Every fall, I make a trip to Dallas to see my family for Thanksgiving. Usually I fly direct, since the older I get the more I hate driving, but this year I made the decision to drive from Minneapolis in order to cross something off my bucket list. Cadillac Ranch. For those who arn’t familiar with it, Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation on a piece of farmland right next to Interstate 40 in Amarillo Tx. The Installation has been moved 3 miles from its original location to accommodate the expansion of the nearby city, but its still on private land owned by Millionaire Stanley Marsh the 3rd.
Since its installation in 1974, by the art group Ant Farm (Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels… Wiki – Cadillac Ranch), the upturned classic Cadillacs have taken on an air of legend (and graffiti). I first remember hearing about them in a ‘Texas History’ class in Elementary school. Even though I grew up in Texas, I never made an effort to visit the installation, but it always lurked in the back of my mind to see it some day.
Normally the drive down takes about 15 hours straight. In order to tolerate the long haul, I implored my buddy Andy Birkey to be my co-pilot for the voyage with the promise of free thanksgiving feasts, some vacation time away from the cities, and a chance to see these mythic upturned desert Cadillacs. In my mind I thought the detour west on I40 out of Oklahoma City would only add a couple hours to my journey…… A few hours turned into an extra 6-8 hours total. Just a tad more than I expected.
Was it what I expected? No, it was rather static and pedestrian (and smelled of cow a bit, as many things do out in that part of Texas), but to be fair the life long myth of a place rarely lives up to ones own imagination. I dutifully popped out the camera to document the place. Dumping my emotions and expectations and trying to see the installation for what it was and for what my memory would think of the place once it was evaluated by my imagination later. I find that photography can see the rawness in a subject and leave a vacancy for imagination and fantasy to be brought to an image through the viewer. Not all photographs are this way, but many landscapes often rely upon this underlying structure.
Looking at the photos from the Ranch is somewhat disorienting for me…. The place feels much more vacant and lonely in the photographs than I remember. I believe this has to do with my efforts to minimize the houses, people, and cars from my compositions in order to make the subject the focus, but partly it has to do with the absence of my journey to get there. In my mind, I remember all of the driving, the searching through city streets for my exit, plowed farm field (which is surrounded fairly closely by urban shopping centers and housing… I wonder if they will have to move it once again in the near future). Whatever the reason, I’m happy with the photos esthetically, but I still puzzle in my mind how I feel about the installation itself as an art object.
Is it art? Sure, Why not. Did I enjoy it? Sure. Did I leave my mark on it? Yes, and I suppose thats part of experience. I’m not sure I have any reason to see it again. (Thats partly due to the remote nature of it). Its a hell of a drive to visit such a tiny dot on the map, but worth the drive once since I had avoided it for so long. I did stop off at “The Big Texan”, home of the 72 ounce steak challenge, where I polished off a meager 8ounces of steak, bought a pair of real Longhorns to mount on my truck and set off for Dallas.
Cadillac Ranch….. I’ve been there.