The drive-in theater is an American summertime classic, and June 6 marks the 80th anniversary of the opening of the very first theater in Camden, N.J. in 1933. Park-In Theaters, the brainchild of chemical company magnate Richard Hollingshead, charged 25 cents for each car and an additional 25 for each passenger, and advertised with the slogan, “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”
A number of these nostalgic spaces are still in operation in the U.S. (as of 2012, the number stood at 368), but abandoned drive-ins also dot the American landscape, their weathered screens and dilapidated ticket booths serving as reminders of a bygone era. Craig Deman, a Santa Monica, Ca.-based photographer, has made it his mission to document these remnants in 10 different states over four years. His images are both evocative and haunting.
“For me, abandoned drive-ins just kind of scream out,” he says, adding that he still has vivid memories of seeing movies like Mary Poppins in his pajamas as a child. “From a photographic perspective, their sheer scale and the environments that they’re located in, with the backdrops of landscapes -- it’s just awesome for me.”
The project required a heavy amount of legwork, with Deman doing all of the research necessary to ensure that he would have full access to drive-ins located on private property (most, but not all, of the drive-ins that he shot are no longer in use.) He shot with both a DSLR and a medium-format film camera, sometimes spending the night in his car to capture the perfect early-morning light.
Deman completed the project in December of last year, and is currently working with several galleries and museums to put together a showcase of these images. He’s hoping to eventually incorporate the drive-ins into a larger body of work called “Endangered Icons.”
Scroll through images from the Drive-In Project below, and watch this space in the coming weeks for more stories on historic drive-ins around the country.