Ever the symbol of hippie families, blue-collar workmen, gypsy explorers, and nomadic musicians (to name a few), the van has become a staple of transients and travelers alike, often playing gear-hauler, changing room, love den, and tool shed all-in-one (oh, and you can drive it, too).
If you’ve ever thought of throwing off your cubicle shackles and just getting the hell out of dodge in your Dodge, “Vans and the Places Where They Were” is the photographic series for you. The brainchild of artist Joe Stevens, this project began (on film!) in 1996 and “examines the dialogue which exists between a van’s design aesthetic and that of its surrounding environment.”
Consisting of hundreds of images of vans in their native environments of shiny building facades, busy parking lots, gray curbsides, and sunny suburban landscapes and shot on 120 film (you whippersnappers can look it up here), Stevens is interested in the interplay of how these types of vehicles, due to their sad falling out of favor (i.e. rust, competition with fuel-efficiency needs, etc.) mirrors the slow expiration of film – both modes of transport to other realms, now being replaced by younger, flashier, and more high-tech models.
Though each picture’s set-up is the same (van in the middle, facing the left side of the shot, framed by trees, cliffs, beachside, storefront, etc.) every photograph is singular in the character it presents (and represents). Whether it is a beat-up behemoth rusting out in the shade of a Safeway sign or a pristine and cloud-like blue Chevy restored to its former beauty, each van is an ode to Americana … a nod to the Wild West that lives in all of us, if only for that short time we’re behind the wheel. Each is a story, told in miles and coasting on burnt-looking rims, rolling along into the next trip, job, adventure or gig.
So in that spirit, stop reading this, shut down your IPAD, get out and go for a ride. Before all the good wheels disappear.
© W. Laurie Ewer