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Published: Sunday, 1/2/2005

Photographer celebrates humble hydrant


AMERICAN HYDRANT. By Sean Crane. Santa Monica Press. 176 pages. $24.95.

Whether you are on your way to work or just walking your dog, you probably pass by dozens - maybe hundreds - of them every day.

Chances are good, however, that your dog is more likely to notice the fire hydrants before you do. That's because unless you're a firefighter or you work for a municipal water department, fire hydrants generally aren't something most people notice.

Sean Crane, however, isn't like most people. An advertising copywriter in Detroit who has also worked in Boston, Denver, and New York, Crane decided to take a break from his career to indulge his second love: photography.

He gathered his camera, clothes, and belongings into his Subaru and headed out for a 10-month trip to photograph wildlife, nature, and people in all 50 states.

About a month into the trip, he was driving along the Georgia coast when he noticed "the unusually bright, red and orange paint of a hydrant, catching a glint of late afternoon light." He thought he would photograph one hydrant in each town he visited and make a poster for his apartment.

What he ended up with instead was American Hydrant, featuring an eclectic mix of colorful photos of fire hydrants from across the country.

Crane noticed that hydrants often have distinctive colors depending on the town or region he was traveling in. (Some Toledoans may remember the flap over former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's order in 1997 that more than 10,000 hydrants be painted green and white as part of his urban beautification program.)

The book shows at least one photo in each of the 50 states, though some states are better represented than others. California and Virginia are featured in five pictures each; Massachusetts, New York, and Texas, four each; and Pennsylvania and West Virginia have three apiece.

Only one hydrant each was photographed in Ohio and Michigan.

The photo in Ohio was taken in Defiance, and it shows a silver car parked directly in front of a red fire hydrant. "Defiantly parked," the author states.

The Michigan photo was taken in Detroit and shows a fire hydrant reflected in the silver hubcap of a Buick with the words, "Curbside in the Motor City." Crane said the photo typifies his efforts at "not only giving the hydrants a sense of place, but doing so in a conceptual way."

Crane lists the location of each hydrant, points out its location on a silhouette map of the state, and adds a few words about the picture. Sometimes, those few words are as interesting or as humorous as the picture.

A picture from the Sabine Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, for example, shows a fire hydrant sticking out of the middle of a swampy area with nothing else around. Anticipating readers wondering why a hydrant is located in such a remote location, Crane provides one possible answer: "Just in case an alligator catches on fire."

Jim Wilhelm is The Blade's city editor.

Contact him at: jwilhelm@theblade.com or 419-724-6070.

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