Photographer Lindsey Rickert has just published a collection of photos of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in America after taking a 12,000-mile road trip throughout the country. Check out our interview with her below, with accompanying photos of these icons of mid-century American pop culture.
For a little over two months, Porland photographer Lindsey Rickert roamed the roads of the United States photographing as many drive-in cinemas as possible. After covering over 12,000 miles, she immortalized these outdoor cinemas from another time, symbols of an America that’s beginning to disappear. For the recent release of her collection of photos entitled Drive-In America, we asked her to tell us how she got started, and which drive-ins she recommends for catching a film!
What made you decide to do a photo series on drive-ins?
Drive-In Theatres were a staple in my childhood: playing tag under the big screen, eating way too much popcorn, and falling asleep midway through the double feature in a pile of blankets. There was something so special about the experience. As I got older, the surrounding drive-in theatres started to go dark and this American icon slipped my mind. This all changed in the summer of 2013, while assisting on a shoot at “99W Drive-In,” located in Newberg, Oregon and my new obsession to document these at-risk and extinct icons began.
In the last few decades, the number of drive-in theatres has been in rapid decline. Once boasting more than 4,000 locations during their heyday in the 1950s, there will be less than 400 theatres still in operation as this book is published. In 2013, the film industry announced a full conversion to digital media, making 35mm film a relic of the past, along with all of the projectors that theatres once showed their films each night. The $80,000 financial burden of upgrading to a digital projector impacted, in particular, drive-in theatres especially hard, as most are operated seasonally.
To me and those who remember them, drive-in theatres are a grand symbol of America’s past, a memento of history left as we quickly progress into an overly-digitized world. This project was about exploring one facet of this shift. The ruins of a forgotten drive-in are the physical embodiment of ideas and objects becoming obsolete as a result of technological advances. One cannot completely blame technology or sociology for how quickly we have shifted our perception and way of experiencing life. However, coming from a photography background, a medium that has greatly changed in the last two decades by digital advances, it is hard not to be fascinated with how these changes affect our culture and way of life.
A second part of this project was less about drive-in theatres and more about my own identity. Being able to finally realize the often romanticized notion of a road trip, and the possibility of “finding oneself” along the way. With nothing but road ahead and behind it was a chance to discover all of America and maybe a thing or two about myself.
What are your favorite drive-ins that are still running?
This is always a hard question because I get emails all the time telling me about amazing theatres that are still running that I didn’t get the chance to visit on my trip. My top 3 from my trip would have to be (in no particular order):
99W Drive-In (Newberg, Oregon)
This one will always be special to me since it was where the idea for this entire project was born and the owner, Brian Francis, was so incredible nice and welcoming as I was starting my research for this project. He was a wealth of information and I am so thankful that he was generous enough to share so much history with me.
Valle Drive-In (Newton, Iowa)
Not only because it is in my home state, but because the entire trip I was desperately hoping to stumble upon the old speakers that you hung on your car window. I was on the last 1.5 weeks of my trip when I finally made it to the Valle Drive-In and I was so excited to see that the first several rows all had the original speakers from 1942 and they still worked!
Delsea Drive-In (Vineland, New Jersey)
Pulling up to the sea of cars waiting to get into the Delsea was like nothing I had ever seen. As you looked down the long line of cars, you would be crazy to think that drive-ins are struggling anywhere. The Delsea is a well oiled machine and has perfected every aspect of what they do.
Do you think drive-ins are likely to disappear in the near future?
I don’t think drive-ins will ever disappear completely. While the number has reduced drastically from those peaks in the 1950s, that love for everything the drive-in is and represents is still very much alive around the country. Communities have banded together and fought to save these relics. In fact, new drive-in theatres have opened since I first started this project.
About Drive-In Theatres: https://lindsey-rickert.squarespace.com/drive-in-theaters
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