If you own any photography books, chances are that you have seen the photo above.
Charlton Heston as Moses in Ten Commandments, towering over a neat assemblage of cars. Taken by J.R. Eyerman at a drive-in theatre in Utah, this photo was published in Life magazine’s special issue on U.S. Entertainment.
According to Eyerman’s family [on Reddit], he sat down with Cecil B. deMille, the director of Ten Commandments to choose the best single frame from the movie. He decided to take the photo in Utah — after all the film was previewed here before its national release, and was helped by the Mormon Church making it a required viewing. (This boon was not because the film was particularly theological, but because deMille enjoyed close friendships with the church elders, and even spoke at Brigham Young University’s commencement the preceding year).
After Eyerman found a drive-in with scenic background, he enticed college students from Brigham Young University with a free movie showing. It was a double exposure shot: he took the first exposure at the sunset, and the second (of the frame deMille chose) after the students had left. (Ten Commandments wasn’t screened for the students; the risque Roger Vadim film “And God Created Woman” featuring Brigitte Bardot was).
Beyond Eyerman’s technical prowess, the photo marked a subtle commentary on America of 1958 when it was published in Life magazine towards the end of the year. Suddenly, it was looking back at the year the post-war baby boom ended, the year Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated to West Coast; the year Alaska was granted statehood; the year Nabokov published his controversial Lolita; the year hula-hoop craze swept the nation. But no fad proved as enduring as America’s infatuation with automobile; by 1958 there were more than 50 million cars in America, and the year marked the 2nd anniversary of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, a massive infrastructure project that was reshaping the way Americans traveled.
Suburbs flourished. Gasoline was cheap. This was the decade of motels and carhops; if places and businesses weren’t drive-ins, they were drive-thrus — banks, restaurants, grocery stores. Even Charlton Heston seemingly proselytizing to “a congregation of rapt, immobile automobiles at prayer” as Time magazine put it, didn’t seem too far-fetched. Starting in 1949, a Lutheran priest in North Hollywood just did that with the first drive-in church service.
But even in times of such excitement, drive-in theatres proved to be a foolhardy exercise. Kerry Segrave reflects in Drive-in Theaters that television wasn’t a factor, but it didn’t help either. Even as the number of drive-in theatres grew to over 4,000 in 1958 (up from around 1,000 in 1950), television was becoming more and more prevalent. By 1958, 83% of American households had a television set in their homes, up from 9% in 1950. Segrave instead blames the decline of drive-in theatres on quality issues — poor equipment, sound, and maintenance. Economically, they were constrained by space and time of the day. With post-war baby boom ending, there were fewer and fewer needs for movie theatres where a family could bring a infant. By 1963, the number of drive-in theatres was down to 3,500 — a decline that would prove to be irreversible.
I am doing something crassly commercial here: I just signed up for Patreon. Patreon is a fundraising platform. In their words, “Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service.”
As you may notice in last few years, I have been posting very infrequently. But I want IP to go on for a long time and be sustainable. Linking a monetary value to a new post (not a ‘monthly salary’ — which is another way of doing Patreon) should give me a marginal incentive to write more. As far as the blog is concerned, nothing will change. No paywalls.
I will write a longer post about Patreon next week. A goal I have is bigger outreach. I had tremendous fun researching and writing Iconic Photos. I also feel what I wrote was worth sharing. So I wanted to run a few facebook ad campaigns, and eventually a short book — educating people history using photographs. This will be similar to this book I mocked up for an April Fool a few years ago. I am hoping Patreon can help. Patreon is more useful for YouTubers and podcasters, but let’s see how it goes for me: