Whilst working in Myanmar on a commission for Mazda, I was struck by the fact that every petrol station was different and so unlike the uniformity of branding that we are used to in Europe, North America etc.
The gas stations made me think of Ruscha’s seminal 1963 work ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’.
Back then he photographed 26 gas stations along the route from his home in LA to his parents home in Oklahoma and the straight, topographical b/w images were presented in the now iconic book. The work spoke of the rise of America as a world power and the role of oil and car culture in that rise. It was, in many ways, the first time that photography or art had used the book form as its primary expression - and the repetition and almost anti-aesthetic of the pictures was an early part of the pop art movement exploring ideas of branding and consumerism.
So….I’ve shamelessly nicked his idea and transported it to Myanmar.
As we travelled, I was chatting to our local Burmese fixer and quizzing him about these odd petrol stations, especially the little roadside stalls with water bottles full of gasoline. He told me that the oil and petrol business in Myanmar had been controlled by the state for many years (Myanmar does have it's own oil reserves) and with the opening up of the country and the loosening of regulations things were starting to change. As we drove from Yangon to Mandalay I would yell to stop the car every time we passed a gas station - he (and my client) thought I was completely nuts of course, but they were very obliging. Once I'd discovered the little 'water bottle' outlets I was fascinated. It wasn't always easy for an outsider to know which were drinks stops and which 'gas stations' - it seemed to me that the clue was the yellow ten gallon plastic containers that signify that the content of the bottles is petrol - although the second to last image is a bit ambiguous, I wouldn't drink it!
After the landmark elections of 2015, Myanmar is starting to open up to foreign investment after 50 years of military rule. There is a palpable excitement in the country and there will be big changes ahead. I’m guessing that the big foreign oil companies will be some of the first to move in.