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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Ghost of the Zeitgeist Stops for a Fill-Up


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Historic Shell gas station, Raleigh, North Carolina: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 11 June 2005 (Library of Congress)





"Perhaps we ought to take pictures of gas stations"

-- Artur (aka AJP Crown, A Bad Guide)





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Gas station, Truxton, Arizona: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 3 May 2009 (Library of Congress)

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Old car and gas station, Route 66, Truxton, Arizona: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 3 May 2009 (Library of Congress)

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Old gas station in Old Havana, Cuba: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, January 2010 (Library of Congress)

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Old gas station, rural Alabama: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 9 May 2009 (George F. Landegger Collection, Library of Congress)

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Former gas station becomes a funky car wash, Sheffield, Alabama: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2010 (George F. Landegger Collection, Library of Congress)

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Abandoned gas station, Selma, Alabama: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 11 April 2006 (Library of Congress)

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Abandoned gas station, Monroe County, Alabama: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 12 May 2010 (George F. Landegger Collection, Library of Congress)

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Abandoned gas station, Monroe County, Alabama: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 12 May 2010 (George F. Landegger Collection, Library of Congress)

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Old gas station. Eufaula, Alabama: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 11 May 2010 (George F. Landegger Collection, Library of Congress)

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Old gas pumps, Hackberry General Store, Route 66, Hackberry, Arizona: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 3 May 2009 (Library of Congress)

13 comments:

abadguide said...

Wow, I wouldn't mind living in that first one, it's beautiful! I wonder if it's all yellow inside.

The trouble with gas stations is when they put the roof over the pumps. You just can't see the silhouette of the building behind it.

It's hard to get vertigo at a gas station. It's maybe a building type for Tom.

Artur.

abadguide said...

Oh, and take a look at the asymmetric paint colours on the pumps! I missed that the first time.

abadguide said...

Haha. You can get Mobiloil, Mobilgas, Mobilgas Special, Atlas washer fluid or Coca-Cola.

Julia said...

Wonderful assortment, Tom.
Now all gas stations are similar. They had more personality years ago, don't you think? Maybe because they belonged to particulars and not to big companies, but this could also be the reason why many of these are now abandoned and broken.

Coca-cola for me, please. I'm trying to quit Mobiloil

TC said...

I think I must have a "thing" about gas stations.

Which is curious, as the only time I have driven a motor vehicle in the past forty-two years was once in the hills above Santa Barbara (an interesting community, at the time, of heraldically-legendary polo-playing movie stars, like Robert Mitchum, demented mystery writers, like Ross MacDonald, and transient ne'er-do-wells, like...), when, riding my bicycle in the pre-dawn hours, I was intercepted by a mysterious person, who offered me $20 to drive his car down the hill about 20 metres, into a driveway.

I thought a moment, and accepted.

While driving down that twenty-metre stretch, I glanced over my shoulder, and noticed that in the back seat there was a brown paper shopping bag, containing mysterious bulging packets wrapped in clear plastic.

As I carefully parked in the driveway, I saw that the driveway led to a house, partially-obscured by trees.

In the house a woman was peering out from behind partially-closed curtains.

It's a good thing I didn't need gas.

curtisroberts said...

I'm going to pass your Santa Barbara story along to a friend of mine who is from there (whose mother still lives there), whose father was a well-known actor-turned-local restauranteur. I know she would like it. The Ghost of the Zeitgeist knows something important and so does Carol Highsmith. Say what you will about oil, gas stations represent a type of small local (even when they are part of large franchises) business where all sorts of people try to make their start if they can assemble the seed capital. Even today, robbed of most differentiating signs, you find people trying to make their businesses special and individual, either through subtle (often very subtle visual touches) or by offering better service. Until recently I had been avoiding our local Lukoil station because their prices were always high and I was told that it was essentially Putin Oil, but I needed to visit them in a real emergency and in this non-service (especially service with a smile) world, they really helped us out.

Julia said...

Tom, now you left us wanting to know more about that story...
What was this house? Did you ever found out more about it and why they need your help?

TC said...

"The Ghost of the Zeitgeist knows something important and so does Carol Highsmith. Say what you will about oil, gas stations represent a type of small local (even when they are part of large franchises) business where all sorts of people try to make their start..."

Certainly that was true in the case of many of these abandoned stations, Curtis. The odd dissonance between the beautiful bright light and clear simple frontal compositions, on the one hand, and the evidence of dereliction, on the other, tends to obscure a bit, perhaps, the sadness of the abandonment... but of course these are landmarks of an eerie kind. (And documenting landmarks, especially those out-of-the-way ones that otherwise might be overlooked forever, is I think close to the essence of Highsmith's project.)

___


"Wow, I wouldn't mind living in that first one, it's beautiful! I wonder if it's all yellow inside."

Artur, I would imagine it as having some of the advantages of a geodesic dome without many of the disadvantages.

Actually I had put that image up top there for your sake, as I thought that giant yellow cephalopodoid Shell station -- somewhat resembling the back end of a Nautilus pompilius (Chambered Nautilus), perhaps painted bright yellow as a cruel prank by some truant from a passing school of fish -- does have a certain....what is the architectural term, panache?

And "practicality-wise", it does appear the weather-resistance would be good (no flat surfaces, excellent run-off... but does interstellar radiation run off?).

(At moments, I am also able to see it as the head of a jaundiced extra-terrestrial with acromegaly.)

In any case, Artur, that Shell station was the vestigial remnant of a month of research into the very interesting proposed-by-you-last-month subject of the uses of art in advertising. Which has now at last come to this.

___


"Tom, now you left us wanting to know more about that story...
"What was this house? Did you ever found out more about it and why they need your help?"

Oh well, Julia, it can only be a blitz of bad weather and crooked number birthdays that prompted the relating of the largely-irrelevant tale in the first place. The responsibility must be borne by someone, who had casually remarked in the course of idle conversation about the rococo style of Socal gas stations, that living in that place one anyway had constantly sensed being surrounded by the leftover props from some forgotten film noir, and that from certain angles and aspects all the streets could be seen as Mystery Streets.

I see that in that version, poetic license seems to have permitted the exaggeration of the actual amount of pay accepted for this dubious assignment.

(These obscure events occurred some thirty years ago, by the way. Were there dark events afoot? Doubtless. Did I have any clue? Not really.)

Julia said...

Not at all irrelevant. There's not such thing as an irrelevant, if interesting, story. Even more interesting when it's fragmentary and our mind can circle around it imagining different endings and whys.

TC said...

Yes, Julia, and I'm still doing that with this one.

The event occurred at dawn, in a remote mountain location above the city. The driveway led into a clearing outside that mysterious house.

Why did the driver of the car not want to be seen driving the car into that driveway?

Who was in the house? What was going on?

I still don't know.

It's hard to impagine any "comfortable" scenarios that would reasonably incorporate the facts as I observed them.

In any event, I parked the car and left it there, and made my exit as swiftly as possible.

And have wondered about all this, once or twice, over the years.

(Life is finally utterly mysterious.)

Carol M. Highsmith said...

Thanks, Tom. I photograph gas stations all over America and they are everywhere. Most are "out of gas." Carol M. Highsmith

TC said...

Carol,

Your work is a sustaining cultural memorial, and inspiring to me as such.

These images will allow people to "remember" an America that may well be gone before they ever get a chance to see the real thing.

These are the makings of history; and there is a kind of what for lack of a better term might be called documentary poetry in here too, I think.

TC said...

By the way, for those who may have missed some of the several posts in which Carol Highsmith's wonderful photo work has appeared here, a couple of direct links:

Election

Fabrication