Another Twenty-Six Gas Stations is a book of surveillance video stills culled as screen captures from YouTube videos. They work together to form an account of scenes depicting violence, crime and calamity that have been uploaded to the web for purposes of entertainment, and commoditized by subscribe buttons and algorithm-based pop-up advertisements. This new media documentary challenges viewers to negotiate between their own fascination with the events depicted, and the critical cultural issues that the selection of images address.
My intent was to create a body of work which directly called back to Ed Ruscha's Gasoline Stations, to hit the refresh button, so to speak, in order to examine how the tropes of popular culture and advertising in his book can be interpreted in the context of our culture today. Beyond the pop and conceptual strands of Ruscha's book, the incidental imagery of his black-and-white photographs describe the automobiles, fixtures and billboards along Route 66 that formed the core cultural identity of mid-twentieth century America; before the assassinations and the war (and its protests), engulfed the country in the social strife of the mid- to late 1960s.
In the utilization of surveillance camera footage, the images call back to the "style-less and impartial" view which Ruscha employed to photograph his gas stations. His use of the camera as a tool to gather objective visual truth, though ironically, can be seen as a precursor to the function and purpose of surveillance image technology. Further, the mirroring of my gas stations to his continues in the incidental advertising captured within the frames. Rather than the roadside billboards found along Route 66, it is the algorithmic pop-up ads that now populate our "information super highway."
Now, fifty-one years since Ruscha published his book, our culture today is saturated and defined by commercialism and violence- real and imagined- and depicted heavily throughout all forms contemporary media. This work serves as a critique of the mechanisms behind the dissemination of violent spectacle, and the methods in which these images, depicting and ultimately alienating the victims of crime, are utilized as a form of currency.
I arrived at this project in the Fall of 2013, and it began with a cursory Google search of the term "Gas Station," as a means to explore its modern incarnations in light of Ed Ruscha's influence on photography and books.
The results quickly led me to YouTube, where I discovered an extensive cache of surveillance videos of gas station robberies and violence. Many were uploaded by law enforcement agencies requesting tips for unsolved crimes; yet I found more often than not that these videos were uploaded and inundated with subscribe buttons, "likes," "shares," and strings of comments that expressed delight and interest in these very real and sometimes dangerous events.
It was not until I began browsing these videos that I realized the pop-up ads and subscribe buttons embedded within them functioned in a way that turned the events depicted into a type of commodity. The ads themselves are also a product of surveillance. Rather than being hand-picked and placed into individual videos, their placements were determined by algorithms based on, among other factors, my own personal browser history. As I was watching, I was also being watched.