‘I’m not interested in books as such but I’am interested in unusual publications. The first book came out of a play on words. The title came before I even thought of the pictures. I like the word “gasoline” and I like the specific quality of “twenty-six”.’
Ed Ruscha’s first book Twentysix Gasoline Stations 1962 featured photographs taken by him along Route 66, on trips to and from Los Angeles to his parental home in Oklahoma City taking in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas en route. The pictures, which are void of people, do not document a particular journey and there is no sense of narrative. Twenty Six Gasoline Stations was the first of seventeen books Ruscha would make throughout the 1960s and 70s. These books are characterised by their use of serial photography, a wry sense of humour and use of minimal text. The titles of the books such as Every Building on Sunset Strip 1966 and Thirtyfour Parking Lots 1967 function as banal descriptions of the subject matter.
The photographs in Ruscha’s books are black and white until Nine Swimming Pools (and A Broken Glass) 1968 when he introduces colour. This book featured nine photographs of pools from a selection of hotels in LA and Las Vegas interspersed throughout the book followed by a sequence of black pages. Again, these photographs are absent of people giving them a feeling of desertion and vacancy. The human subject is however referenced in Pool #5 1968/97 where liquid footprints lead up to the diving board situated at the bottom centre of the image.
Ruscha’s books were highly influential in the conceptual art movement and they share many elements of its practice. In Ruscha’s books the idea dictates the form of the finished piece while an interest in structure, serial imagery and the mundane are also characteristic of conceptual art. Ruscha suggests that his books are ‘an extension of the readymade in a photographic form’.
Ruscha has said that he is not interested in books but he is interested in unusual publications. Discuss the titles, layout and content of Ruscha’s books and what relationship they have to one another.
Following the discussion select a topic based on the themes of place and the everyday for your own book. You could develop the title of your book first, then photograph the subject and compile your images into your book.