T4 : Exploratory Project

Rather than simply copy out the Project Plan here, I thought I'd simply state the idea, and I suppose the simplest way of doing that is with a title: Fifty-Two Petrol Stations.

There's an obvious starting point here, and that's Ed Ruscha's Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations; photographs of exactly that, taken on Route 66 in the early 60s. What I'm looking to explore is an appropriation of his idea, rather than simply copying and repurposing his images. One of things that I've found interesting over the years is the elevation of the mundane things that we see but ignore into something that acquires relevance - if it's photographed, it means something. Or so it seems.

Knox Less, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
(located at http://images.tate.org.uk/sites/default/files/styles/enlarged/

Doing this will hopefully serve to allow me to scratch a number of itches that I've had for a while. One "itch" stems from Martin Parr's Boring Postcards in that, whilst these are indeed simply postcards you wouldn't necessarily want to receive, they also have some resonance with the cool or deadpan approach of much contemporary photography. Within volume 1 of his book, there's a photograph of The Fast Reactor, Dounreay, Caithness  that reminds me of The Bechers and The Tourist Information Centre, Fort William reminds me of Stephen Shore. Don't get me wrong, they're not the same, not by a long shot (although perhaps it should be noted that Shore printed postcards of some of his photographs and inserted them uninvited into postcard carousels....). But there is something there, for me at least. Maybe it's a reflection of contemporary photographic practice, as much as anything.

The Fast Reactor, Dounreay, Caithness (from Martin Parr's Boring Postcards. Reproduced with permission)

The Tourist Information Office, Fort William (from Martin Parr's Boring Postcards. Reproduced with permission)

Anyway, I wanted to revisit scenes from the book for my degree, rephotographing them to show the passage of time and with the intention that they be serious photographic art, rather than postcards. For one reason or another, I didn't do it. But I feel like I want to still.

The second itch that I've scratched around a few times is that of Google Street View (GSV). Using GSV is not "photography", but I don't see any reason why it can't be used as a tool in the making of art. What I hope to do is something of a forensic search to find what remains of Ruscha's 26 and rephotograph them using GSV. Not necessarily trying to get the same composition (which would be largely impossible anyway), but to get something I like out of it. This might be an impossible task - none of the gas stations were given particularly definitive titles, "Enco, Tucumcari, NM" is one example. Tucumcari isn't a particularly large town (population circa 5500), but still... Anyway, I'm hoping that by digging around for info on the Internet I'll be able to locate these 26 sites on GSV and create an image using my own composition, etc. Doing this will also serve to scratch the first itch. Will it be possible? Will it be interesting and worthwhile? I've no idea.

The second part of the project brings me home. I'm planning to track down 26 petrol stations in the rural (largely farming) community I live in - the Ribble Valley in NW England. I've photographed the Ribble Valley before. It's where I live, so why wouldn't I? It's relevant to me, it makes the project "matter". I'm fairly confident there will be 26, but there is a slight risk here - the Ribble Valley consists of 2 small towns and a number of villages and hamlets, this is no bustling metropolis! In searching out this petrol stations, I'm hoping to create some interesting images of my own. I'm planning on working in two styles, the first being more fluid and casual, the second with a medium format camera, which will likely end up something akin to that included below, which comes from
Into the Valley, a project I did a couple of years ago. Which style will I use...? I guess that depends on how I feel when I have a raft of photographs in front of me.

"Texaco, Barrow, Lancashire"

Anyway, that's the loose plan. We'll see how it ends up.
Parr, M (1999) 
Boring Postcards. London. Phaidon Press Ltd.

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