In 2003, as David Freund (born 1937) was driving to Missouri to see a 102-year-old friend, she died. Reflecting on their meeting when he was a child, he stopped in Illinois to photograph an old playground. Besides swings, teeter-totters and slides, there were war memorials, a picnic area, a cornfield and a baseball field. The moment launched a two-year odyssey to find and photograph such places. Freund soon realized playgrounds were an endangered species. In cities, because of safety and liability concerns, their apparatus, familiar to many childhoods, had largely been supplanted by bright structures of multicolored plastic and enameled steel. Freund focused on small towns where tradition, inertia and budget often permitted early playgrounds to survive. These were usually unoccupied, so children rarely appear in Freundís photographs, although alluded to in footprints, worn paint, and ruts under swings.
In postwar America, any driver or passenger would stop at gas stations at least weekly, and not just for gas. Gas stations were also oases offering food and drink, repairs, directions, maps and, importantly, bathrooms. Although appreciated as roadside novelties, their significance for American culture, landscape and history has been little documented.
From 1978 to 1981, David Freund analyzed the culture, architecture and landscape of gas stations in more than 40 states. “At the outset of Gas Stop,” he writes, “I was surprised at the range of themes presented at gas stations. Driving by, their commonplaceness might evince little inspiration for photos, but at an even halfway busy station, all I had to do was hang around to discover unexpected topical and visual variety.”
Freund’s photographs show customers and workers in postures and actions particular to filling up their cars, or just hanging out. Architecture and signage, both corporate and vernacular, beckon passing drivers. Of the more than 200,000 gas stations extant at the time of this project, most are now gone, remaining only in this work.
David Freund (born 1937) graduated from the Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, and has taught at Pratt Institute and Ramapo College of New Jersey. He has had exhibitions at the Light Gallery, New York, and the George Eastman House, and he has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a CAPS grant. Freund’s work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.