© 2008 Todd Oldham Studio – Courtesy of www.ammobooks.com
Driving along US Interstate 40 across the Western U.S., I might have seen the signs announcing the opportunity to visit Bedrock City and my thoughts would have drifted off to one of the many Flintstones cartoons I enjoyed as a child. Or perhaps you had a car load of kids driving along this same endless stretch of road, and upon seeing the signs, they began to bedevil you during the ensuing drive, for just a quick stop to stop and see and THEN everyone promises to be good. Todd Oldham, a designer and photographer, did visit Bedrock City many years ago, and has now returned to provide a whimsical and insightful take on this ageless, but aging memory.
In one regard, this book is a documentary of an amusement park, which was developed in the high desert of Arizona, some 35 years ago. The site is a twenty acre re-creation of the Flintstones cartoon home of Bedrock City, a cartoon series developed by Hanna-Barrera studios. It is located off the beaten track, North of Williams en-route to the Grand Canyon. Not exactly near any large cities, and not a destination in its own right, such as a family visit to Disneyland.
I think that Oldham captures the tacky essence of this side attraction, the bright, fully saturated cartoon colors, the silly signs, the crude representations of the animals and unsophisticated characters of this cartoon series. He photographs these larger than life structures, which represents a fictional time and place. When I try to think of these photographs with the eyes of my grandson, I think that he would go off the wall with delight. As a child, he would look beyond much of the surface content and allow his imagination to go wild.
And he would probably be bugging us for a long time to go visit Bedrock City.
I am struck by the absence of people in Oldham’s photographs, although I can detect the traces of their presence in the footsteps in the dirt. It is a bit odd to have a documentary of an amusement park, a place for people but without the direct presence of anyone. As a result this forces me to see the infrastructure and design of the buildings and components of the park itself. I become more aware of its surroundings, see the high desert terrain and open landscape in which it is situated. The effect makes me feel more isolated, a contradiction in what this light hearted attraction is supposedly about.
In one sense this book is about our youth, to have wild fantasies, and while remembering the cartoon series, it provides romanticized thoughts about ideal family relationships. A time of fun, joy, and escape. In another sense, it is about the hard edge of adult realities that are looming in the near distance of childlike innocence. The potential hard landscape of adulthood, which can become dry and desolate, such as that lurking in the far distance within his photographs.
The photographs show that this attraction is old, dated, and representational, with worn, crude construction. You see glimpses of the inner structure peeking out and holding up the facade. The cartoon characters are crudely constructed, hard and inanimate, and they seem to project little or no warmth for me. Oldham’s photographs of this place also puts me on edge, because as an adult, I see beyond the best intentions of the place and the crude infrastructure that is lurking in the edges of the frame.
On the surface, this is a lighthearted body of work, but I find it have a subtle cynical edge to it.
The book has a few very whimisical and unusual elements for a photographic book, such as the 3 postcards located inside the back cover that you can detach the perforations and mail. Much like the post cards you would obtain at the souvinor shop, and oh yes, they are that tacky. Very cool.
The book’s dust cover can be easily removed and morphs into a fun two-sided poster, with one side loaded with Bedrock City trivia. The printed stiff cover book is 8 1/2″ x 11″, 60 pages with one perforated gate fold. The Introduction is provided by Oldham and includes an article about the book written by Michael Graves, another noted Designer.
By Douglas Stockdale