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2005 09 21
Tricked Out - Shooting in a suburban strip mall plaza

I escaped Scarborough to rid myself of emptiness -- that specific type of desolation that is expressed in endless hydro fields, car dealerships and parking lots. I wanted to come closer to a life on the pedestrian street and to a manageable chaos away from the planned subdivision.

As the centre of town is now increasingly more gentrified and controlled to yield a profit, the suburb resurfaces as a space that can be taken over and remade in something else’s image. Even when space is planned human activity reshapes and repurposes it. Often it is the people left out of the equation that take on this task.

The common noises of screeching tires, booming music and thundering mufflers on Dundas, where I now live, led me to research tuner car culture. I wondered where do they go after exhausting this small strip of neighbourhood. This, in turn, led me back to Scarborough.

At 16th Avenue and Woodbine there is a non-descript plaza situated between railroad tracks, farmland and cookie-cut subdivisions. I was told if I wanted to do a photo shoot that it should happen there. It is a central location without too many cops around, a 24-hour donut shop and easy access to the highway.

What are these kids doing in the strip malls at night? Loafing around in their tricked-out Honda Civics, “rice-rockets” which they’ve spent way too much cash customizing. Occupying the empty lots that by day are filled with customers. They are socializing through their cars and cars need parking lots. The lack of real public space in this suburb makes the parking lot the ideal spot. Their own private space is created inside their cars often outfitted with DVD players, sound systems and Playstations. By the grace of the landlord these kids are allowed to spend their summer nights sitting on folding camp chairs admiring each other’s rides, listening to music or playing video games.

My crew of four set up large strobe flash units facing the first car. After each shot, we signaled the drivers to switch positions for the next shot. The engines were revved, the tires squealed and the cars were deftly maneuvered into place at speeds a little too high for such tight spaces. By 2am we were done shooting the team of nine drivers.

As we drove home in my crappy Civic it dawned on me that in the lonely inhospitable streets of suburban Scarborough the car makes perfect sense. The kids’ cars seemed to give them power by allowing them to carve out a space, to express their purchasing power and by giving them the ability to span large distances from Scarborough to Woodbridge in a matter of minutes. The landscape formed these kids and they soon form it.
[email this story] Posted by Patricio Davila on 09/21 at 03:01 AM

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