It seems like nearly every block of Echo Park is home to an aging American-made van. Dodge Ram vans with tinted windows and bands of stripes. Ford Econoline 100s topped by ladders. Vans with teardrop shaped windows, snakeskin-like stripes, curtains and blinds. Many are mocked as outdated and some reviled because they are havens for the homeless. But Echo Park resident and photographer Orrin Anderson sees them differently; they are reflections of the unique personalities and stories of their owners and occupants. Since March 2008, he has been photographing these vehicles parked on the streets and lots of Echo Park, Silver Lake and other neighborhoods and uploaded them into a Flickr set called “We’re an American Van.”
Anderson, a freelance photographer, editor and teacher at Otis College of Art and Design, explains his fascination with the Ram vans of our past:
“I guess I feel that these vans are kind of emblematic of the owner’s personalities, and also of the way each of us are unique despite having the same basic “stuff”. They have a kind of dignity to me, like old elephants.”
Click on the link below for a Q&A with Anderson.
Q: Are these vans just from Echo Park?
A: No. Though most of them are from areas like Silver Lake, Echo Park, Frog Town, Westlake, etc. There’s one in the series that’s from Santa Barbara, but that’s an anomaly so far. I’d love to travel around more widely to shoot more, it’s just been difficult lately to find the time. Venice is full of great old vans. That’s definitely on the radar.
Q: How many van photos have you shot?
A: So far I published 50 on flickr, though I’ve shot many more than that. Many don’t make the cut because I’m not happy with the photography. I have a strange and fairly rigid set of standards for this series.
Q: What are you looking for when you takes a shot? Will any old van just do?
A: The most important thing is that the van is unique –either because it’s old and worn, tagged by graffiti, customized in some way, or severely damaged. It doesn’t matter how it’s unique, but it’s got to feel like it’s one of a kind in some way. I’ve limited this series to American vans, so there are no VWs, which kind of have their own established history and associations. I prefer the van to be the only vehicle in the shot, and I like to shoot in flat, gray light, which is really only common around here during June gloom, so that limits things a bit. I will make an exception to some of my photographic “rules” if the van is particularly fantastic though.
Q: Do you or have you ever owned a van?
A: In the mid to late 90s, I owned a Ford Club Wagon XLT with four captains chairs and a two-tone brown/golden brown paint job. It had tinted windows and scroll pinstripes. I had to get rid of it because it needed new king pins (and it got about 13mpg). It was the first motor vehicle I ever owned. It took me a while to get used to how little room there is inside a car.