/24 Road

Jeff Brouws

Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations

Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations by Jeff Brouws (published in 1992 in an edition of 1000) is an exact replica of Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations, first published in 1963. Mimicking Ruscha’s format, design and type treatment, the 5½” x 7” book contains 26 black and white shots of abandoned gas stations. While the images selected bear no geographic relation to Ruscha’s original photos (it is not a re-photographic project), they do share an aesthetic sensibility in the way both artists employ a deadpan, neutral gaze.

When Brouws began his project many stations were being abandoned in the early 1990s due to the implementation of new, tougher EPA requirements mandating that aging underground tanks had to be replaced, which required a huge capital outlay. Independents gas station owners were unable to bear this cost, while larger, better-funded multi-national corporations like Chevron and Shell could afford to meet these stricter regulations. Investigative reporting in the Los Angeles Times at the time suggested that major petroleum companies conspired with the EPA to drive competition out of business with these tactics. Armed with this knowledge while making the images—and having simultaneously undergone “a conversion experience of how one could look and interpret everyday landscapes” thanks to his reading into the essays of J.B. Jackson—Brouws saw a new dimensionality unfold in his work. Utilizing photography he could also make commentary on how economics and capital shape and impact the man-made environment.

Brouws’ series—initially begun as a simple riff on Ruscha’s original idea and a play on words—evolved to became a documentary typology reflecting this changing aspect of the commercial landscape. The two books, done thirty years apart, make visual commentary on the historical ascendancy and demise of this important element of roadside culture.

Excerpts of this work can also be seen in Various Small Books, MIT PRESS 2013, and will also be included in Ed Ruscha, Books & Co. at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, July 28 through September 9, 2016.