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IMAGE HEADER: Ashok Sinha
The relationship between architecture and car culture varies from city to city around the globe. For photographer Ashok Sinha, a decade and a half long interest in the interaction between mid-century architecture, the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles, and the influence of the automobile converges in his recent book, “Gas and Glamour.” Focused on roadside architecture, the book offers a stunning collection of photographs archiving a particular moment in history while also posing interesting questions in regard to the potential lifestyle and architectural future of filling stations with the advent of chargeable electric cars. In a nod to 21st century technology, all of the images in the book are QR coded with Google map driving directions. This interactive feature offers readers the opportunity to create their own mid-century architectural road trip to a series of sites not yet eligible for landmark status.
Union 76, 427 N. Crescent Dr. Beverly Hills, CA 90210I. Photograph from Gas and Glamour by Ashok Sinha
DUGGAL ART SCENE: You have an extensive practice as an architectural photographer. What is it that keeps you in love with photographing the built environment?
ASHOK: The built environment is what defines us. We are surrounded and impacted by it every day. To me, photographing it is not only creating a document of how we live, work and play, but also a way to interpret it using my artistic vision in a way that highlights the role of architecture and design in our daily lives.
Photograph from Gas and Glamour by Ashok Sinha
DUGGAL ART SCENE: What prompted and inspired you to embark on your first architectural photobook project, “Gas and Glamour?” Tell us a bit about the process of making the photographs.
ASHOK: Over my many trips to LA in the past decade and a half, I have been increasingly curious about that city’s love affair with the automobile, largely because it has reminded me of my own. On every visit, LA has amazed me by its suburban sprawl and made me jealous of its shiny cars, while at the same time leaving me wondering how communities there are structured differently than where I live in New York City. As I started to dig deeper into clues that hint at the automobile's influence on LA’s DNA, I began to discover its architectural past that was heavily shaped by it and built as a direct response to its rapid growth in order to meet the demands of a huge postwar population explosion. I started photographing buildings that celebrated roadside architecture and advertising during America’s golden age of the automobile, traces of which can still be found in Los Angeles, the capital of car culture.
It took me a little more than five years from start to finish. I pored through research papers, city records, and many familiar and obscure online blogs to come up with a representative list of sites to include in my project. The process involved researching the locations in between my trips to LA (as well as using Google Street View to remotely scout vantage points), and creating new works every year that I would share with only a few people in my inner circle of friends and editors while working on the overall project. This enabled me to get ongoing feedback about the direction of the work. For details on the technical process, you can read more on my blog.
Chips, Hawthorne. Photograph from Gas and Glamour by Ashok Sinha
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Considering “Gas and Glamour’s” relationship to mid-century Southern California architecture and thus the book’s status as an archival document, what are your thoughts on architectural preservation?
ASHOK: Architectural preservation and photography go hand in hand. Especially for mid-century buildings, many of which are too new to be considered for landmark status, photographs are often the only way to bring awareness to this type of architecture and engage local communities and institutions to advocate for their preservation. However, architectural preservation can also be revisited and considered with fresh implications. For example, the advent of electric cars and charging stations will fundamentally reshape and decentralize the concept of a ‘filling' station for the car, and I can imagine that many of these sites can be retrofitted to welcome this new era of motoring. Given the small footprint of the charging stations, and the fact that it currently takes about 35 minutes to top up a battery charge, these locations have the potential of redefining the urban landscape in the many ways a contemporary gas station isn’t, a kind of revival in ‘destination’ charging locations where folks can eat, drink coffee and be entertained while their car charges. The pandemic has also forced people to adapt and imagine the idea of self-sufficient communities outside of city centers. As work and commuting habits change, it will lead to more local service and retail jobs in the communities where people actually live. The fundamental reshaping and decentralization of the economy and urban landscape will result in a renewed appreciation of local destinations (such as the ones highlighted in the book) where people live that would in turn result in a renewed support for the people and institutions that invest in them.
McDonald's. 10207 Lakewood Blvd. Downey, CA 90241. Photograph from Gas and Glamour by Ashok Sinha
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Other than architecture and interiors, what mediums, pastimes or interests have had the most influence on your practice?
ASHOK: I have a deep interest in travel. One of the highlights of this project was the process of discovering these locations and I wanted to share them and their stories with a larger audience. Hence all images are QR coded with Google Maps driving directions so that readers can create their own road trip and visit these places, especially during this time when small businesses need our support more than ever. I am also a ‘car guy’ at heart. My love for the automobile and its influence in shaping Los Angeles, the capital of car culture, was a big factor in undertaking this project. The writings of Reyner Banham, and the work of artists such as Ed Ruscha, George Tice and Joel Meyerowitz have played a role in influencing the visual style and narrative of this project.
For more on “Gas and Glamour” including press links, signed copies, and a book preview video visit: gasandglamour.com
To view architecture and art photography by Ashok visit: