera cruiser, he’s currently working on a deuce 5-window.
Coonan and Miles allowed us to dig through their film archives recently giving us free reign to grab 35 images for this time capsule. All of the photographs you see here are scans of either medium format transparencies or large format versions (Thanks to Jennifer at TRJ for the scans). That is why you see the black borders around each photo. The images were all taken by Coonan ranging from the mid-90s through relatively recent times. We hope you enjoy some of Steve Coonan’s life’s work. Click here to subscribe to the Rodder’s Journal.