Cameras on Van Scan Fans

On Cross-Country Trip, Filmmaker Looks for the Smiles

When Harrod Blank recently drove through the streets of Manhattan in his "camera van," the most common reaction from pedestrians was, "What the f--is that?"

"That" is a 1972 Dodge van plastered from hood to hubcap with 1,700 cameras. Yesterday, it sat on Quincy Street in front of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts as part of Blank's United States tour.

"Seeing people react is definitely a main motivating factor for any car artist," said Blank, a 32-year-old resident of Berkeley, Calif. He and his van--which gets about seven miles to the gallon--have been on the road since April.

When the van was parked in front of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts yesterday afternoon and evening, it drew many curious passers-by who doubled as photographic subjects, for the cameras aren't duds.

In fact, 10 of them operate from a remote control in the van's front seat.

A few dozen photographs taken with the van's cameras cover its inside ceiling and show people in various states of laughter, amazement and disarray. Hanging from the inside top edge of the windshield are slides with dyed edges. The floor and sides of the van are covered with photographic paraphernalia.

General reactions to the converted Dodge vehicle include "a lot of awe, dropped jaws, gawking expressions, smiles," Blank said, and added that the smiles are a big part of what keeps him going.

Blank doesn't know how long he'll be on his tour, he said.

"I'm just experiencing right now," he said. His next stop is St. Louis in early October.

The van is his sole source of support.

"My job is not to have a job and do what I want to do," he said. He receives about $1,000 for each appearance at museums, colleges and lecture halls, which helps pay for gas and living expenses, he said.

For the past few months, Blank has traveled with his "co-pilot" Dan Lohaus, 24, and his girlfriend.

Lohaus lived next door to Blank when he began working on the van, which took a year to construct.

Often, people see the van and tell the same joke, Lohaus said.

"They say, 'If I had a camera, I'd take a picture of it," he said. "They crack up hysterically at themselves to a joke we've heard 3,000 times."