America Hydrant, by Sean Crane
"Who knew that I'd develop such a fondness for fire hydrants?" asks author Sean Crane in the preface to American Hydrant. I can understand his surprise. Fire hydrants are an unlikely subject for a skilled photographer whose original idea was to capture the spirit of America though images of wildlife and people. What's even more amazing is that Crane succeeds in transforming his lowly subjects into evocative statements about the personality and character of towns and cities across the country. Every state is represented at least once, making this book a refreshingly unique coast-to-coast (plus Hawaii and Alaska) cultural exposé.
While most coffee table books are worth a few minutes of random-page perusal, I read American Hydrant from cover to cover in one sitting. Crane's vivid images, coupled with his pithy captions, had me smiling, thinking, and even laughing out loud. Consider a picture he shot in Ohio, for example, where he paused in a small town. There's the fire hydrant, and there's a car (possibly the author's own well-traveled Subaru) parked right in front of it. The town's name? Defiance.
Every photograph in American Hydrant is equally well composed, and each tells a story, elicits a feeling, or reflects a piece of history. In Dallas, for example, the hydrant sits on a grassy knoll. In Montgomery, Alabama, the back of a bus shares the frame, and in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a vintage cannon gives the hydrant historic context. Many of Crane photographs illustrate well-known characteristics of the places he took them. A hydrant in Seattle is visible through the window of a coffee house. A shiny Las Vegas hydrant reflects the lights from the Flamingo hotel on the Strip, and a Detroit hydrant is captured in the reflection of a hubcap.
American Hydrant is worth more than one look. It's a book that not only provides a visual feast but also plenty of food for thought. Not only has Crane assembled a creative and original pictorial tour of the United States, his book is a vivid reminder of the common culture Americans share. As he concludes in his preface, "The hydrant was the perfect device to document America. After all, you can find one on virtually every street corner in the country, if you care to look." Fortunately for us, Sean Crane cared not only to look, but to immortalize dozens of them in this fascinating book.