103 thoughts on “adam smith – self service”

  1. Love this one..
    This is my second home.. Chevron..
    The place to be..
    if not driving , of course..
    ( I would rename the photo as:
    OASIS IN LA, if I may…)

  2. I guess I could Have a go at a reasonably objective[is that possible?] critique on this, but Its not really about that here is it?
    Otherwise, I dont know where to go with this.

  3. I’ll clarify my statement: I read the Blind Spot issue that focused on a sense of place (about 1-2 years ago), and I really tried to see what the photographs were showing, but it continues to elude me. Adam- if you could clarify that for me (and any other confused people), I’d really appreciate it.

  4. Actually, Seinfeld was not really about “nothing”. It was very much about language, and towards the later years each episode was a series of seemingly unconnected dysfunctional vignettes that collided together into a single maelstrom of a mess at the end.

    So I still don’t get the “sense of place”, photos about “nothing” concept… But I’ll keep thinking about it and maybe it will come to me when I’m drunk or half asleep or some other altered state.

  5. Yes, but can nothing ever really be the point? Having raised this deeply philosophical point, and it being 12:25 pm here on the East Coast, I am going to lunch.

  6. Akaky..
    You bet it is a deeply philosophical matter..
    Most of humans are totally afraid of “nothing”..
    Of emptiness..
    Fear of “Nothing”…
    Is what created all religions ,
    I have to admit..
    Ok… Rushing to Denny’s…
    Still 9:40am.. In the west coast..
    Breakfast time!!!!

  7. This kind of shot kind of need to be perfectly composed to work as anything, and in the this case I just don’t see the time or thought put in. Sorry. :)
    Poles overlapping gas pumps, doors and signs cut off haphazardly, I don’t know, just doesn’t seem very clean, and I can’t make out a reason for it not to be.

  8. Jared- I understand what you’re saying, and I felt that way about Lee Friedlander’s photos for a long time before his work struck a chord in me (see Google images for tons of examples of Friedlander’s photos) . But I agree that this particular photo just doesn’t quite make it. Some of Adam’s other photos on his website under “Sense of Place” are better.

  9. Not in the same league as, say, Stephen Shore, whose mastery of the mundane is, well, masterful :-) But a look at Adam’s website shows much strong work and a consistently quirky eye. You’re a good photographer, Adam, don’t let the Seinfeldian asides above get you down.

  10. Hi James —
    Not much on this blog seems to please you. I’m wondering if you could give us a list of your top 5 or 10 fave photogs, not necessarily contemporary…


  11. I more than appreciate Friedlander, I absolutely love the guy. I like quite a few images on Adam’s site as well, by the way.

    This one just doesn’t seem lined up (like Friedlanders do), doesn’t seem taken with the same level of intent as some of the others in the project.

  12. Jeff.. What u mean??
    I think 90% here loved that photo..
    Adam I second MARCIN..
    love these type of photos too..

  13. ADAM,

    A great photo and a great series on your site. Scratch Seinfeldian – it’s Egglestonian.

    – check out the rest of series on web site before getting too Powersy on Adam’s certain body parts.

    You now have a powerful name :)))). Love your comments – keep ’em coming.

    I thought you like Arco with AM/PM. disappointing betrayal.

    cheers all….

  14. Haik..
    Best gas.. Valero..
    Best restrooms Arco, 76 and of course Starbucks..
    Best diesel chevron..
    Hottest cashier in the mobil gas station
    15 south, going San diego exit 79east, Indio ..
    near Pechanga Indian resevation..
    ( hey Vanessa , told you I’ll make you a movie star..!
    I’m from LA.. I know all Hollywood stars.. Wanna go out tonight, amiga???? )

  15. Like hell I had fish. I had mortadella on a whole wheat roll and a bag of potato chips. And a granola bar, so I can pretend that this hearty repast was in some way beneficial to my health.

  16. You’re right Haik- Eggleston, Jeff Wall, Friedlander…

    Sometimes it just “works”
    Sometimes it doesn’t
    Most of the time people are split between those 2…

  17. That line actually works? It must be the bandanna and the accent; there’s no way your average American guy gets away with a line like that without the girl laughing in his face.

  18. I knew it..
    I guessed it right when I said Akaky
    had “nothing” for lunch..
    Nutricion wise!!!!

  19. Out of gas station topic so very well shown by Adam and narrated by Panos but Starbucks also provides a shower service I heard :-)

  20. Damn..
    Now I know why she laughed…
    Hmm… It wasn’t my little fancy dance right in front of her beauty..
    it wasn’t my jokes either..
    ( hey Vanessa for some reason,
    When I tried to call u on the number you gave me..
    .. the local sheriff picked up the phone… Twice..
    But I understand.. It was a mistake.. Many people can’t
    Remember their own phone numbers..
    I’m not gonna take it personally.. or.. Hmmm!!)
    Love y’all ..

  21. Yes, it’s hard to ‘think’about a single picture after just watching Giovanni’s Sick Girl, but I think the photograph is not only such a nice diversion after long essays, but absolutely reminds me what is still so wild about photography. I too immediately thought of Shore and his cross-country journey. Those not familiar with Shore’s work, should take a look. In fact, last year a book of his journals from that seminal work/trip was published…it’s essential photography…

    what I dig about the pic is just that: it aint about nothing but about pictorial things. Besides Stephen Shore, I also thought of the great American painter Ed Ruscha…..i guess when i see photographs like this, i immediately think of painters (thus the connection to Ruscha, especially his paintings of Gas Stations and signs and words)…but also a very important idea about seeing…the clear patterns and though there aint anything more quotidian then the ubiquitous gas station and pump, blue on blue on blue ;)), its’s just a reminder that all around us is world through which our visiual cues and interpretations stake out for us…

    and I TOTALLY SEE BROTHER PANOS RUNNING OUT OF THE CONVENIENCE STORE WITH A 6-PACK OF BEER AND HANDFUL OF BURITOS AND PACK OF SMOKES on his way to Venice or Seattle or Texas :))))…i used to know these places well too, in a former life ;)))

    and Adam’s work totally makes sense when you see the website…

    ROCK ON BURN, it keeps on movin’on! :)))

    cheers, bob

  22. The solitary gas station is a strong theme in American painting and cinema, though this one, with SELF so prominently displayed, lacks the poignancy or sense of loneliness of an Edward Hopper painting. This is not really a criticism of the photo, but I do wonder, Adam, if you would have snapped it without the signage.

  23. This kind of photo doesn’t really turn me on aesthetically but it does interest me when I stop to consider how the photographer managed to see it in the first place. I mean gas stations are so ubiquitous, in the U.S. and Canada anyway, that few of us even SEE them anymore, that is unless you’re riding on empty and desperate for a fill-up.

    That being said, I think Adam has other more successful photos in his “A sense of place” gallery on his web site but maybe I’m enough of a Seinfeldian to prefer the “nothingness” of this one. It certainly jolted me out of my usual photographic expectations.


  24. Going back into my “box”, I have a little trouble identifying with shots like this. One thing for sure is that when looking at it in the year 2040, it’ll show people what gas stations used to look like when automobiles ran on fossil fuel. It would make a great 8×10 transparency though. It’s very sterile, and nicely composed.

  25. Bob, do you know that little book by Ed Rusha about gas stations? A small booklet, soft cover, with some 20 or 30 pictures of gas sations, many at night. I bought that way back in the 70’s. It must be in my library in Brussels somewhere. Now THESE are gas stations…

  26. John :))))

    yes, I DO! :))))))))…i have always loved Ruscha’s gas stations…and in a sense, i always loved him, a guy who went from painting to photography and photography to painting! :))))

    and his billboards and his ‘word’ paintings :)))))….

    for those people NOt familiar with the work John and I are talking about, look up his

    ‘twenty-six gas stations’


    I always loved the night stations too ;))) just brilliant! :))))

    that’s real beauty and sadness!!

    cant wait to we drink together :)))


  27. Well that’s it, really..it is possible to shoot this place and make it hit or seep or whisper or creep..and I have been looking at this shot trying to figure out what is holding it back.

    Words discussing Rusha’s 26 gasoline stations say “From the standpoint of traditional photographic aesthetics, the individual photographs seem unsuccessful and more like works of ‹bad photography›: too much empty space in the foreground, poorly chosen perspectives, and faulty contrasts, etc.. Through this deliberate lack of style, which is how Jeff Walls interprets it, Ruscha draws attention «to the estranged relationship of people to their rural environment, but without staging or dramatizing the estrangement”

    So how does one make ‹bad photography› great?

  28. Meaning..So how does one make ‹bad photography› great, NOW?? Once ‹bad photography› has been made with excellence, how can one follow that lineage without falling into the trap of making images that look more like they are attempting to have a “deliberate lack of style” in someone else’s style?

  29. Adam, am looking at your site now..I should say that I have always wanted to be able to shoot the ’empty places” images well, but I find it frustratingly difficult to do so and hope you aren’t disheartened by the feedback so far..in your “A sense of Place” series, I think the 2nd image is completely successful, and I wish we could hear feedback for why that one works so well (if others agree).

    Shooting the way you do for me is sort of like the opposite of winning at horseshoes..you really have to ring it, you get no real points for close. you have bitten off a big challenge in keeping to this esthetic.

    And I also think you were very successful in the hat /trailer shot in “intimate Distance” (great titles..)

    Gotta love another Radiohead Fan.

  30. It’s worth a forture, Mr. Vink — the 3rd edition of that book sells for well over $1500 — the first editions are around $25K !!!

    “The most renowned series of artist’s books in the history of the genre,” Parr, The Photobook: A History, Vol. II;

  31. Jeff/John:…

    wow, good to know…i got a copy in florida…although, i know what edition…cause i bought it in LA at a used bookstore….and i thought i was the only freak who loved that book! :)))


  32. Erica :)))

    that IS THE CONUNDRUM….only thing i’d say to that guy is that Ruscha’s photographs ARE BRILLIANT…sad and desolate and so fucking amazing…and they’re from the early 60’s…before Shore…i love them and bought it ’cause i knew Ruscha as a great painter working with words and then i found that book…anyway…

    for me, the way i’ve resolved it is simple: style IS NOT OWNED ;))…style is only a language…only that…that’s why style IS NOT really THAT distinquishing…especially in photography, as opposed to writing or painting, for example. Style is a language and many photographaers have the same ‘style”, not important, what is important (for me) is that there has to be marriage, some expression of intent, of idea, of expression: that may be journalistic, evocative, aesthetic, intellectual, whatever, something that bespeaks of the personal within the framework of other….

    i think the key is to NOT CARE about ‘great” there is nothing great..an illusion…only the breath, only the inelecutable…and i think ‘great’ photography stemmed from, above all things, commitment and immersion into whatever language or idea or thing makes that photographers work…

    look at Vink’s work…it’s incredibly poetic, in a very sublte and powerful and pictorial way (it’s the painter in me, sorry John), but also incredible loyal to humanistic, journalism…he’s a witness extraordinaire…it’s why, even for a fucked up photogrpaher like me, i could not live without vink’s work…

    the conundrum: to speak out against the disappearing…in whatever way we can ;)))


  33. Adam, you didn’t get me on the hook with the picture of the petrol station, but when I looked at your web page – you got me. I love this image of the Mercedes and the orange door. Wow! And the series “Intimate Distance” – there are many superb images in there. And nice web page design as well!
    Looking at your images I feel you are influenced by Stephen Shore and of course Mr Eggelston. These guys are a great inspiration. You have created your own version of it. And I feel you should make your work look even more Adam Smith.
    I am not very familar with this kind of imagery, but I appreaciate your fine work. Personally I prefer images that create a mood, or tell a story. The image of the petrol station doesn’t invite me right away. It looks so clean, only one drop of oil on the ground. Is this petrol station brand new? No customers? Or good old Photoshop?
    Anyway, I guess a more intellectual approach is needed. There is a long tradition to this kind of photography. By chance I came across the photo of a German guy, called Julian Faulhaber, who took a picture with the titel “Tankstelle” – which means petrol station. You can see the image here: http://www.artnet.de/galleries/Exhibitions.asp?gid=636&cid=151143
    Double click and it gets bigger. I don’t want to compare the two images, but I felt it is interesting to note this similar approach. There is an interesting text from Aaron Betsky who wrote an introduction to Faulhabers image of the “Tankstelle”. Ed Ruscha is included. Check this out: http://lagallery-frankfurt.de/JulianFaulhaberEN.pdf
    The text explains way better than I ever could, why this kind of photography is valid and why it makes sense.
    Adam, do you photograph with a 8 x 10 ?
    I keep an eye on your web page and I am looking forward to your future work!

  34. Panos :)))

    did you see my note about the burritos, smokes and beer :)))…totally in my mind and heart :)))….been there many a day too :))


  35. Sebastian:

    man, you’ve missed a lot of game then brother…

    …you check out Medord’s show? Panos’ Venice? Patricia’s Falling to Pieces? Kyung-Hee’s Island (which is a magnificent book), Anton’s Sugar? Mustafah’s Obama? Angelo’s Mexico, Cory’s film? Miquel’s Portugal Portraits, Aislinn’s Rodeo? Victor’s stream-of-conscious? Jan’s Haiti?

    …man, you have to be one jaded photographer….

    that’s the shizzliest shizzile i’ve heard in a long time…..

  36. James Natchway, DAH, Sabastio Salgado, Sam Abell, Steve McCurry, James Stanfield, Annie Leibovitz, Joel Meyerowitz, David LaChapelle, Keith Carter, Mary Ellen Mark, Jock Sturges, in no particular order.

  37. Why do my posts come up with James Powers some of the time and Jim Powers some of the time? Jim is my nickname and I’ve never posted with James in the name field?

  38. Thx for the reply. Interesting to see lachapelle in your list, his stuff is so produced and out there and opposite of your other choices … And annie’s images heavily produced and retouched. Hmmmm

  39. I’m having trouble writing about this photograph because this genre of photography leaves me cold. So let’s get that out of the way first.

    I find such photographs almost hyper-real, clinical and devoid of life. I’ve never seen such work in person but I imagine that you may well get the impression that you could walk into the photograph and look around. I also feel that if you picked up an object in the photograph it would be made of some form of lifeless plastic. In many ways such photographs seem too perfect. It’s hard to explain but they don’t seem like photographs to me; more like a window.

    For me the power, the wonder of a photograph is that it is able to capture life in the blink of an eye and hold it for all to see. I also like to see some of what we now call the artifacts of the photographic process, the grain, the slight blur of a windblown tree or the unintentional tilt of horizon: these make what we capture into another object that we call a photograph; something other than reality that exists out of context with what the photographer captured. More than the sum of its parts.

    Now to Adam’s photograph. It’s technically accomplished, the colour palette is minimal and muted but (for me) it is a photographic representation of the reality of a designers drawing.

    Your website, Adam, shows a consistent level of technical proficiency, the majority of the photographs look as if they have been taken on the same day, such is the similarity of light, colour and mood. Impressive. You are very good at what you do. Congratulations!


  40. While I don’t care for this photo, I look at photos in an opposite way from you. My goal – rarely achieved – is to make the object (the physical photograph) disappear. and only the window remain. I do think,though, as someone pointed out, that there is a role for the photo as artifact and that someday this kind of photo will be valuable to historians as evidence of place when memories fade and distort with time.

  41. Agreed, style is not owned, but in my eyes it can’t be adopted willy-nilly either, put on like a hat…I don’t think any of this is about the photographer himself caring / not caring about making work that is great, but I don’t see how someone can make great work if the “language into which they immerse” doesn’t become like the mamaloshen, the mother tongue, to them, regardless of what they were born speaking. It has to become your own, even if it is shared..

  42. Erica, Bob- I think you guys are getting at the essence here:

    Erica wrote “How can one follow that lineage without falling into the trap of making images that look more like they are attempting to have a “deliberate lack of style” in someone else’s style?”

    Bob wrote “i think the key is to NOT CARE about ‘great” there is nothing great..an illusion”

    This seems to be all about that zen state of mind, that state that becomes harder to reach and more elusive the more one tries to find “it”. The “great” work seems to come when one is not trying to be great, not trying to be or do anything, just “being”.

    The “trying” yields contrived crap, like American Idol bullshit “stars” vs. the likes of Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen etc.


  43. Well DAH, you have certainly stirred the pot with this photo, which was no doubt your intention! Yes, it is a departure from what we have been seeing here, and that in itself is refreshing. It emphasises once again that you have a far wider sense of photographic appreciation than do many of your followers. In looking over the comments, I see a lot that tell me quite a bit about the commenters, and nothing much about the photograph… exceptions are (among others) Panos, Preston Merchant, and Michael Risenhoover… they at least are actually looking at the photo, trying to ‘read’ it, and responding to what they see and think… instead of just telling us “I don’t like this kind of photography” or engaging in elaborate over-intellectualizing, cross-references, and rationales as to why we should accept this kind of photography even though this one doesn’t ‘work’ for them personally…

    First of all (and last of all) I like it. It speaks to me… there is a lot here I can ‘read’… What I read from it is probably not what Panos reads from it, but no matter…I won’t go into all the stuff about what the photo says to me personally. What surprises me a little and dismays me a little is that apparently a number of commenters here can’t read much in the image, and yet feel the need to display their own lack of awareness, as if it were the photo’s or the photographer’s fault… or can only ‘appreciate’ it indirectly by referring to any number of ‘already famous’ or ‘already published’ other photographers or artists whose work is somewhat similar in subject matter or tone…

    Normally the discussion here is far more insightful and elevated, and far more broad minded (oh, there have been exceptions, of course!)

    Happy Valentine’s Day, Adam and everybody…

  44. Sidney:

    I’m wondering if you and I have read the same comments??…”nothing much about the photograph..’?…or “engaging in elaborate over-intellectualizing, cross-references, and rationales as to why we should accept this kind of photography even though this one doesn’t ‘work’ for them personally…”….

    to clarify, i, for one, did not say it didnt work for me personally, but that it was a jolt after watching an essay….the transition from movement to statis aint that easy…and I tried to write what works for me as a picture (i guess talking about brother P dashing out of the store is over intellectualized?)..;.

    moreover…”what I dig about the pic is just that: it aint about nothing but about pictorial things. Besides Stephen Shore, I also thought of the great American painter Ed Ruscha…..i guess when i see photographs like this, i immediately think of painters (thus the connection to Ruscha, especially his paintings of Gas Stations and signs and words)…but also a very important idea about seeing…the clear patterns and though there aint anything more quotidian then the ubiquitous gas station and pump, blue on blue on blue ;)), its’s just a reminder that all around us is world through which our visiual cues and interpretations stake out for us…”…..want me to go into the graphic specifics of the photograph, or the ‘historical’ iconographic elements?….

    the reference to Ruscha IS important ’cause many people here might not now it and it was a way for me to offer others a context in which i read the work within a photographic tradition….

    you, a professor who often steeps your arguments within reference and context, i had assumed, would have read many of the other comments appropriately…

    you have a strange way of being dismissive Sydney……talk about selective reading….

    good god sydney….

  45. ps.

    and by the way, the discussion that Erica brought up IS very much an important discussion that is framed by Adam’s work…whether people see the pic as just a static shot of a Chevron station (and lifeless, static or unemotional, or too quotidian) or a funny, graphically interesting provocation of how the quotidian tells us more about ourselves than we realize (self) or just a nice shot will graphic value, is it so important to de-value what others have written here?….

    that’s a pretty snarky comment Sydney and i’d respectfully ask you to re-read all the comments, both Pro and Contra for the work…

  46. the idea this photo tries to pass has already been done, and much better done, nothing to see or think here.

  47. Well, Panos loves it and that sure ain’t loose, and rather super straight, tack sharp shot… :-)

    The grandeur of photographic expression where within the same day, the same epoch for sure, we can have such disparate styles that in other mediums of artistic and personal expression, would mean calling up different period of these art histories.

    I like this very much too. For me, such pictures reconcile me (if ever needed) with the fun of taking pictures, rejoicing that even a Chevron station, and the hyper-capitalistic, consumerist world we live in is at least good for one thing. that is taking pictures. Lately, it’s all it’s worth for, frankly!

    So Panos, now…. How do we shoot 789 billion dollars ? Seriously…….:-)

  48. Sidney, your voice has been silent here for much too long. Since we moved to BURN, you have rarely posted comments and that has been our loss. I hope you’ve been visiting anyway and seeing the essays and selected photos. It’s been a very interesting mix that has prompted some significant discussions.

    Regarding your comment today, I’m left wondering if you’d read the preceding comments to which you referred. Your criticism of all but a few doesn’t reflect the muli-faceted discussion I’ve been reading. Yes, there are some who just say, “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” But, there is so much more than that to be found in these 71 (so far) comments. And as far as I’m concerned, reference to other photographers and artists offers a sense of context to our discussion. I’m surprised you don’t see it that way.

    Hope you’ll be more actively involved from now on. You always bring a unique perspective to the mix, sometimes a bit “snarky” but, hey, we’ll just call you on it when that happens…


  49. How about talking about “the photograph” Sidney, instead of about how evolved you are. You have get to be kidding.

  50. Bob,

    I never intended my comments to refer to you in particular… if you interpreted them that way, I am sorry… and I apologize for my ineptness at communicating, and any discomfort it may have caused.
    Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.

  51. Hmmmm. That stirred the pot up a bit sidney. A little condescending maybe, but hey, thats ok right?
    I think I gave a single sentence response to this image, but just to show that I can ‘look’ I will have another go.
    Subjectively I do not find anything in this style of work that has any relevance to me, other than the fact that a camera of some kind was used to make it. I am familiar with the work of soth/egglestone ..etc, whose work this is analog to, and they too, for the most part, leave me cold also. The sense of emptiness, the use of found shapes to create a harmony,the mundane and banal offered up as a meditation, the muted, almost clinical color pallette making a hyper-real and yet somehow surreal visage. I kind of ‘get’ a lot of that[ I think]. It just does not speak a language that I have any real desire to learn. It is too Tame for me and that may well be my loss, but its a loss that I can live with.
    This is no reflection on the author of the picture, nor a ‘slandering’ of any style of photography. Just the fact that in my world images such as these fail to have the impact that they do in yours and others. Isnt that a good thing? That we can each have our OWN sense of taste? That this thing we do is broad enough to encompass EVERY style.At the end of the day I am not right and you are not wrong and I have the right to MY opinion and you have the right to disagree right? or am I just ignorant here?

  52. Sidney,
    your words are quite rough. Hm?
    Yes, I didn’t say much about the image because it doesn’t really speak to me. This is personal taste – and I feel this is very difficult to explain for me. Sorry Adam.
    Perhaps I didn’t say it clearly enough, but I like and I appreciate Adams work very much. That is why I wrote a comment.
    Yes, I agree, that my refereneces are over intellectualising this discussion. I feared this might happen. It was not my intention, but I thought it would be helpful for others to better understand this kind of thinking or attitude towards photgraphy behind this image and also to broaden the discussion. I don’t want to sound smart or anything. A simple help. And if it is not working for you – okay, it was just an attempt.
    I struggled for a long time with images like this myself. Images that simply showed a place or an object in a clean, clear, very conciously composed way, without a person in the picture. The photographer has made some very clear decisions and he is very aware of what he does. I think this is very different from let’s say doing a reportage. There you react within an instant – sometimes you act so quickly, you cannot think at all – pure instinct. You can put it this way as well: thought and precision versus emotion and instinct. Am I getting intellectual again?
    Adam has taken some very concious decision in this image. Why he choose this location, this light, these straight lines? He had some very clear thoughts and intentions and parameter when he pressed the button.
    Unfortunately I am not familiar enough with this kind of photography, because as I said, my own way of thinking and my own photographic approach is different. So I made this reference to an image which had a similar content and perhaps a similar photographic background (I have no idea if the photographer I refer to is famous or not – that is just not the point). I was hoping to hear what others like you and of course what Adam thinks about this connection. Perhaps I should have made myself more clear.
    Refering to Stephen Shore and William Eggelston is important, because I see a connection, certainly an influence on Adams work. Don’t you think so?
    Basically my intention was to help others to find a way to become a bit more familiar with this kind of photographic approach.
    It took me some time to broaden my horizon. Still working on it;-) When you get a better understanding, you get a better appreciation. That is what I think.
    Sidney, I hope I am more of a help than a dismay.

  53. I find this photograph emotionally empty yet geometrically interesting. I can appreciate the composition yet there is no tension. The photo to me represents the age we are in now, specifically about imagery these days as in the cleanliness and sharpness in digital photography. It is more of an illustration of any gas station you can find in the suburbs of anywhere, USA. If dictionaries used photos as definitions instead of words, you would find this under “gas station.” This is a nice, plain photo.

  54. Patricia,

    Thanks. I haven’t really been ‘away’, just lurking. I’ve been following the photos and comments posted in ‘BURN’ fairly regularly since its inception, but I lost my regular access to a broadband connection just about the time ‘BURN’ was launched, so I couldn’t watch a lot of the slide-show photo essays until recently when I went to a coffee shop with wireless broadband. If in the discussions of the ‘selected photos’ other people have been covering the same bases I might think to, I don’t necessarily feel the need to chime in. I’ve also been very busy with work, and doing a lot of shooting and editing. In the case of this photo though, I thought it was getting a bit of a bum rap from some quarters (not all, of course). Maybe I was in a strange mood this morning… I will try to control my ‘snarkiness’ in the future…

  55. Sidney:

    that was a pretty patronizing and mean-spirited comment…and i read it 4 times before writing…and again now….I didnt take it as an ‘attack’ on me but as a pretty obvious put down on lots of writters here…and the content of the language is also pretty care, the references to our discussion about Ruscha and the attendant other chats…

    what i fild bewildering, after all the conversation lately that this kind of attitude still creeps into discussion….

    that’s my disappointment, simple and clear. I’m terribly long-winded, verbose dude, but i respect disagreement and various consideration…and particularly staying away from judging the value of writers ‘reading ability’….

    sorry, but i find it as stale as those who dismiss work simply as a way to sound cool. And I really expected much more in terms of commentary.

    all the best

  56. Yes, Reimar, your comments–both of them–moved the discussion along in a helpful way. As I see it, Sidney is the only one who objected to the discussion becoming more about this genre of photography than about Adam’s photograph per se. And I hope we don’t get too caught up with just one person’s take on things.

    To me, these comments are like an online tutorial. I’m learning so much about all aspects of photography, from the aesthetic to the technical, from the historical antecedents to the contemporary masters, both known and unknown. Yes, I appreciate seeing the essays and selected photos that David chooses to show here on BURN, but what keeps me checking in during the day are the comments. I hope we stay open to all points of view and ways of expressing ourselves. This is what makes BURN unique.


  57. Glad you’ve found access to broadband, Sidney. BURN via dial-up would be an exercise in frustration. Re: this morning’s comment, we all have moments of snarkiness. I know I do. But look at it this way: you pushed the right buttons to get lots of us posting in response ;=)


  58. SIDNEY…

    yes, i have missed you too and always thought you to be one of our better analysts albeit pretty tough on the “non literal”..but that is just fine…we always need differing opinion…

    in any case, i really enjoyed our phone chat a few weeks ago and you disappeared right after that, so i thought i must have said something wrong…i remembered it as a very pleasant conversation, so i was quite confused…

    welcome back amigo…

    cheers, david

  59. David,

    My sinking into ‘lurk mode’ after our phone conversation was coincidental, necessitated entirely by local circumstances, and had nothing to do with any negative feelings arising from what was for me a delightful exchange. Incidentally, I am still hoping you will make it out to the Pacific Northwest, as are Tom Hyde, Katia, and probably any number of other people… any chance of this coming true in the near to medium future?



    i always try to give everyone the “benefit of the doubt”….cut everyone a lot of slack…assume good, unless i see bad….and i do thank you for at least not being anonymous..

    and for that reason i went to your site…but tell me, tell me, where are you coming from?? i expected some sort of enlightened site, some powerful work , some alternative vision to our “stupid slideshows”….hmmmmm, well i did not open every photographer on your blog , but i did look at about 6…so , i am at a loss as to your “level of understanding” shall we way….however, i will give you even more benefit of the doubt and go back and look again…

    over time i have gotten to know many of the world’s so called greats…i see lot’s of powerful student work, and in general pretty much know the varied personalities of really fine photographers of all styles and types of all ages and temperament …NOBODY, icon, or emerging photographer, with a real sense of self would make a classless insulting comment like yours…

    i always wonder about photographers who seem so bitter..and they really come out on the web…amazing…i am not a “shrink” , but i assume always the bitter ones have been rejected by somebody…feel themselves “failed”…as i said, nobody with any kind of self worth would make a comment as you did…to flagrantly insult absolutely everyone here with a perverse arrogance….yes yes criticism we want…and intelligent thought in opposition is why we are here, so do not misunderstand my missive to you please…

    maybe i have you wrong Sebastian…and maybe you will end up as one of the greatest photographers of all time…if so, i will kiss the floor you walk on….

    but, what you have shown so far is: (a) no pictures of your own as a counter point (b) one very stupid comment

  61. Wow Sydney, how wonderful it must be to be so enlightened as you claim to be.

    However, your comments really just reveal how lacking in awareness you are, “I won’t go into all the stuff about what the photo says to me personally.”…. It’s much easier to sit back and wait to criticize others intellectual processes, then try to come across as a higher thinker. I pity you.


  62. I second that, Bob. I’ve read Sydney’s original comment again as well, and I can’t see a single original thought, particularly about this photograph.

    If we were playing poker, I’d call. Show us your cards Sydney!


  63. I believe in power of ABSENCE of things in photography (and visual arts in general). Often, I find things missing to have more impact then those included (of course, the absent would be meaningless without the components that a present).
    That is where this photograph ‘work’ for me; the absence of vehicles, the absence of people, the absence of trash, no stains and no remains of human or any other activity… as if “self” labeled pumps are self-sufficient and need no interaction with humans or technology.

    The terrifying effects that absence could create were wonderfully described in the W.G. Sebald’s story about another great author Vladimir Nabokov in his essay “Dream Textures, A Brief note of Nabokov”: “At the very beginning of Nabokov’s autobiography, programmatically entitled Speak, Memory there is the story of a man who, we must assume, is still very young, and who suffers a panic attack when he first sees a home movie shot in his parent’s house a few weeks before his birth. All the images trembling on the screen are familiar to him, he recognizes everything, everything is right except for the fact, which disturbs him deeply, that he himself is not where he has always been, and the other people in the house do not seem to mourn his absence.”

    Wonderful, isn’t it?
    Best to you all,

  64. John,

    I really appreciate your taking ‘another stab’ at articulating thoughtfully your responses to this photo, which you do quite well, and let me apologize to you personally for sounding condescending. Of course, you are not ignorant… and I would never suggest that you should ‘like’ this photo if you don’t. Thanks for the explanation.


  65. Very tied up over the last two days and no time to write at length until now. Several people have called me to task (or worse) for not actually saying anything about what it is I see (or ‘read’) in this photo, and probably rightly so. So very belatedly, and with apologies for the delay since this discussion is by now hardly fresh, here’s an attempt:

    I respond to this photo on at least three levels simultaneously: First, as a nicely composed still life photo, second as a document of what geographers call the ‘cultural landscape’, and third as a powerful and telling conceptual and visual metaphor (with both comic and tragic-sinister overtones) for our gas-guzzling hyper-individualized American society of consumers wedded to their cars and addicted to the gas pump as the major means of manifesting their all-important precious and unique ‘selves’ which turn out to be mechanical clones of the other ‘selves’ around them. Now, I don’t know Adam from Adam, and he hasn’t explained himself in this forum yet, so I have no way of knowing if any or all of this was on his mind either when he took the photo or when he submitted it to BURN (Adam???). And ditto for DAH when he chose to post it (though he must have had his reasons, I suspect).

    As a still life, I find the composition pleasing, clean, well balanced. It is true that there is little visual tension in it… those who prefer or demand visual tension in photos will probably not respond positively… but human life, unlike American TV, is not always in a state of frenetic motion, there is often repose, stasis, solidity… thank god, and some people, of whom I’m one, may feel there’s as much need for dignified repose in both life, and photos, as there is for dynamic tension. The open, bright, partly sunny light of late morning or late afternoon may seem banal or stark at first… it is not ‘dramatic’ light or moody in a conventional photographic sense, but in fact creates its own mood that emphasizes the ‘conventionality’ or ‘normalcy’, the everyday quality of the scene… I think someone else mentioned that this actually contributes to it becoming more surreal, and I agree. I like the blue and white and light gray palette… some people may not. For this particular photo, I think it works well and is highly appropriate.

    As document of the ‘cultural landscape’ it is an accurate recording of something common and important in the everyday fabric of American life at present… but who knows for how long? Yes, some other photographers have chosen to photograph similar scenes (and Adam Smith himself has such photos in his “Sense of Place” series)… so that part is not so original, but in ‘seeing’ it and photographing it, Adam has placed it before our eyes for consideration when most people might have overlooked it as unworthy of consideration, and my long and deeply felt view is that the more we actually see and contemplate what is actually around us, instead of ignoring it, the better. Some other photographers or painters have already done something along these lines, sure… but I think it’s still a worthwhile thing to do and I think this photo does it quite well. What is possibly odd is just how ‘clean’ the image is, as some people have commented, and how that lends an odd, unsettling, somewhat unnatural feel to the superficially ‘normal’ scene… Velibor, above, has written with pithy insight about this.

    But what really grabbed me immediately, and launched a rocket in my imagination was, surprise, surprise… the word “Self” so significantly and prominently displayed on each pump… not “Self Service” but just “Self”… and that sent reverberations of meaning rippling through my mind, tying together the industrial/suburban landscape of roads and gas stations, the dispensing of gas, the worship of ‘self’ as autonomous individual that dominates American culture, and its most prominent and ultimately ‘self-destructive’ manifestation, everybody’s need to drive their own car everywhere, to consume gas, to spend so much of their lives in an armored metal box that separates them from everyone else on the road who is actually doing the same thing, living the same life, in the illusion of separateness… I could go on and fill in many more dots, but I’m sure you catch my drift. Now, some of you may regard this as quite a stretch, or attribute it to my own peculiar concerns, and maybe you are right. There isn’t any ‘correct’ reading of any photo. But all of the above hit me within a second or two of first seeing this photo… it wasn’t the result of long contemplation, although to sort it out so I could write about it in a logical fashion took some time. I looked at the other photos in Adam’s “Sense of Place” series, and while they are similar, none of the others grabbed me as much or reverberated on as many levels as this one.

    I can’t resist one last personal editorial comment here… I have been accused occasionally by DAH and maybe some others as being too ‘literal’ in my photographic tastes… maybe they are right, but I’ve noticed often that what seems to be ‘literal’ photographically may in fact encode all kinds of surreal, metaphoric, and symbolic content if we just look at it in a different light. Is that too subtle? Too Zen? With some of the photos that appear on BURN, I have to look several times, come back to it, read the artist’s statement or the comments before I ‘get’ a whole lot… and I don’t object to that, that’s why I’m here, to try to learn something. But with this photo there was no struggle, I ‘got’ it at first glance. What I ‘got’ was probably not what anyone else ‘got’, but my dismay was caused by what seemed to be the off-hand rejection by several responders that there was ‘nothing there’.

    I’d love to hear something from Adam…?? Or DAH…??

  66. Sidney,
    now you are talking man! Great comment!
    Honestly I completly overlooked the word “self” and I find this an intresting and important aspect.
    Where I live there are hardly no “self” only gas stations, so this idea is a bit out of my mind plus I am not sure what Chevron means or implies for people in Canada or the U.S.

  67. It’s funny how much commentary a photo like this inspires on BURN; this piece has generated 95 comments, whereas Giovanni’s great piece on the Sick Girls generated just over 30….I’m beginning to think David puts up stuff like this just to stir the pot. As for my own opinions on the photo, I think Jesus’s single sentence above expresses what I would say very succintly.

  68. Hi folks,

    Personally, I like this picture. It takes something so utterly banal as a petrol station and presents it to us anew. It actually makes something, which would ordinarily seem ugly, quite attractive. It certainly looks a lot nicer than many petrol stations I’ve been to. But then it also comments on our dependance on petrol. The fact that something like this can be so “invisible” through our matter of fact use, speaks volumes about our thirst for fuel. I like the big SELF on the pumps to…. how many measure their self worth through status symbols such as cars. I find it striking that the place is so very clean, clinical almost; given that what it provides is so poisonous. Perhaps thats an effort by the company to represent itself as cleaner, therefore, less polluting.

    What i don’t quite follow is the controversy it seems to have caused. Why is it so bold a choice? Why are so many getting so hot under the collar?


  69. Sidney,

    Man, I dig what you’ve been sayin’! Especially this: “…and third as a powerful and telling conceptual and visual metaphor (with both comic and tragic-sinister overtones) for our gas-guzzling hyper-individualized American society of consumers wedded to their cars and addicted to the gas pump as the major means of manifesting their all-important precious and unique ’selves’ which turn out to be mechanical clones of the other ’selves’ around them.”

    It is quite similar to what I felt when I first saw the photo, but since there is no way I could express it as eloquently, I’ll leave your comment to speak for me! Thanks.

    And Adam… nice.

  70. Over the last couple of days I’ve read, re-read, and ruminated.

    You all have gotten me thinking a lot about the importance of intent. I think there should be honesty to the intent of one’s work that can only come from doing the hard work of continually examining one’s motives and connecting with the emotional core of the work. This can only make the work more genuine. I also think it’s this genuineness that can set work it apart from being simply a master study of sorts.

    But what I’m not quite sure of whether or not to articulate that intent, or just let the work speak for itself. I like to think that the meaning is communal – that the viewer brings as much to the work as the artist.

    Plus I don’t want to come across as self-indulgent.

    But what the hell… I feel like I’ve been asked, so here’s what’s in it for me.

    I’m a fortunate guy. I am happy. My life is filled with the love and companionship of close family and friends. This closeness is a blessing, and a source of strength, but it’s also terrifying. I’m constantly reminded of the potential for random chaos that can change it, can take it all away in an instant. I know that someday the proverbial wolf will be at the door. Little pig, little pig, let me come in. And he’ll blow down the house.

    One way I deal with this fear is to mentally disconnect with my environment. Through photography I’ll visually rearrange my surroundings so they become something else. Something distant, sealed-off from the chaos. Something still, peaceful, quiet, permanent, safe, and simple.

    Something different from, yet consistent with reality.

    I draw a great comfort from the process of making these photographs and from the photographs themselves. I guess it’s a refuge of sorts. These photographs are what is ultimately my futile attempt to keep it all at bay.

    So, Thanks to everyone else for taking the time to look at my photograph, consider it, and share your thoughts with me. Your comments have been very encouraging and insightful…I’ve gotten something out of each one. I’ve always learned more from listening to others than from talking, and this is no exception.

    And lastly, David, thanks for posting this. Perhaps, as some have suggested, you posted this photograph just to stir things up. Don’t know if that’s the case or not, but you certainly did for me, and for that I thank you.

  71. Hi Adam,
    On the whole this type of photography (empty, urban, sterile) doesn’t really get me excited, but i do come away from this image with an overwhelming sense of loneliness, a feeling as if the robots have taken over, where are all the people?….. everything looks pristine, well looked after and yet there seems to be no sense that people are involved.

    There is the conundrum, It’s not really my cup of tea and yet it stirs emotions so therefor it is effective at communicating a message. So your work as an artist is achieving it’s goals.

    I have had a look through your website, i love the style of work you are doing and it has helped to clarify my thoughts on what you are saying, you seem to have a clear style and vision. I can see that doing the wedding and offspring photography might allow you to practice your craft and might provide an income but to me it seems a distraction from your real skills. You have a very cutting and astute eye and is very considered.

    I don’t know if you already do but you deserve to be working full time as a photographic artist.

    I agree with you, David is doing a great thing here, it is also helping me realise some dreams for myself after 20 years in the industry working at commercial photography, that personal projects are important. I have cabinets full of half started/finished personal projects that need to be completed rather than just relying on the next commission. This type of personal expression is essential to the artistic photographer.

    Adam you said in your post above that you “always learned more from listening to others than from talking” well i think your photography is shouting out load and telling us an awfull lot.



  72. / as sidney said — i´m of the same thought.
    the word ´self´screams out .. composure.. technique.. all good..

    lots of comments, perhaps looking for the point since it is a less easy piece to read than many..


    If someone makes a picture, the (stated)INTENT of which is along the lines of ” a powerful and telling conceptual and visual metaphor (with both comic and tragic-sinister overtones) for our gas-guzzling hyper-individualized American society of consumers wedded to their cars and addicted to the gas pump as the major means of manifesting their all-important precious and unique ’selves’ which turn out to be mechanical clones of the other ’selves’ around them.”
    and then lets say viewer A views it without knowing this and has this reaction to it
    “something else. Something distant, sealed-off from the chaos. Something still, peaceful, quiet, permanent, safe, and simple. Something different from, yet consistent with reality.”

    The Question is [actually its a whole bunch of them, ho hum.]

    just a thought to stave off Hotel room boredom waiting for the rain to stop. No bigee.


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