Daily Art Moment: Dan Powell

Image description: The Dalles, Oregon, Dan Powell, 1989, gelatin silver print, image: 12 11/16 x 15 7/8 inches; sheet: 16 x 19 7/8 inches. A black and white photograph featuring a drive-in movie screen and a bare tree amid an austere hilly, landscape. The movie screen occupies the upper left quadrant of the photo and shows the screen in a three-quarter view. A triangular structure supports the screen and its crossbar construction creates further triangular shapes. A small leafless tree stands near the screen and its darker branches cover most of the surface of the white screen. A dark wooden post and wire screen fence starts at center left and juts into the space behind the tree. The surrounding ground is strewn with bare branches and scrub grass. In the distance at right center and even with the bottom of the movie screen, the Dalles Bridge crosses a portion of the Columbia River. Low-slung, far-off hills bisect the photo in half. The top half of the photo shows a pale sky with light, wispy clouds.

Drive-in theaters were a staple of American popular culture during the mid-twentieth century. According to the New York Film Academy, more than 4,000 drive-ins dotted the landscape during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in rural locations. By the 1970s and 1980s, smaller automobiles, the emergence of the VCR, and other factors like the rising value of the land where drive-ins were located gradually ate away at this beloved cinematic experience. Although the number of drive-ins dropped to just over 300 in recent years, they didn’t disappear completely, and the popularity of outdoor cinema has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although this pictured location in The Dalles may be gone, the M-F Drive-In Theater in Milton Freewater is in its seventh decade of business, and the La Grande Drive-In has been in operation since 1951. Closer to Portland, many outdoor screening options are available this year: Among others, 99-W Drive-In has been screening in Newberg since 1953 (with a screen salvaged from a closed Portland drive-in), and the Northwest Film Center’s Rooftop Cinema at Lloyd Center is showing multiple films every week through September 30 on Portland’s east side.

Julia Dolan, The Minor White Curator of Photography

Dan Powell (American, born 1950), The Dalles, Oregon, 1989, gelatin silver print, Gift of the artist, 91.36

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