“Photographs don’t remain unspecial and styleless for long. In unforeseen ways the passing of time renders them significant. Changes in photographic technology show us that neutral is never very neutral.” David Campany, the pre-eminent writer, curator and artist, is reflecting on the ineffable charm and Readymade quality of Ed Ruscha’s famous Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963), to which his new book, Gasoline, invites obvious comparisons.
Spanning a period of 50 years – 1945 to 1995 – Campany has built a narrow but extremely rich collection of 10×8 glossy prints of gasoline stations sourced from newspaper archives in the US, replete with crop marks made with a grease pen – applied by the newspaper’s art director.
But while the two publications share the same subject matter, the approaches couldn’t be more different. Deficient in detail and removed in observation, Ruscha’s matter-of-fact pictures eschew any drama in favour of presenting the world and its surfaces as a series of non-events. It’s a style of photography that could quite easily be appropriated, for it has ‘the look’ of a vernacular image. At the other pump, Campany’s black and white press photographs are animated and brimming with life. They tell specific stories relating to a newsworthy event taking place in that particular time and place: a car accident, a robbery, floods, tornados and, of course, oil shortages.
And so they take on historical ballast. Presiding over the images is a foreboding sense of the end of oil, but it’s also possible to read the book as a perfect allegory for the waning of analogue news photography, bygone fashions, a minor history of car design or even street hoardings – any and all of these vestiges of the past. As Campany notes: “We are starting to realise that we will have to make our future using the best bits of the past where we can, including its images.”
Gasoline by David Campany is published by MACK. For more information or to order a copy visit mackbooks.co.uk