Not all motoring photographers are as handy behind the wheel as they are with the camera, but thanks to his appearance in Netflix series Fastest Car, Dubai-based Pepper Yandell proves the two don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Without divulging any spoilers about the show, which involved modified "street sleepers" drag racing against factory-built supercars in a face-off culminating in a grand final, it's safe to say that Oklahoma-born Yandell acquits himself well in a Lamborghini Huracan.
“It really made it easy thanks to the technology Lamborghini has put into that car,” he says modestly. “It was extremely exciting.”
The Huracan he used in the show, he says, wasn't his – it was provided by a friend from luxury concierge company Wasta. That caused some friction with other contestants who had, in most cases, constructed their rides from humble beginnings – a 1960s Chevrolet pick-up and a 1970s Datsun are among the cars that take on million-dirham-plus modern machinery also including a Ferrari 488 GTB, a Ford GT and a Dodge Viper. The self-described "laid-back" Yandell wasn't interested in stoking any spiky rivalries, however.
"Some guys were just a little too bit dramatic for my tastes, but they had put in all this money and time and effort into building their cars, so I can understand why they'd take it so seriously," he says. "There was a bit of ill-will towards me, like: 'This isn't your car, why do you get to race it?' They thought it wasn't fair. But what I do for my career, one of the perks is getting to drive all the supercars, so I guess that's why the producers liked my story."
As Netflix Originals' first automotive show, Fastest Car has opened doors for the 27-year-old since it debuted last month – when we speak, he has just returned from a trip to Italy at the invitation of Lamborghini, impressed by his turn in the Huracan, to test drive and shoot its new Urus "super SUV". Later this month, he will visit again, for meetings with the Raging Bull's top brass and a tour of Italy piloting and photographing Lambos.
Not that Yandell has needed much help entering into the upper echelons of the car world during his career so far, which started seven-and-a-half years ago and has seen him capture images for high-end marques McLaren and Pagani, as well as brands such as BMW, Chevrolet and Lexus, plus tyre household name Pirelli. His private-owner clients include royalty and billionaires.
He relocated to Dubai two months ago from Dallas, Texas, where he had originally moved to work for an aftermarket car workshop, subsequently going full-time freelance on his photography. But that wasn't the start of his UAE story – it was a journey around the Gulf "nearly three years ago" that indirectly led to Yandell's involvement in the Fastest Car series.
"I went on a month-long trip to Dubai and also Bahrain and Oman, and from that trip I made a mash-up video – what it's like travelling and shooting these cars," he says.
The video led to discussions with television industry movers about him presenting a show that would be like "the Anthony Bourdain of cars... where every episode would go to a new country, and get to experience the culture and the travel as a side effect of shooting cars". That concept is yet to come to fruition after shooting a pilot, but Forbes then featured Yandell and his Middle East video, and soon after, he was contacted by the executive producer of the Netflix series and cast in it.
The time documented in the video was one of “five or six” trips he made to the UAE before relocating, and he is glowing in his praise for the country.
“The hospitality has always been above and beyond – I think it’s just the Emirati way,” he says. “I like the culture. The construction... I just love Dubai. I’ve only been here during the winter, so I’m about to find out what a Dubai summer is like.”
He has also found it a fertile base in terms of his car shoots.
"Dubai is constantly changing, so new locations keep popping up," he says. "Currently I'm going through a desert phase, taking a car out to Emirates Road, where there's desert on either side. I'd love to shoot more in the city – it's a little bit more difficult because of permits, but I'm going to do as much shooting there
After meeting them on his initial Middle East trip, he is affiliated with the Bahrain-based Supercars Club Arabia, which earlier this year ran one of its regular driving tours around the UAE to celebrate the Year of Zayed. Another SCA tour last year, along the west coast of the US, coincided with the Fastest Car shoot, which required Yandell to be in Los Angeles. And it is petrolheads such as the club's members who maintain his love affair with motoring photography.
“It’s the car people and the car world in general that has kept me hooked,” he says. “It’s the people I meet and the places I get to go, as much as trying to create amazing images.”