Task 4

T4 : Ruscha's Gasoline Stations Revisited

All 26 images from the project can be seen on my website at www.robtm.co.uk/Ruscha.html

T4 : Removing the essence of the object

The ephemerality of the primary object of this project has led me to consider the nature of what the physical object for display has become. Rather than being something that resides within the diesel prints themselves, it has become a dislocated copy; a reference print that has locked down the affect of the diesel on the paper to a point in time about a week to 10 days after the print was taken from the diesel.

Whilst this provides permanence, something that I would normally take for granted in my work, it is also somewhat reductive of the overall… ambience (?) of the work. Is this Benjamin's "aura" I'm talking of? Authenticity? During the making of the images, the smell of the diesel impregnated through the paper has become part of the experience of the images for me, so looking at the re-photographed images is different to looking at the original version. The smell of the diesel provides a physical link to the process, but also more importantly a metaphoric link to the subjects themselves, the gasoline stations.

It’s a conundrum for me – how to have permanence and the olfactory element together. One suggestion made would be to exhibit the prints alongside a glass tank of diesel. This would provide both an interesting visual element and the potential for the smell, although there will be significant fire prevention and health and safety risks to take account of. Another method would be to synthesize the smell somehow, but I wouldn’t know where to start!

So, for assessment, this leaves me in an odd place too. The original object is now the secondary object, nothing more than part of the process, but the presence of the diesel images during the assessment will provide that trace. That is assuming OCA will accept the prints. I certainly can’t post them, and whilst I should be able to hand-deliver them, there remains storage and other considerations for their insurance, etc. I await clarification – my submission may change again before the time comes for assessment.

T4 : Exploratory Project Evaluation

In its execution, the project diverted from the intention. Despite this, the forensic investigations went well; all Ruscha’s gasoline stations were found, albeit with the assistance of others. Tracking down “Bob’s Service” somewhere in LA, the last of the sites to be found, provided me with a certain level of satisfaction. The effect of immersing the prints in diesel was pleasing, although not at all what I expected, which was that the pigment would be affected rather than the paper.

At this point I have to accept that one or two may be wrong, that the findings of others have led me to view places that didn’t sit right with me (Standard, Williams the prime example). Others used empirical evidence though, including copies of the 1962 regional Yellow Pages, something I could not access. It’s been 50-odd years, maybe things changed more than I anticipated.

My intention was that I would marry Ruscha’s 26 stations with a similar number from my own locale. The area I chose resulted in just half that number (12, plus a disused one), so this was disappointing. Still, it allowed the project to progress in the way that it did, rather than being constricted by reductive initial planning.

I would have preferred it in terms of the “object” if the resulting images weren’t so transient. As the diesel dries (which takes weeks), the patterning of the paper changes, becoming tighter and less aesthetically pleasing. This transience provides some metaphoric resonance to the subject matter though, so maybe it is appropriate. However, I now have no idea what will be seen at assessment.

In terms of the process, I’ve missed “normal” photography – I’ve not used a camera except for the local petrol station side of the project and for recording of the diesel objects at a point in time. Having said that, maybe I’m realising its more a means to an end, that I should be more accommodating

The Internet is quite some resource! Without it, this project would not have existed in the way it does. Google Street View is pretty awesome in itself, but then there’s the access to other artists that have worked with Ruscha’s ideas. I’d have been stuck without them.

This was all a big risk, if truth be told. From using GSV to immersing prints in diesel, it’s a long way from what I would normally do and way outside my comfort zone, (technique and results). I’ve wanted to use GSV in the past, but it always seemed inappropriate, but here I’ve been able to make it go the distance, see it through to some sense of completion.

I’m not sure how this can be directly taken forward within my practice. Will I ever use GSV again? Maybe, but probably not. I very much doubt that I will be using diesel in my photography again either, other than for what it was intended and driving me to somewhere I want to photograph. That is perhaps the major realisation I’ve reached; it’s the journey I’m constantly drawn to. I thought it was landscape, but I’m more interested in the getting there than the subject. I think my recurring muse is the journey, whether it be physical, temporal or metaphorical. That is something I want to take forward.

T4 : Trials with the litho print

The litho prints I received from Emma have been in the diesel and whilst something has indeed happened, its not in the same manner as the photographic print. With the litho, the greys and blacks seem a little darker, the central mottling is more accentuated. It's also maybe a bit "smudgier", although not as if the ink has run in the diesel as it's still cohesive. The paper (a standard cartridge paper rather than a photo inkjet paper I think) does not produce the same patterning as it is drying. Yes, there is some visual change, I'm just not convinced it's wroth pursuing any further. It doesn't interest me.

Polyester Litho Print (before diesel)

litho diesel
Polyester Litho Print (after diesel)

So, I'll leave that at that - thanks to Emma for making it possible to try, but it's a "fail" in my eyes.


T4 : Thoughts about scale and some doubts

With the increasing realisation that the A5 prints that have been subjected to the diesel will not be the final product of the exploratory project, questions need to be asked about where I see the project ending up. The obvious answer would be in the book form I had always intended, and yes it does remain something I want to look into when I have the final images at a point of finalisation again (those they have been resubjected to the the diesel). Another option would be in reprints; photographic prints made of the dieseled originals at a point in time chosen for the perceived aesthetic interest of the mottled effect.

I will leave the idea of the book for the moment, well for a week until those last prints have hopefully developed in terms of the pattern. Photographic prints are going through something of a reinvention, or maybe they have been through it already. Historically, many photographic prints tended towards the smaller end of the spectrum. Not a hard and fast rule, Oscar Rejlander's The Two Ways of Life from 1857 was some 76cm in length, but that was very much the exception rather than the tule. Now, if you have the money, much bigger things are possible. It's really not uncommon to see enormous prints, thinking back to the Conflict, Time, Photography exhibition at the Tate Modern, there were some really large prints - Jane and Louise Wilson's photographs of the Normandy fortifications were some 180cm square. Looking elsewhere, Thomas Struth's Shibuya Crossing measures 184x241cm and Andreas Gursky's 99 Cent II Diptychon 207x307cm (albeit in two parts). Size no longer appears to be (realistically) limited.

So, where does this leave my gasoline stations? I won't be going seriously large, I don't feel that the subject matter suits this anyway. I guess I have three sizes in mind. Firstly, it's the A5 of the original, there's a degree of appropriateness in this. But what of A4 or A3? or even the "logical" sizes of 10x8 or 20x16? Of the enlargements, the A3 size was the one that immediately appealed in theory, but in practice, I'm not so sure. I've printed one of the images (Texaco, Vega) onto the sort of paper I felt might be suitable at the three sizes.

Texaco, Vega, Texas (January 2013)

The image is a difficult one to view as the building is disappearing, but then this is one reason I chose this image for the trial. The first thing I "feel" when looking at the images is that I'd maybe like them lighter. It would make them harder to view, but this would be nearer to the experience I get when looking at them backlit. They would feel more ephemeral, but then I think I need to acknowledge and accept the fact that they won't be viewed backlit and so will have a very different viewing experience; paper isn't naturally luminous! The second thing that I notice is that the larger print feels "looser", like its losing some more of the cohesion that keeps it on the page. It's true that the image is naturally incoherent, the detail is "washed out", it's low contrast and there's the overriding mottling to camouflage the building into the background. It's not working for me, but conceptually I can see why you might want to go this way. The A4-ish is better, but then I do like the fact that you have to get in closer to the A5 version. It feels more intimate, and that's something I've thought for a long time about smaller images.

That said, I'm beginning to doubt if this all works at all. I know what the image is, what it's about. I know the context in which I made it, why it looks the way it does and its relationship to some other work that I have to accept that the viewer may be unaware of, or not fully aware of. Will a series of 26 of such images (ok, 25, + 1 that is "normal") hold the attention of the viewer, regardless of what size they are printed? Will they invest in the images? Am I expecting too much of the viewer? Do I have the right to make those expectations? I really am doubting that. The obscurity of the image, the strained relationship with an original and the fact that some of these places have no obvious relationship, even if the details were there to be seen... Is it all fluff about an aesthetic that I can work around, but obfuscates too much? Hmmm....


T4 : A few more dieseled prints

Here’s a few of the “more interesting” prints as they were yesterday morning. Of course, as I now know, it’s an ever moving result, but anyway… all part of the exploration.

Dixie, Lupton

self service
Self Service, Milan

Bob’s Service, Los Angeles

Beeline Gas, Holbrook


T4 : mixed feelings with transience

It seems the interestingness in the diesel-soaked prints is short lived. At the least it is transient, and the patterning changes over time. I knew this anyway, as the photographs are translucent when they come out of the fuel, with the pattern appearing after a couple of days of drying. They just don't seem to stop though...

This is what the Shell, Dagger photograph looked like after maybe a week to 10 days after it came out of the diesel bath:

Shell Daggett Diesel
Shell, Daggett, California [July 2012] + 1 week

And this is what it looks like another two weeks later:

untitled (43 of 46)
Shell, Daggett, California [July 2012] + 3 weeks

The photographs have been taken with different cameras and with different light sources, so there will be a slight difference in colour temperature (I've not bothered "normalising" them), but it's more the size and style of the grain that causes me the issue. In another 2 weeks, will the trace of the diesel have gone? Is the conceptual impact that transient? It seems so, which would then indicate that the light-box mode of display might be somewhat meaningless - if the pattern has gone, what's the point? It seems that the object might then need to be the photograph of the print after about a week after being in the diesel bath. This would close the light box avenue, but open others, albeit possibly weaker ones. And yes, the transience of the effect possibly overshadows the transience of the gasoline stations, at least in terms of what I was hopping for.

So yes, this is something of a disappointment, one I hope to work around in the short term by putting the prints back in the diesel for a couple of days and then photographing them all again when the mottle is more interesting. And yes, this was an exploration, an experiment into trying something more divorced from my "normal" image making. It's not really paid dividends, but at least now I know. I'm not ready to go full "Daisuke Yokota" just yet, so I expect a return to normality. That said, I do like some of what he is doing. I'll post a link soon.


T4 : Polyester Litho Prints

Emma was really generous and offered to print me out a couple of litho prints to see if they reacted any differently to being submersed in diesel. Time will tell on that score, but here's a couple of images:

Polyester Litho Print

Polyester Litho Print

I picked them up from the Post Office earlier today, and they're in the diesel now. The paper very quickly became saturated with the fuel, much quicker than the photographic paper, which will have been coated with whatever it is they get coated with. Nothing immediate happened with the ink, but as I said, time will tell...


T4 : The Diesel Process

The process of soaking my prints in diesel is now pretty much finished, but as has been suggested, I’ve recorded the process. It’s really quite straight forward – I put prints in a baking tray with diesel for a week, letting them soak. Longer might be better, it might be though, I’ve not really got time to truly experiment during the exploratory project. Not if I’m to get something that’s “finished”, which I know isn’t absolutely essential, but I want to get something finished. It doesn’t sit well with me not to do so. After soaking in the diesel, I’ve been soaking them in a washing detergent solution with the aim of removing some of the traces of the fuel. I’ve no idea whether this actually works, but is based on the fact I know that some decorators using the detergent to remove traces of white spirit from their brushes after using oil-based paints. Then they are put to dry for a few days.

diesel soak
Beeline, Holbrook in the old baking tray

detergent soak
Soaking in the detergent

diesel detail

detergent detail

The tray is an old rusting one, well past its best, and as a result of this, some of the images are beginning to exhibit small spots of discolouring which adds some further randomness and interest. AS the images dry, they begin to exhibit the speckling – they’re just wet and translucent beforehand. Of course, if viewed against a dark background, they actually don’t look that different from when they’re unprocessed.


T4 : Group Critique

The small group critique of progress in the exploratory project was an interesting experience. The caution I feel in trying to explain my thinking about my work is slowly beginning to leave me, but it's still not something I truly relish. The work I presented is as follows:

Ed Ruscha, Whiting Bros. near Ludlow, California, 1953

Whiting Bros, near Ludlow, California [Jul 2012]

Rimmy Jim's, Arizona [Oct 2011]

Whiting Bros, near Ludlow, California [Jul 2012]

Texaco, Barrow, Lancashire

Texaco, Longridge, Lancashire


  • Does the act of attacking the print with diesel add anything interesting to the GSV images? (aesthetically or conceptually - or is it just pretentious?)
  • Other than the fact they’re petrol stations, are the two parts of the project actually related in any way, or do I just drop the local photographs?

There was some talk about the process I was following, how the bathing of the prints in a tray of diesel is reminiscent of the analogue printing process. Indeed I was asked if I had a darkroom for making my own prints, but whilst I can develop negatives (if I was to buy the chemicals once more), I am unable to print myself - I don't have an enlarger. Or the space to make a darkroom for that matter (for the negs, you just need a drum). Is this fact really important to me? I'm not really sure it is. I know for some, the process to get to the end result is all important, but for me... I think the final image is where it's at, actually, no, it's the narrative that is formed by the images in groups. When I photograph "normally", as with the last two images above, there is not a lot I do with the image, maybe a slight tweak to the highlights and shadows to ensure there's no "paper white" and some range in darker areas, but that's it - similar to a quick dodge and burn in the old darkroom days.

Something else that was mentioned that does arise from the process is that the residual smell of diesel that remains on the prints after they've been washed - the smell reinforces the connection to the subject matter and the process by which the images were made.. It's possibly a touch overpowering, but then again there's still a tray of diesel in my garage (where the prints are at the moment), but I'm hoping that there will be something left and that it will be possible to show the prints. Having said that, I'm still planning to rephotograph the prints with the thought of putting them in to a book. In a book, clearly there will be no diesel smell.

A popular proposal amongst the cohort was that I should draw on the images. I'm really not comfortable with this and would not be intending to do so. What has drawing got to do with my practice? Taking the comments from Lisa Barnard on board, surely this would serve to further weaken my larger body of work, which she saw as disjointed anyway. I'm still in the process of recontextualising my back catalogue, weaving what is there into something that might be considered more cohesive (bearing in mind that there's various styles of work in there). Enough of that for the moment, I don't consider drawing on the images to be appropriate for me.

I was also encouraged to continue both sides of the project, continue to photograph the local petrol stations. I'll do this, maybe on the back-burner though. I'll be concentrating on the "diesel" images for the moment.

Finally, Emma made a really generous offer to produce a couple of polyester litho prints (her school has the facilities). This means I will be able to experiment with a different paper/ink combo in the diesel. When they arrive in the post, I'll do what I need to do to them with the diesel and take it from there - it might be a little late but it's worth the effort.


T4 : Progress to plan

Things are not progressing as initially anticipated, but that's because the project has changed at the moment (and may well change again after the next couple of weeks of crits). Here's what I originally anticipated:

Week 1: deciding what to do and writing the proposal

Week 2: initial research into Ruscha’s style and approach, his route through America and my route through England

Week 3: continue research

Week 4: start making images (either GSV captures or real world)

Week 5: continue making images

Week 6: reflection and down select images

Week 7: (Easter - in France)

Week 8: image sequencing

Week 9: book design

Week 10: reflection and book refinement

Week 11: printing

Week 12: contingency (will depend on printing methods)

Well, it's week 9 and I should be starting the book design... But no. I'm still working on the images, so things will be tight (which is why the diesel is currently just a week, instead of the initial two). That said, if I do go with a book it will need less designing as the obvious thing would be to follow the original sequencing (so why not mix them up into 'proper' geographical order?). But I might not even put them in a book. The photographs look interesting as objects when backlit, so that seems to be an option, although I'm really not that confident it can be done as the lamp would raise the temperature and make the diesel a problem (diesel needs a higher temperature to burn, which is why diesel engines are generally heavier and more expensive to allow for the pressurised hot air and the fact that there's no spark plugs). I don't know enough about the science to be truly confident though... I'm also not sure if washing in detergent will do enough. I'm glad I had a week as contingency, and also that there is another couple of weeks afterwards before the package of work will have to head on over to OCA in Barnsley for appraisal.

T4 : Shell, Daggett, California

I've had a second batch of images in diesel for a week and thought it was about time to take them out - not as long this time but I figure that I need to get this done for mid-May so I needed to get a move on. They could also go back in if necessary. This one has also been "washed" to try and remove the diesel, just in case I wanted to put them in light boxes. Again, I've just taken an iPhone photograph but this time it's much greyer. Obviously, the white balance control of the iPhone (at least in the basic camera app) is non-existent, so that might be a reason, but the earlier one (with a little over 2-weeks soaking) is much bluer (first one included for reference, below). Another effect of the diesel, or just the light? I don't know, but I will be re-soaking a larger version of Whiting Bros anyway, then re-photographing them all in the same conditions once they're all soaked, rinsed and dried (in a few weeks time). If necessary/desired I might then normalise them again in PS - it depends how I feel about it.

Shell, Daggett, California [July 2012]
Shell, Daggett, California [July 2012]

untitled (1 of 1)
Whiting Bros, near Ludlow, California [Jul 2012]


T4 : The great American road trip

The American road trip has been something creatives have returned to over the years. There's the gasoline stations painted by Hopper and Ruscha and the photographs of many others (see this post), there's movies like It happened one night, Easy Rider and Thelma and Louise and then there's (Get your kicks on) Route 66 from Nat King Cole (and covered by others) and of course Jack Kerouac's On the Road. In terms of photography, we can actually go beyond the gas stations and see that the road trip is almost a rite of passage. The road trip seems to be as American as apple pie (not sure how American this actually is, in real terms). There's even companies set up to make your own American road trip something of an easier proposition to organise. I've fancied it myself for many a year; the California coast road, a tour of New England and yes, Route 66 (or what's left of it). Of those photographers that have done the road trip thing (and there are too many to mention them all), the following are a few I'm aware of.

Robert Frank's seminal book Les Americains (The Americans) is up there as one of the most widely known photobooks ever produced, it's been an inspiration to many artists including the likes of Martin Parr. The project he proposed was to travel the country freely and produce a visual study of the people that took 8 months in the mid-1950s. Almost 800 rolls of film showed "popular culture, music, religion, the hollow mass media, racial tensions, class tensions, and the all encompassing obsession with the automobile." (Campany, p42). It's not really about the road, it's about the people, but it was only possible because of the road.

Frank 2
Robert Frank, Drive in Movie, Detroit (The Americans)

Frank 1
Robert Frank, US285, New Mexico (The Americans)

An interesting contemporary riff on Frank's book was recently done by
Mishka Henner; in Less Americains he has removed much of the content from the photographs to produce "less"... Perhaps a little to extreme for my taste, but a truly interesting concept and body of work.

Less Americains
Mishka Henner,
Less Americains
(from http://www.mishkahenner.com/Less-Americains)

Stephen Shore will perhaps be primarily known for being one of the colour innovators. He once said that America was "made for long trips", and I guess that means it's a big old place. England isn't made for long trips, well, not very long ones anyway. For me, Shore's use of colour (along with a couple of others) is something that now represents America in the 70s, although I never saw it first hand the period has a certain 'feel' to it, the light has a certain quality. Shore also tends to capture something of the distance and openness in his photographs that I like and seek for myself. An early project, Uncommon Places, features about 700 photographs shot over 11 years, which were edited down to 49 (often but not exclusively intersections and roadsides) for the exhibition in 1982.

Shore 2
Stephen Shore, Sutter Street and Crestline Road, Fort Worth, Texas, June 3, 1976 (Uncommon Places)

Shore 1
Stephen Shore, US2, Ironwood, Michigan, July 9, 1973 (Uncommon Places)

There is something I really like in
Todd Hido's A Road Divided. They're incredibly poetic for a start, bringing to mind many experiences of being in a car, the windscreen covered in condensation. Other than the condensation, they're ostensibly of "nothing", that thing that I like to photograph myself, nothing except a nondescript piece of road, a hint of a tree or some road furniture. It's minimal, muted and above all it captures that sort of soft light that seems to be Hido's "thing". This is all about the space between the gasoline stations, the motels and all of the other things that appear to be the subject of the other photographers that work the road trip.

Hido 2
Todd Hido, A Road Divided

Todd Hido, #7557 (A Road Divided)

Other photographs of the American road trip include:

Alec Soth

Soth 1
Alec Soth,
Cadillac Motel, 2006 (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)

Soth 2
Alec Soth,
Harper's Ferry, 2002 (L) Cemetery, Fountain Way, Wisconsin, 2002 (R) (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)

Soth 3
Alec Soth,
Thirty-Three theatres and a Funeral Home, 2006 (From here to there: Alec Soth's America)

Lee Friedlander

Friedlander 1
Lee Friedlander, America by Car

Friedlander 2
Lee Friedlander,
untitled (America by Car)

Joel Sternfield

Joel Sternfeld, After a flash flood, Rancho Mirage, California, July 1979 (The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip)

Christian Patterson

Patterson 1
Christian Patterson, Untitled (Redheaded Peckerwood)

Patterson 2
Christian Patterson, Untitled (Redheaded Peckerwood)

Shinya Fujiwara

Shinya Fujiwara, Untitled (The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip)

One of my favourite road trip books actually comes from Japan; Yutaka Takahashi's Toshi-e (Towards the City).

Takanashi 1
Yutaka Takanashi, Toshi-e (Towards the City)

takanashi 2
Yutaka Takanashi,
Untitled (Toshi-e)

In England, there's shorter versions - Paul Graham's The Great North Road, or Simon Roberts' We English for example. I'll maybe add something about these at a later date.


Campany, D (2014)
The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip. New York. Aperture Foundation.

Frank, R (2008)
The Americans. Göttingen. Steidl.

Friedlander, L (2010)
America by Car. New York. Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.

Hido, T (2010)
A Road Divided. Portland. Nazraeli Press LLC.

Patterson, C (2011)
Redheaded Peckerwood. London. Mack

Shore, S (2004)
Uncommon Places: The complete works. 2008 edition. London. Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Soth, A (2010)
From here to there: Alec Soth's America. Minneapolis. Walker Art Center.

Takanashi, Y (2010)
Toshi-e (Towards the City). New York. Errata Editions

Mishka Henner - http://www.mishkahenner.com


T4 : Jeff Brouws comes through

I received a response from Jeff Brouws, so I can now complete my project:

Hi Rob:

No problem at all in terms of contacting me...we're all brothers here.
I can't say why we made the determination we diid, but we went with the building that was at 3500 North Broadway. I felt that the buildings in the background to the right could have been the same ones in Ruscha's photo, but modified since Ruscha's took the picture.
Not certain however. Hope this helps. It's a burrito / taco stand now. We ate there..it was great.
I realized after the fact that MM had done a "best guess" in certaini towns and that was fine.
I believe I did locate Rimmy Jimmy's in AZ...there was a definite foundation there and the owner of the present gas station there had a picture of the former Rimmy Jimmy's hanging on the wall and knew where the original location had been.
Exit 233, to the slight SE behind the gas station.



And here is the assumed site of Bob's Service - a little in contradiction from what Möll stated in his e-mail, but it is the place he photographed back in 2009.

untitled (1 of 1)-Edit-Edit
Bob's Service, Los Angeles, California [Sep 2014]


T4 : Some progress perhaps...

Some progress on a number of counts this week…

Firstly, I’ve completed the first draft of the essay. It will change in some way, the conclusion isn’t right and I need to get it tighter, but I think I’ll let it lie for a week first (not too long though)

MA1 Essay DRAFT1 (password protected - e-mail me if you want to read it)

Secondly, I have had a response from Martin Möll about the location of Bob’s Service in LA. As it happens, he’s not actually sure, but he sent me some information anyway:

Hi Rob,

Thank you for your e-mail. I’m glad to hear that my work has been a great help so far for your own project.
To be honest, Bob’s Service in L.A. is one of the few sites I can’t with a 100% certainty say that I am right with my choice.

Here’s what I wrote down for my own purposes after visiting L.A. in 2009:

“The Los Angeles Central Library downtown has the
1962 yellow pages on micro fiche. After two hours
going through listings of service stations, gasoline
companies, automobile repairs and services as well as
restaurants, the following information was found:

– There are no listings for Bob‘s Seaside Service, there
were a few Seaside Service Stations, but not one near
Route 66 at that time. There were four Bob‘s Service.
Two of them are too far off from Route 66, one is on
3500 North Broadway (Route 66 from 1926 until 1931)
and one is four blocks south of Santa Monica Boulevard
(Route 66 from 1953 until 1964).”

Since Ruscha photographed each of the sites in 1962, I chose to photograph the former place of the Seaside Service south of Santa Monica Boulevard.

However, it is possible that Jeff Brouws could provide you with a different information, since he revisited the sites only last year. Together we work on the project to revisit the revisited.

I’m interested to hear more about your project and would appreciate it if you could tell me in more detail about it.

And I hope my information is of any help to you.

Kind regards

I was aware of a Bob’s Air Service on Wilshire Blvd, which is south of Santa Monica Blvd (not sure what constitutes a “block” in America…) I’m really not sure this is the place though. I have now contacted Jeff Brouws, hopefully he will get back to me soon with something more definitive. I’ve not heard from the others I’ve contacted (from Road to Ruscha, etc.)

The other thing that I think is quite positive is the effect putting diesel has had on my test prints. This came through as an idea following discussions with Lisa Barnard, and initially it didn’t look like it was doing anything – I was hoping it would affect the image, but I experimented anyway, using a spare commercial digital lab print I had, together with a few different papers through my inkjet. The commercial print didn’t really do much, but I did get an interesting effect from a matte paper as the diesel makes it largely translucent if you hold it to the light. It also makes them smell, but that’s another issue. The photo below is just a test print, but I like what it has done after about 2 weeks – it mirrors the fact that the gasoline stations have largely disappeared (there’s maybe just the Jackrabbit one that is still operational, but I can’t really tell). If you lay it down, it feels much more like a “normal” print though.

Whiting Bros, near Ludlow, California [Jul 2012]

This leads me to wonder whether light boxes would be the way to go (or is it a fire hazard, bearing in mind they’re soaked in diesel!)? And do they stand up in isolation and therefore not need the local works in juxtaposition? Something to discuss over the next few weeks in the group crit and tutorial, see what others see in there.

The above is just a 15x10cm print, so I’ve done some a little larger (limited by size of my diesel tray) and will see how we get on after a week – time is running out I guess, so if I can squeeze the soaking time, it would help.


T4 : 6 to 9 Petrol Stations (inclusive)

Firstly, just a note to say I've contacted Todd Stewart (one of the Oklahoma University faculty) by e-mail to request permission to use some of his Ruscha images as reference, and also to ask if he can help me in tracking down Bob's Service in LA. If they visited them all, hopefully he will.

And here's some more petrol stations photographed within the Ribble Valley...
Shell, Longridge, Lancashire

Shell, Longridge, Lancashire
Texaco, Clitheroe, Lancashire
Texaco, Clitheroe, Lancashire

Texaco, Longridge, Lancashire
Texaco, Longridge, Lancashire

BP, Clitheroe, Lancashire
BP, Clitheroe, Lancashire


T4 : A little "bonus"

Whilst I've been going around searching for petrol stations, it's been increasingly obvious where the old petrol stations have been. It's the style of the buildings, the concrete plinths on the "forecourt" and such. I'm not going to be looking at these, I could be looking for these things for far longer than I have to spend on the exploratory project. However, I found out about this one in Whitechapel near Longridge so thought I'd go that way when rephotographing those I'd seen the week before. A bonus, but not one of the ones that will form part of the 52 that I will hopefully reach before too long.

Church Lane
Church Lane, Whitechapel, Lancashire


T4 : Five Petrol Stations

Last weekend was a disappointment. The camera I had wanted to use wasn't really suitable, and I couldn't find a couple of the stations that I thought I should be able to. Further research has been done and it's another disappointment. There are currently only eleven petrol filling stations located within the Ribble Valley, and one of those I have a little niggle about - I don't recall ever seeing it, although granted it's not on a road I go down often. There was another that I've located on Google Street View, but can confirm that it's now been flattened and being replaced by housing. Whether it be ten or eleven though, it doesn't really matter as it's not quite up to the magic number of 26. I'll have to open up my area of exploration, and to be fair it shouldn't have to be by much to start getting some additional ones in the net. I'll just keep pushing the boundaries until I reach my total.

So, what is actually available? Within the Ribble Valley itself, it's:
Barrow : 1
Chatburn : 1
Clitheroe : 2
Dunsop Bridge : 1
Gisburn : 1
Langho : 1
Longridge : 2
Mellor Brook : 1
Osbaldeston : 1
Simonstone : 1

I've visited all of these over the last two weekends, except the one in Langho. I'll hit that one tomorrow and also go to some of those I visited with the MF camera. After that... it's back to pushing the boundaries. This is what I have so far with the Canon DSLR though. 

Texaco, Barrow, Lancashire
Texaco, Barrow, Lancashire

Texaco, Gisburn, Lancashire
Texaco, Gisburn, Lancashire

Esso, Osbaldeston, Lancashire
Esso, Osbaldeston, Lancashire

Cooke, Chatburn, Lancashire
Cooke, Chatburn, Lancashire

Shell, Mellor Brook, Lancashire
Shell, Mellor Brook, Lancashire


T4: a first foray into the Ribble Valley - disappointment aplenty

Last weekend I set off with a full tank of fuel, my GPS in fuel station locating mode and a couple of cameras to find some petrol stations. There's a number I know about, the one on the end of my lane, on the A59. Another next to the only McDonalds in the area. Some in Clitheroe. One in Dunlop Bridge. Bound to be at least one in Longridge. And a strong recollection of seeing one just to the north-west of Ribchester, but that one wasn't where I thought it was...

So, a first disappointment, not an auspicious start. I had thought that was an old fashioned style pump too (so probably not in service). Maybe it was somewhere else I passed whilst do another project in the area? I'll keep an eye out for it. I headed off to Longridge and soon found a second problem. I'd planned to shoot the project using medium format cameras; I have two of these and started off with the Pentax - a bit friendlier to use and a pile more pixels to play with. The lens is 55mm, which will equate to probably about 42mm on a 35mm camera and this is wider than the Hasselblad with it's 60mm lens and crop factor from the old digital back. However, the lens is still too long for what I want. You see, in America, there's lots of wide open spaces, and even when the spaces aren't wide and open, the roads are still wider than the little roads we find in our rural towns and villages. Using the Pentax, the Texaco petrol station in Longridge pretty much filled the frame. I prefer a wider lens, and a level of distance between the subject and the viewer. 

Texaco, Longridge, Lancashire

I'd have preferred it something more like this, which was taken with a little cheap and cheerful Fuji (I have intended to take two styles of photograph and see which works for me more):

Texaco, Longridge, Lancashire

So, a wider lens needed and therein lies the third disappointment. £1700! I'll have to resort to eBay and hope something turns up. Having said that, I can always use my Canon - nothing wrong with it at all, but just not what I had intended. Not quite back to the drawing board, but an obstacle to overcome.


T4 : 25 of 26 Gasoline Stations (parts 4 and 5 of 5)

I had meant to do this as blocks of 5, but I’ve decided to end it all with one big push…

Enco, Tucumcari, New Mexico
Now a bank
Enco, Tucumcari, New Mexico [Feb 2008]

Hudson, Amarillo, Texas
An empty lot

Hudson, Amarillo, Texas [Jan 2013]

Standard, Amarillo, Texas
The inspiration for Ruscha’s
Standard painting is now a mechanic’s workshop.
Standard, Amarillo, Texas [Jan 2013]

Enco, Conway, Texas
Nothing much…

Enco, Conway, Texas [Dec 2012]

Mobil, Shamrock, Texas
A beauty salon

Mobil, Shamrock, Texas [Mar 2008]

Texaco, Vega, Texas
Is this now a house?

Texaco, Vega, Texas [Jan 2013]

Conoco, Sayre, Oklahoma
Another empty site

Conoco, Sayre, Oklahoma [Aug 2013]

Apco, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Another car sales pitch

Apco, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma [Aug 2014]

Knox Less, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
and another…

Knox Less, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma [Oct 2014]

Fina, Groom, Texas
The last one, demolished and replaced with a house.

Fina, Groom, Texas [Feb 2008]

So, that’s it. All located thanks to Road to Ruscha, Martin Möll or just plain detective work on my part. All except Bob’s Service. It’s back to the Internet search with that one. I’ll also send Todd Stewart and Oklahoma University an e-mail too, maybe he will be able to help…


T4 : 25 of 26 Gasoline Stations (part 3 of 5)

Flying A, Kingman, Arizona
Not a lot remains of Flying A... although it has kept to its car related heritage.

Flying A, Kingman, Arizona [May 2009]


Dixie, Lupton, Arizona
There's an Indian tourist spot at Lupton, but the old petrol station is apparently empty and not in good shape. It can't be seen on GSV though. I've found where it should be (the profile of the rock formations the same), but if you go along the old road, I can only assume it's very dusty as this is what is seen...


However, rather than running with this as the available imagery, I moved the few metres back to the newer I40 to get this - nothing to see in terms of the station, but that's part of the fascination with working this way,

Dixie, Lupton, Arizona [Oct 2013]


Rimmy Jim's Chevron, Jimmy Jims's, Arizona
Rimmy Jim's Chevron burnt down back in the late 60s (see
here), whether this has anything to do with the "Mother Road" being replaced I've no idea (my suspicious mind tends to think it might). It was't rebuilt though, what was the point? I think this will be the place.

Rimmy Jim's, Arizona [Oct 2011]

Self-Service, Milan, New Mexico
Now a car park for the Family Dollar store...

Self-Service, Milan, New Mexico [Apr 2009]

Conoco, Albuquerque, New Mexico
From petrol station to restaurant to empty.

Conoco, Albuquerque, New Mexico [May 2014]



T4 : 25 of 26 Gasoline Stations (part 2 of 5)

Mobil, Williams, Arizona
There seems to have been three Mobil stations on Route 66 in Williams over the years. Ian Walker talks of one at the entrance to the town from the west, next to a Chevron that he photographed for his essay 
A kind of “huh?”: the siting of Twenty-six Gasoline Stations (1962). There’s also another that is now a car themed restaurant on the corner of W Railroad Ave and 3rd (you can still see the old building there in amongst the new). The one Ruscha photographed is apparently on the site of what is now the police station though. Nasty burnt out clouds in the GSV here…

Mobil, Williams, Arizona [Sep 2011]

Standard, Williams, Arizona
Möll has shown the location of the second of Williams’ gas stations as being a Mexican restaurant, the Road to Ruscha project the same (have they just used his research?) There are little niggles with this one for me, the buildings in the background have changed as well, although this can’t be seen in my view use to where I’ve selected. Having said that, if one building changes, then why shouldn’t the next? The “closure” of the 66 meant that Williams has changed it’s source of income form the road and the traffic that used to pass through (according to some random “fact” on the Internet, 1m trucks/year would pass though) to tourism, so more restaurants, gift shops and hotels are needed… It does look like another repurposed gas station in its place though.

Standard, Williams, Arizona [Sep 2011]

Texaco, Jackrabbit, Arizona
The Jackrabbit Trading Post is still there and still in use, however the GSV car has not passed by it from the old Route 66 road it’s tied on. It’s only possible to view the back of the building form the I40 that passes behind it. It’s possible to see the old jackrabbit sign though, so it’s clearly the right place. It’s one of the drawbacks (together with the burnt out clouds, less than ideal contrast, compositions, etc.) of working with images being made available by someone else though (i.e. Google).

Texaco, Jackrabbit, Arizona [Oct 2011]

El Paso, Wilmslow, Arizona
Another one that has been taken down and built over, this time it was the building in the background that makes it clear it’s the right place – the satisfaction of seeing this is quite something, makes the forensic search through the street corners (in this instance) of a town quite rewarding. Things like this also mean I’m looking more closely at both the Ruscha image and the GSV, it puts me in mind of the analysis being made by Errol Morris in his 
Believing is Seeing book.

El Paso, Winslow, Arizona [Sep 2011]

Beeline Gas, Holbrook, Arizona
Another that I only located because of the work of the Road to Ruscha group who photographed some of the surroundings, referencing the Sandman Motel just over the road from here.

Beeline, Holbrook, Arizona [Oct 2011]

Di Bello, P, Wilson, C & Zamir, S (eds) (2012) 
The Photo Book: from Talbot to Ruscha and beyond. London. IB Tauris & Co Ltd. 


T4 : 25 of 26 Gasoline Stations (part 1 of 5)

Ed Ruscha decided to work his project whilst driving the thousands of miles from LA to Oklahoma to see his parents. He also liked the word "gasoline" and the "specific quality of 'twenty-six'" (Richards, p31). The 26 photographs document further iterations of that journey through the gasoline (or Petrol for those of us this side of the Atlantic) stations that were peppered along the route, in some instances in areas devoid of much else. The presence of these stations tell us of the size of America, the fascination with the great American road trip, Route 66 and the culture of the time. Was this the intention with the project though? It certainly confused at the time, and book sellers didn't know how to classify the book. Rust hasn't been the only one to photograph petrol stations, but that can be subject of another posting. What I was meaning to do here is provide the 25 stations I have found during the last couple of weeks of fevered searching.

Bob's Service, Los Angeles. California
This is the one that I've not tracked down yet. Los Angeles is a pretty big place and there aren't many clues in the photograph. Certainly "Bob's Service" doesn't come up with anything, other than links to Ruscha's photograph or things that seem unrelated. The only thing I can assume is that it's somewhere between the Santa Monica seafront and the Texaco on Sunset Strip. However, this isn't an absolute given as some are known to be "out of order", going from LA to Oklahoma.

Texaco, Sunset Strip, California
This Texaco has gone, although the location was found thanks to the presence of the Har-Omar restaurant behind it. Here, the composition is broadly similar to that used by Ruscha, albeit a touch wider.

Texaco, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles [GSV Dec 2014]

Union, Needles, California
Still looking pretty much as it did, although a bit more "tired" perhaps. Just like the majority of those located, it's no longer a petrol station, the need having passed with the decommissioning of Route 66 as the major transport route - this one is in the shadow of the I-40 Needles Freeway which took the traffic over W. Broadway.

Union, Needles, California [Oct 2011]

Shell, Daggett, California
This is one that I'm a little less confident about. There aren't many clues to be taken from the original photograph, and to be honest, the size of the cabin seems a little small although as can be seen in the others, a lot can happen in the intervening years. This is the site that Martin Möll uses in his 
Twenty-six Gasoline Stations Revisited though (I found this work through the images included in Todd Stewart's Context site that I've linked to in the titles here).

Shell, Daggett, California [Jul 2012]

Whitling Bros, near Ludlow, California
This one was problematic. Ludlow has been pretty much levelled when you look at the Google satellite and Street View maps and nothing even comes close. However, this is 
near Ludlow not in Ludlow. The Context site has an image of what it looked like in 2013, so using with the help of Flickr and Google, I've been able to find that station in Newberry Springs but my "problem" is that it's 29 miles from Ludlow. So, is it actually the right one? Evidence would say "yes", my inner voice says "no"; maybe my English idea of "near" is very different to an American idea of the concept.

Whitlow Bros, Ludlow, California [Jul 2012]

Phillips 66, Flagstaff, Arizona
After the uncertainty of the last one, I thought I'd found Phillips 66 because of the distinctive shape, but on closer looks it's just not the same. The scaffold at the front of the roof is a different shape, but the much bigger problem is the shape of the hills behind.

Monte Vista Marine

Instead, it would appear that the dart-shaped roof has been removed and we have a different building. This is as deduced by the Road to Ruscha and Martin Möll sites.

Phillips 66, Flagstaff, Arizona [Sep 2011]

Richards, M (2008) 
Ed Ruscha. London. Tate Publishing
toddstewartphotography.net (accessed throughout March 2015)
martinmoell.com (accessed throughout March 2015)


T4 : Road to Ruscha

The Route 66 section of my project is heavily research driven, a more forensic research than might normally be expected because I have to find his 26 gasoline stations locations based on a series of simple captions - Bob's Service, Los Angeles, CA or Texaco, Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA. The only other geographical clue is that they're all on Route 66, so that cuts it down somewhat, although "Los Angeles" is still a pretty major length of road to go checking all the buildings on... I have found a useful resource though, and that's the website of a research based art project called Road to Ruscha by the art, art history, architecture, and geography students and faculty of the University of Oklahoma, who covered the journey back in 2013 (the 50th anniversary of the book). There's also a few blogs around the subject too, such as this one by one of the faculty members.

I got quite excited when I saw a map with all the photographs from the book pinned on it, I thought my research had been shortcut. But no, the map is wildly inaccurate and I can only assume that the locations were marked from a distance. If we take the Texaco on Sunset Strip as an example, they have located it at Hammond Street, a residential area situated roughly 11 miles from the actual location at 8795 Sunset Boulevard, which I found by Googling the Har-Omar Restaurant, a sign for which is in Ruscha's photograph. However, whilst the map is next to useless, there are photographs and short blog entries about their discoveries, dead-ends and u-turns, some of which has already proven invaluable in locating the stations that have been demolished or repurposed. Photographs of street signs are quite useful, even if the locations they're in aren't given there's only 26 to check, so it's certainly helpful.

Road to Ruscha map - Western Section
(from http://roadtoruscha.com/2013/map/)

Road to Ruscha map - Los Angeles
(from http://roadtoruscha.com/2013/map/)

Road to Ruscha map - "Texaco, Sunset Strip" [not]
(from http://roadtoruscha.com/2013/map/)

Even so, the locating of the gasoline stations is still proving problematic. It looks like one of the towns featured in Ruscha's book has been completely demolished when you look on Google's satellite view, although there are still a few buildings left when you look on the earlier GSV, but none of them look like what I was expecting in Ludlow. Maybe that one has gone and can only be approximated? Others have gone, but there are still traces of what was before, the one on Sunset Strip being an example of this as the restaurant still remains and is easily identifiable, but it looks like the gas station is now outside dining. It's similar in other locations too, and I've only confirmed that they're what I believe they're meant to be using the backgrounds.

So far, I've located just over half of the sites, with a couple more that are possibles although I'm not completely certain it's the right place, and maybe I never will be. Having found the locations, I'm pseudo-photographing them; picking a location from GSV and composing what I want the shot to look like. Maybe they'll be similar to Ruscha's photograph, but I don't feel that is necessary (nor even possible in some instances). They'll be something I think suits my purposes. In terms of the aesthetics of the images though, I have done some manipulation. I've straightened things, removed excessive convergence that can occur with GSV, I'm not removing other GSV "features" though. I'm also converting them to a monochrome image, purely as a reference to the source material. I might change these choices before the end, we'll see how things go.

Anyway, here's the Texaco that I've been talking about as it was
before and how it is now(ish).

Texaco location from GSV
(screen captured March 2015)

Texaco, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, CA [GSV Dec 2014]



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.