MACK Books, 2013
- Softcover with dustjacket
- 24 cm x 32 cm
- 100 pages
- 37 colour and 37 black and white images
- Price €30.00 £27.50 $35.00
- ISBN: 9781907946448
- Gasoline is also available as an ebook, published by MAPP
An extract from a conversation about the book between David Campany and George Kaplan:
George: So these are press photos of gasoline stations? How did you find them?
David: A number of big North American newspapers have been selling off their archives. I guess they are just a burden for them now. Today press photos are electronic files, but for decades they were 10 x 8 inch glossy prints. I’ve been picking them up here and there.
What are the markings on the photos?
Crop marks, usually in grease pen, made by the newspaper’s art director or layout team. Many prints carry two or three sets of marks, showing multiple uses of the same image. On the reverse there is more information. Dates, captions, clippings from the photos as used in the newspaper. Sometimes there is the photographer’s name, but not always.
Gasoline stations are quite banal things. How come they are newsworthy?
Yes, they are banal but when they make the news it’s usually because of an accident, a crime, a shortage or an economic crisis. This makes them a good measure of what’s going on in society. You’d be surprised how much happens at gasoline stations.
What period is covered by these photos?
The final image in the book is actually the earliest. It’s also the only one that was not taken in North America. It’s from Germany, December 26, 1944. We can’t really deal with North America in isolation from the rest of the world. Until I came across this photo I hadn’t realized Standard Oil was operating in Germany back then. In fact the company had aided the Nazi war effort. That’s a pretty dark chapter. And I wouldn’t have known about it had that image not prompted me into a little research. The most recent are the pair of aerial photos. They show tornado damage in Great Barrington, western Massachusetts on May 30, 1995. So it’s a span of around fifty years.
A number of the pictures look like they’re from the 1970s.
That was quite an eventful decade for gas. Oil shortages. Price increases. Geopolitical instability. Road congestion. Choking cities. Growing consciousness about pollution. Dreams of the tank always full and the freeway always empty were coming to an end.
In the early 1960s the artist Edward Ruscha took a road trip to photograph gasoline stations. He went so far as to describe the images that make up his first book Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) as “an extension of Marcel Duchamp’s Readymade in photographic form”.
He took those photographs himself, so if they are like Duchamp’s Readymade it’s on the basis of a style (or stylessness) of the photography that could be appropriated, not the actual photographs. Since there was nothing special about his photographs they may as well have been appropriated. The problem is photographs don’t remain unspecial and style-less for long. In unforeseen ways the passing of time renders them significant. Changes in photographic technology show us that neutral never is very neutral. Documents aren’t as dumb as we might like to think.
Some snaps of the Gasoline ebook: