Twentysix Gasoline Stations on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology
National Highway One spans the 287km between Dhaka and Teknaf Upazila, connecting the Bangladeshi capital with Chittagong, the second largest city.  These photographs, taken over two days in late January 2013, document 26 of the more interesting gas stations on the south bound highway, en-route Chittagong. There are around 9,000 petrol stations and 584 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) stations in Bangladesh. Most stations on N1 have CNG which is produced in Bangladesh and used by all autorickshaws and many buses and trucks.
These photographs pay homage to Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations published in 1963 which recorded 26 gas stations between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. Ruscha’s images were shot and printed in black and white although some of them formed the basis for a colour screen-print series.
The images here appropriate the seriality of Ruscha’s book and something of the aesthetics of his screen-prints. Whereas Ruscha’s 1960s documentation of the US automonster might be read as evidence of an increasing homogenization and corporatisation, these Bangladeshi edifices seem to betray a much greater variability. There are also subtle traces of the political conflicts that are driving Bangladesh’s current simmering revolution. In some images there is evidence of the impact of a Jamaat-i-Islami hartal: the systematic breaking of windscreens on trucks and buses that remained on the road led to many seeking refuge on the forecourts of gas stations.
Is this Orientalism, the imposition of an experimental aesthetic protocol from the Imperial heartland? Or does repetition with difference help to transform a landscape of ‘belatedness’?