Twentysix Gasoline Stations is a book of 26 photographs of gasoline stations, self-published by artist Ed Ruscha in 1963. Ruscha in fact originally photographed 60 gasoline stations for the project, but eliminated 34 from his final edit on the basis that they were too interesting.

Front cover of Twenty Six Gasoline Stations

The result is an almost completely deadpan view of a similarly emotionally blank subject. Each of the 26 gas stations appears without color in raw black and white, often photographed at an odd angle like a passing snapshot, and occasionally not even in clear focus. There are rarely people, or even other cars. It’s simply 26 pictures of gas stations.

The only text accompaniment to each picture is the name and location of each gas station, beginning with “BOB’S SERVICE, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA” and ending with “FINA, GROOM, TEXAS.”

Fina, Groom, Texas - Adsum
Fina, Groom, Texas

What makes the book so compelling is that by Ruscha’s attempt to remove all emotion and affect from the process of photography, bookmaking, and artmaking in general, it leaves only the most essential qualities that can’t be eliminated.

So while each individual photograph may not be particularly interesting, when presented collectively the viewer can’t help but start to see the subtle changes in the landscape, the proud and striking quality of gas station graphics, and the way in which the design and architecture of each gas station reflects influences from both local culture and mass consumer culture while still remaining so essentially functional and utilitarian.

Ed Ruscha Standard Station 1966
Some of the gas stations Ruscha photographed would reappear often in his later work. Standard Station, 1966

But what also separates the book from later work of other artists, like Tim Hetherington’s architectural study of gas stations in Yemen, or Stephen Shore’s exploration of the visual landscape of ordinary American street corners, is that Ruscha’s pictures feeling like snapshots makes them more about the mundane passing experience of just looking out the window on the highway.

Ed Ruscha Portrait - Adsum
Ed Ruscha in his studio

The locations and sequence of each gas station in the book map a journey home from Los Angeles, where Ruscha came at 19 years old to pursue art, backwards up Route 66 to Oklahoma City, where he grew up and where his parents still lived at the time. The last picture in the book, of the Fina station in Groom, Texas, suggests the end of the time at home and the beginning of the return trip back to L.A., where Ruscha still lives and works today.