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ART : Taking Poetic License With Car Plates

August 18, 1995|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

SHERMAN OAKS — Road trips have always fascinated Arthur Drooker. Before he was old enough to drive, he was reading Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."

He was also passionate about history and photography. When he was about 14, his father gave him a World War II-era Kodak camera that fit in the pocket of his denim jacket. With the camera, "I loved the way you could take a look at things, [put] your own take on them," Drooker said. And, he said, another enthusiasm had been recognized years earlier by his third-grade teacher, who wrote on his report card: "Arthur enjoys history, particularly reading biographies of great men."

Today Drooker, a Los Angeles photographer and documentary producer, has combined these essential elements in his life with computer technology to create a series of digital prints, "Ten for the Road." On view at Orlando Gallery, each work integrates Drooker's photograph of a car license plate with images that depict people, places or events associated with the state and year on the license plate.

Each plate symbolizes "a place and a date that relate to something in history or to me, a road trip, a journey," he said.

"New York '64" conveys the energy of that year's New York World's Fair and--with its photograph of Drooker, 10, at the fair with his a friend--the idealism of that time. "I'd been to the fair five or six times," Drooker said. "I loved the excitement of seeing this vision of the future, as well as the Belgian waffles in the Belgian Pavilion. This was when the Mustang was introduced in the Ford Pavilion."

"California '55" contains an image of actor James Dean, from a still photograph from the film "Giant," and Drooker's photograph of the intersection where Dean died in a car crash. "Tennessee '57" sports Elvis' smile, two pink Cadillacs and images of money. It was the year Elvis bought Graceland. The plate in "New Mexico '45" says "Land of Enchantment," but Drooker's print also includes an image of an atomic bomb blast.

"To me, these license plates are artifacts, witnesses to these events I'm depicting," Drooker said.

"Oklahoma '37" was "this beat-up, dusty and discolored" plate. Perhaps it survived a trip along Route 66 to California in the '30s. The plate is now among Jeff Minard's license-plate collection in Manhattan Beach, which numbers more than 5,000. Minard let photograph his plates.

Drooker shot his first license-plate photograph, the main image of "Texas '51," in Archer City, Tex., a few years ago. He had made a pilgrimage to that town, the setting for the movie "The Last Picture Show"--to which he said he "had a real connection."

After photographing the plate, which hung on a wall in the local museum, and taking pictures of the town's main street, he got the idea of combining the pictures. Collaging images is something he had done before, by hand.

Today's computer technology allows him infinitely more flexibility in fusing images and produces a fine-quality print. Drooker chose Nash Editions in Manhattan Beach, a digital fine-art printmaking studio started by musician Graham Nash and computer whiz Mac Holbert, to create his prints.

After the images of each work were scanned into a computer, he worked with Holbert and Photoshop software to unite the elements in a lyrical composition.

"It was the perfect synergy between the idea and the way to do it," Drooker said. "It was a natural progression from collage."

And from the old-fashioned time capsule. Just like objects cemented in a building's cornerstone, these pictorial bits communicate the tenor of specific times and places. History, said Drooker, is "the key to telling us who we are as a people and where we are going. History is not static. The past is never over."

Where and When

What: "Ten for the Road: Digital Photographs by Arthur Drooker."

Location: Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Ends Sept. 1.

Call: (818) 789-6012.

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