Off the Side of the Road to Mandalay

For the last half century, Burma's oil industry has largely gone unrealized. Political instability and a lack of infrastructure kept most of the global energy companies away, but now that democracy has loosened the country's borders, a new culture of cars, highways, and gas stations is emerging. The photographer Craig Easton captured this unique moment in the Southeast Asian nation's history with his series 26 Gas Stations. “I was struck by the fact that every petrol station was different and so unlike the uniformity of branding that we are used to in North America,” he said. Some of the stations Easton photographed on his journey from Rangoon to Mandalay were nothing more than “old tarpaulin stretched over a single petrol pump,” while others look like an Exxon original—plus brightly colored paint. Easton was inspired by Ed Ruscha’s essay of a similar title (Twentysix Gas Stations). “As Ruscha’s work in 1963 spoke of the freedom of the road and the relationship of 60s America to the automobile and the wealth of a nation built on oil,” Easton said, “the gas stations of [Burma] seem to tell a story of a nation ready for change.”

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