From its humble New Jersey beginnings in 1932, with an outdoor projector and a bed sheet, the drive-in movie theater has become synonymous with post-war optimism, and an iconic representation of the nation’s love affair with the automobile. Before World War II, the drive-in was a modest trend. But after the war the craze began in earnest, peaking in popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960’s. Drive-ins were ideal for the young family, everyone jumped into the car, no babysitter needed. “Car Culture” had officially arrived as a dominant force on the American scene. At its height there were more than 4,000 nationwide. Today there are less then 400, and in danger of disappearing altogether.
Many factors contribute to the demise of the drive in. Over time, changing real estate values began to have an effect on the drive-in. Land became too valuable for a summer-only business. Widespread adoption of daylight saving time in the mid 1960’s subtracted an hour from outdoor evening screening time. The decline was further hastened by the advent of VCRs and home video rentals. As digital projection becomes the industry standard, with a conversion cost upwards of $80,000, many more are sure to disappear as the expense becomes prohibitive.
My interest in this uniquely American form of entertainment is both artistic and personal. I’ve had a long-held interest in 20th-century popular culture and the man-made environment. As I travel the back roads with my camera I strive to record this rapidly vanishing quintessential American experience. Through this series I explore the evolution of our social history and habits, and the importance of preserving a record of the past.
Stefanie Klavens’ work focuses on the importance of place and documentation of visual aspects of the American social landscape. Her photographs encourage deeper thought into subject matter often taken for granted: outdated motels, historic single-screen movie palaces, disappearing drive-in theaters, and the quirky individuality displayed in private homes and places of business. Through her work she preserves a cultural record of the past.
Klavens, a 2015 Massachusetts Cultural Council grant recipient, studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, where she received her BFA and was awarded a Traveling Fellowship. Recent achievements include an Artists Resource Trust grant from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, 2014; and Shortlist, APA / Lucie Foundation Scholarship in 2014. These honors were awarded for her work documenting both single screen movie palaces and drive-in theaters.
Currently her work can be seen in an exhibit of contemporary American photographers in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China at Sanlang Art Dimension. Klavens’ solo exhibits include the National Heritage Museum, Lexington, MA; Davis Orton Gallery, Hudson, NY; Vermont Center for Photography; Catamount Arts, Saint Johnsbury, Vermont; and the New England Institute of Art, Brookline, MA. Her work has also been include in exhibits at the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA; Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA; The Photographic Resource Center, Boston, MA; Houston Center for Photography, TX; the Danforth Museum, Framingham, MA; and Tufts University, Medford, MA. Her work has appeared in Yankee Magazine, the Boston Globe, Harpers Magazine and is held in many private collections.