Four Women and a ‘Deuce and a Quarter’: A 1999 Roadtrip, in Photographs

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© Vinca Petersen, Courtesy of IDEA

Vinca Petersen’s vibrant new book documents a summer spent driving across the USA with friends Corinne Day, Rosemary Ferguson and Susie Babchick

There is a visceral sensitivity to the work of photographer Vinca Petersen, who, since she first picked up a camera as a child, has turned her lens on her loved ones – a family formed at least in part through friends, in the squats she lived in as a teenager in London, the raves she attended during that chaotic and transcendental time and the nomadic communities she remained a figure within in the years after. And it’s this sensitivity which singles out Petersen’s work even now: it runs like a thread through her vast archive of intimate snapshots, which serve as glimpses into the relationships that have characterised phases of her life.

Her newest publication, entitled Deuce and a Quarter (after the car they drove – a 1970s Buick Electra 225) and published with IDEA, is no exception; it follows Petersen and three close friends – Corinne Day, Rosemary Ferguson and Susie Babchick – as they drove across the United States in 1999. In hindsight, it serves as a rare and precious insight into the quiet alchemy that can occur when four likeminded people share such close space for an extended period of time, stepping into spaces “where we weren’t advised to go” and doing what “we weren’t advised to do” and seizing every moment for the sake of itself, without any thought of external forces. To flick through it now feels like a jet of cool fresh air – its protagonists carried along on an undercurrent of pure, unimpeded freedom the likes of which we’re rarely afforded in our hyper-connected modern world. It’s beautiful, joyful, clear and sharp. Here, Petersen remembers that time.

On how the 1999 roadtrip came about…
“I had been travelling in vehicles around Europe since I was 18, and, being inspired by things like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and films such as Paris Texas, and other great American roadtrips, it was inevitable I would leap at any opportunity to do a long drive across America. Corinne and Susie invited me on a roadtrip they had already planned, partly I think because they knew I was good at fixing cars, and of course I said yes.”

On where they went and what they saw…
“We drove from Houston, which was Susie’s hometown, to Austin, followed the Llano River, stayed in a hotel which Bonnie and Clyde had stayed in, and ended up in a dodgy, dusty little town just inside the Mexican border. 

“We saw the road, the endless horizons, we saw the little fluffy clouds and the sunsets, we saw the people and the street life of the open road.”

On what the USA was like at that time…
“The USA for me is something very different now, but back then it was the biggest place I’d ever been. It was a place where I felt I could be truly lost and free and untraceable, and just do what I was doing, with people I was with, without any influence from elsewhere. 

“It was the land of colour and lights and size and ridiculousness and fun. But at the same time it was a big, dark, crazy, out-of-control capitalist play-park – too big for the people trying to live in it and too all-consuming for any open human being. I saw that the sensitive souls among its people were often just trying to survive, trying to keep their heads above water, while all around them the madness continued relentlessly. 

“I saw guns too. Guns in the hands of all sorts of people. Guns in too many people’s hands. Dark symbols of human possibility.”

On her strongest memory from that time – the parties, and the fights, or the lack thereof…
“I remember most strongly feeling free. We were four women moving through the world harmoniously, on a mission, so of course we partied and no, we didn’t fight.

“There’s a problem people have with imagining women out in the world, adventuring and being a little wild, without a sense of impending disaster. No, none of us got hurt. None of us overdosed on drugs. None of us died. Sure we got irritated with each other on occasion – long journeys do that – but generally we got on well. We went where we weren’t advised to go, did what we weren’t advised to do and survived it beautifully. This book is evidence of that.” 

On their driving music…
“Everything wasn’t perfect then. You couldn’t listen to whatever music you wanted anywhere you wanted at the touch of your screen. We just had the radio, AM and FM, and listened to whatever the DJs in each area wanted to play that day. We listened to some rubbish music and we listened to some great tunes and were delighted each time something good came on! I remember listening to Gospel radio, Evangelical programmes, Mexican stations, MPR, Hip Hop and a lot of Emmylou Harris.” 

On her favourite images from the series…
“One of the images that holds a great memory for me in a personal way is the self portrait I took of myself lying on a rock facing the dawn sun. I just rested my little camera on the rock and put it on a timer and captured myself because I wanted to remember the feeling I had that morning. I had woken up early and wandered off from the place we were staying and down to the Llano River and found these great big rocks which were gradually turning pink as the sun rose. I lay on one for a while and I felt very calm and at one with the world.

“As with all my photos I’m not so interested in the technical side of image-making but instead in harvesting those moments in time which I want to keep with me forever. 

“On a completely different level I also love the image I took whilst in the back of Los Magnificos’ car. They were Chicanos showing off their pride and joy and I asked if I could have a ride in the car and it was beautiful machine. They loved their cars and had such fun showing them off. There was a huge energy in the air, a real buzz.” 

On how she feels looking back on these photographs now…
“As with all my archive, I feel they are a window into my memory and catalysts for emotion and ideas for myself and other people.”

Deuce and a Quarter by Vinca Petersen comes out on October 4, 2018, published by IDEA. The book launch will take place on October 4 at Dover Street Market London