On The Road: Mary Kate Teske's 'Backseat Sessions'

May 24, 2017

Dennis Rogers, who took this photo, described Mary Kate Teske as a photographer with amazing raw talent and a unique eye toward her craft; Rogers says Teske is definitely a visual artist to keep following.
Credit (Dennis Rogers | Billings, MT) (http://www.dennisrogersphoto.com/)

People in the West love their vehicles. For 23-year-old artist Mary Kate Teske, her 1961 Dodge Lancer is basically her muse.

As Memorial Day weekend nears and folks hit the highways to abscond for a few days, the future of Teske’s Backseat Sessions remains unclear for the video series director and her classic car named Frank.

*This story has been updated since its original publication to include a link to Mary Kate Teske's personal essay published in Last Best News

Artist Mary Kate Teske of Terry, MT officially moved into her 1961 Dodge Lancer to spend the summer intimately getting to know her home state (Pictured: Frank the car on the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur).
Credit Mary Kate Teske

Credit Mary Kate Teske

"I think I had a few other names for it," said Teske, referring to her car. "I can’t remember them now but I remember I just started calling him 'Frank' one day and it just kind of fit, and yeah, I really have no reason for it."

Teske spent summers as a teenager working on her grandfather’s farm in Terry, Montana – located just east of Miles City.

When she reached driving age, her grandfather, a mechanic, asked if she wanted to trade farm work for his help fixing up a classic car collecting dust on the property.

"So I thought it was a pretty good idea I was like sure! Yea! And ... my Grandpa had that 1961 Dodge Lancer, and so I spent that summer working and my whole family was out there my cousins, my siblings and uncle. And all of us collectively had like a car-working pow-wow just kind of sat down and started sanding the whole thing, rebuilding the engine, redoing the seats and after about a month or two we finished up and the car kind of became what it is now," said Teske.

Now it is the set of Teske’s YouTube series called Backseat Sessions, which features friends of hers, musicians all over Billings, who will pop in the backseat of her car and play a song while she records it.

The series started three months ago, at the end of a rough snowy winter, when her car and the roads were finally drivable again.

Credit Mary Kate Teske

There’s a comfortable, nostalgic quality to Teske’s work. She uses a VSCO setting on her digital camera to create a grainy, ethereal product that looks as if she is shooting with film. Throw a vintage car into the mix and the combination is unsurprisingly timeless.

It’s clear in her work, and by who she picks as the subjects of her work, that Teske is passionate. She allows that fervor to drive her to be the most she can be at any given moment. 

"I know what I’m doing isn’t particularly astounding, but it captures them," said Teske.

"And I just want to keep doing that. And I figure I’ll get better with more practice and I just want to keep looking for that sort of realness and rawness, too."

Credit Matt Kozlovski

Credit Mary Kate Teske

Teske sold most of her belongings to live on the road and explore Montana this summer. And the future of the Backseat Sessions, and what she’ll make next, is unclear. But she isn’t in a hurry to find out.

"Growing up my parents would sing me this song, 'have patience, have patience, don’t be in such a hurry...' That’s one thing that Frank has taught me over the years—to just be a little more patient," said Teske.

"Frank’s just kind of a friend now. It’s not really that he’s a machine and a car, he’s just a companion over the years. It’s just, with your friends, you don’t really kick ‘em to the curb. You help sustain and maintain and that’s what life is kind of about.

You fix the problems, you go at things and, you just kind of make things as good as you can during seasons. I know there’s seasons where things aren’t good but you just kind of got to put in more effort and make things to a level where they’re okay again."

Credit Mary Kate Teske

The romance of the road is simple—keep moving, be open to surprises and check your oil and transmission fluids routinely.

As Teske endeavors to lead a more authentic life, she will continue to document that journey for viewers. Follow Mary Kate Teske and Good 'Ol Frank on Instagram to keep up with their travels.

Find a link to her personal essay published in Last Best News here