A man cleaning his car - Keith Sewell, Wanganui 1978 – takes a break on the running board of his polished Ford V8. Photographer Richard Wotton captured the moment, and a man's passion for his car, in black and white.

Then Wotton took another close-up shot of the "beautiful curves" and shiny surface of the hubcap, wreathed with the reflection of a neighbouring fence and house – entitled "Reflections on a Hubcap."

Wotton first met Sewell at Cooks Gardens when he was about 13.

"I went over to watch the cycle races. Keith did too. Then he went into motorbike racing and owned a beautiful BMW 500cc – it was immaculate.

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"In the very early 60s he shipped that off to England and rode it all around Europe including to the BMW factory in Germany and was treated royally there.

"They would have been impressed by the condition of the bike. It was beautiful.

"This photo made a good portrait about his passion for cars."

Cars are vehicles for photographic expression as subjects and conveyors of a point of view.

Not being mechanically minded Wotton expressed his admiration as a spectator through the camera, his photographer's eye appreciating the sculptured shapes and lines of cars, their creators' design work, and something of the personality and pride of the cars' owners.

He also loves the upholstery of American cars and under the bonnet "engines can look pretty spiffy."

"A good photographer can bring out the soul of the car," Wotton asserts, and says commercial photography is no exception.

"If it's an Aston Martin or something like that – a good photographer will capture the look and the power that's about to be unleashed. It's about capturing the right angle to make it look its best."

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Car designs have changed considerably since 1885-86 when, arguably, Karl Benz invented the first automobile.

The Sarjeant Gallery collection holds a number of photographs in which street scenes with vehicles evoke bygone times. Like clothing, cars help to anchor the work in a particular era - photographs such as Wayne Barrar's Accumulating Histories' "Caravan and car, Wendover Airbase" and "Limo Wendover Airbase", Frank Denton's (untitled – flood scene), or Ans Westra's photograph "Majestic Square" of a man looking into his rear vision mirror with the Sarjeant Gallery in the distance.

Peter Black's photographic series Moving Pictures was taken from his vehicle as he drove through New Zealand, capturing moments of life at that time.

Collections curator, Jennifer Taylor-Moore says the series is a record of people going about their daily business.

Some of the images are taken in motion, others are stationary – a dog sits in a Mercedes; a man mows his lawn; children in a car – there were no seat belts then; a child holds on to its mother's skirt so she can't walk.

"One of the interesting things is that people don't understand that you're there so there's no posing, no arrangement; it's very much a snapshot of a moment in time and also dependent on people being near a road."

Some images have the car window frame in the photograph as well, which creates an additional frame of reference.

The car as a vehicle for and in photography serves a variety of purposes.

"There are people going on trips just to look, or going on trips as a rite of passage. The person in their car is private and is not just using it as a tool or a vehicle or something functional but as a thing of beauty, and in these images it shows how much things have changed in the types of cars, their shapes and designs.

"These images also take you back to another time, perhaps to your childhood and other memories."

Typing "car" into the Explore the Collection portal on the Sarjeant's website brings up 45 artworks featuring cars.