CAMION (Truck, 2004) is a series of photographs presented as both a book and a slide show. Most of the images are of lorries seen from the back or side, but some are of metal goods containers at rest in depots and garages. All the photographs were taken in Peru, mostly on motorways, most of them from a moving car.
For any given lorry there is usually just one slide, or one photograph in the book, occupying the right hand page opposite a blank left. Occasionally there are two images, the first taken from behind and the second from the side, when the car from which Andrade Tudela took the shot caught up with the truck. Where this is the case, there are two adjacent projections in the slide show, or an image on facing pages in the book. Details in many of the photographs indicate that we are in the developing world: goods tower above the open tops of overfilled lorries, some are covered with bulging tarpaulins. But the more significant indication of location is the nature of the decoration on the vehicles’ sides. All are emblazoned with coloured patterns, but these are never slick enough to look like North American corporate logos. They are closer, in fact, to home-made design. All these patterns are ‘hard-edged’, with lots of parallel bands, gradated colours and swooping diagonals.
Leafing through the book, published by Counter Gallery and Koenig Books (and CAMION is much more successful as book than slide show), it’s impossible not to think of Ed Ruscha’s Twenty-six Gasoline Stations (1963).
Andrade Tudela’s project is a complex reworking of Ruscha’s, and not only on the level of subject matter. Like Ruscha’s book, it fits neatly in your hands, but more significantly, the kind of photography used is exactly the kind that Benjamin Buchloh, writing on Ruscha, described as ‘amateurish’. Shots are out of focus, composition is haphazard; there’s some blurring and poor exposure. When Ruscha de-skilled it, ‘art photography’ was still dominated by the formally exquisite work of Aaron Siskind, Irving Penn and others. Andrade Tudela’s project emerges just when single-image, re-skilled photography has returned and gained massive institutional and market endorsement. While Andrade Tudela’s reprise of Ruscha’s strategy is now urgent and corrective, his subject matter prompts us to think in new ways about the other kind of work Ruscha opposed. If the older artist pitted his photo books against Modernist photography, he also suggested alternatives to abstract Modernist painting, which in 1963 was just about reaching exhaustion. It is this kind of painting that haunts Andrade Tudela’s images.
Many of the designs on the vehicles invoke 1960s hard-edged abstraction. Some recall Kenneth Noland’s ‘Chevron paintings’ (1963 onwards), others Frank Stella’s ‘Running V’ series (1964–5). There’s even one simple design that calls to mind Ellsworth Kelly’s two-panel monochromes. But what does it mean to see abstract painting on the sides of lorries, and for which viewers do these images have these associations? I don’t really think Andrade Tudela is asking us to see how close logos are to Modernist painting; this would be a pedantic and dull idea anyway. His photographs pose different questions: when we see these lorries in the context of an art book or gallery, how does our understanding differ from the encounter of an ordinary Peruvian driver who follows the vehicles without a camera? How different are the sensibilities of a Modernist painter before his canvas and a Peruvian trucker, decorating his vehicle? If these photos are witness to the sensibility of an artist who finds the aesthetic in the most mundane surroundings, then is this act of discovery utterly private and absurd, or is it an act of salvage from the otherwise humdrum?
One can assume that the lorries Andrade Tudela photographed were driving on specific routes, delivering goods from A(requipa) to B(olivia) and back again, whereas Andrade Tudela’s route must have been utterly random. Once one vehicle had been photographed, he would have pursued a different truck and so on. CAMION might thus be a kind of allegory of photography, forever chasing moving targets, travelling an endless and random journey, one whose logic is totally distanced from the rationalized logic of the movement of goods. But if photography emerges through CAMION as a motorway flâneur, so too its archival impulses are witnessed. The series is an archive (necessarily incomplete) of all these proto-logos.
Photographic archives tend to emerge at the moment of their subject’s obsolescence: think of the disappearing buildings of Eugène Atget’s Paris, the increasingly outmoded mining shafts photographed by the Bechers. So too, one might assume, the colourful and quirky lorry designs glimpsed in Andrade Tudela’s CAMION will disappear as small businesses make way for international freight companies. One day the slicker signs of FedEx or DHL will dominate. CAMION becomes more incisive when we recall that proliferating internationally recognizable logos are usually considered as the definitive evidence of globalization. Here their delightful, individual precursors are shown as its potential, or rather inevitable, victims.