Jesse Alexander, 1929-2021

Racing Daydreams - Jesse Alexander

“…at the Pau Grand Prix in 1955, when an American photographer murmured to me, ‘Is that your Porsche? I’ve got one.’ This was Jesse Alexander, a quiet, gentle, man who was photographing and reporting on European races for various American magazines and living in Switzerland with his wife and four daughters. He had travelled to Pau from Geneva on more or less the same route as I had taken, across the south of France, through Nîmes, Montpelier, Narbonne and Carcassonne, and we compared notes on our journeys. Jesse’s feelings on the Porsche were summed up by his brief phrase, ‘great little cars, aren’t they.'”

D.S.J. – ‘Porsche Past & Present’

Racing Daydreams - Jesse Alexander & Denis Jenkinson
Jesse Alexander & Denis Jenkinson

Jesse Alexander – who has died at the age of 92, in his native Santa Barbara, California – will be forever linked with a golden era of Grand Prix and sports-car racing. His reporting, and more importantly his photography, evokes the age of motor racing as travelling circus.

Cars delicately shaped in aluminium by powerful hands. Machines at the cutting edge, travelling at impossible speed on ordinary roads. Gods at the wheel.

A world where Paris to Lisbon, Zuffenhausen to Palermo was the norm – by road – in convoy with a mate – as fast as you dare.

Racing Daydreams - Jesse Alexander with his & Jenks' Porsches, Switzerland
Jesse Alexander with his & Jenks’ Porsches, Switzerland

Jesse discovered the worlds of cars, racing & photography at home in California, but his first great road trip changed everything. The Carrera Panamericana in 1953 had it all. Jesse captured it, and it never left him.

1953 Carrera Panamericana

1954 saw the young Alexander family up-sticks and move to Europe, and on that historic July day at Reims he found his calling – travelling Europe making his life & living covering motor racing. Over the following decades Jesse would capture & create some of the most iconic images of our sport – prime example being his superb ‘Life’ photoessay of Scuderia Ferrari’s 1956 season.

Racing Daydreams - 1956 Monaco Grand Prix
1956 Monaco Grand Prix
Racing Daydreams - 1955 Mille Miglia scruitineering
1955 Mille Miglia scruitineering
Racing Daydreams - 1958 Targa Florio
1958 Targa Florio

But not only motorsport.

Jesse’s interests were wide, and this not only manifested itself in his photography. A fascination with architecture saw the Alexander family commission & build a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the Meiringen valley in Switzerland. And when the family returned to Santa Barbara in the early 1970s, they designed an important new house that was the subject of several articles, and this film by Jesse.

The House in the Hill – By Paul Goldberger
Aug. 7, 1977

So farewell & thank you; brilliant, talented, interesting, interested Jesse Alexander. May the roads of heaven rise to meet your swing-axle.

Racing Daydreams - Stirling Moss and Jesse Alexander
Stirling Moss and Jesse Alexander
Racing Daydreams - Jesse Alexander, Mercedes-Benz W196
Jesse Alexander, Mercedes-Benz W196

2 thoughts on “Jesse Alexander, 1929-2021

  1. I’m just devastated by this news. Jesse and I covered a lot of ground together after he started as our European Editor at SCI in 1956 and was still going when I left in 1962. He asked me to write a foreword to his book AT SPEED, a great gift because it brought me some awards. We’ve kept in touch over the years, including a great visit by Jesse to London for the opening of a display of his images.
    The house in Switzerland wasn’t by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was by a local architect who said, ‘This would usually be called a hotel here!’ The California house was later occupied by Steve Martin.
    Behind this there was more support by shares in IBM than journalism. Jesse could do it all his way and he took advantage of that. A great friend whom I will deeply miss.
    Jesse

    1. Karl, I’m sorry for your loss. Even from a distance it was apparent that Jesse was a great man, and it is no surprise to learn that he was a greater friend. Thank you for sharing your memories of Jesse, and I am humbled that you choose to do so here.
      Kindest regards
      CJ

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