Saturday, 25 February 2017

Get gas

In the influential 1975/6 exhibition New topographics there were only two gas station photos (Robert Adams and John Schott) which is odd as these buildings were an integral part of the American landscape and as David Freund says in a brief essay in book two, a small town might not have a school, grocery store or post office but everywhere had a gas station. These buildings with their little concrete islands in the front for the pumps frequently became more than energy sellers, they also sold food, ice, soda pop, daily and monthly publications as well automotive products and don't forget the clean restrooms (decades ago free State road maps, too).

Freund took these fascinating photos during 1978 to 1981 driving through forty States. The four books (Midwest; West; East; South) contain 574 photos selected from about two thousand and they reveal the gas station in the commonplace landscape. They are though, much more than just a head-on shot of the self-service pumps and the building behind. Many are taken from behind the pumps looking at what is on the other side of the highway and beyond, the ones I particularly liked show the highway disappearing into the distance with highway furniture, franchise operations, used car lots and signs everywhere.

The architecture of a gas station uses lots of uprights, for a gas company name and prices, holding a canopy over the pumps, lighting et cetera and Freund takes advantage of these with some wonderful photos placing his camera close to the upright which divides the composition into sections. These are not static photos either, so many include people: filling their gas tank; talking; fixing a fault; delivering gas; coming out of the station entrance holding a newspaper or just walking along the sidewalk.

This is another first-class box-set from Steidl. The photos are one to a page with a brief caption naming the State and year, printed tritone with a 175 screen, though I would have preferred a finer screen to bring out the detail that saturates so many of these images.

A remarkable photo collection from the recent past of the American landscape and its everywhere gas stations.

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