Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Raise your leg


Sean Crane gets a lot of dog jokes. It’s to be expected, considering his recently released book is devoted exclusively to the documentation of … fire hydrants.

Go ahead, smirk. We here at Metro Times had a similar reaction, indulging in a mocking giggle when Crane’s American Hydrant (Santa Monica Press, $24.95, 176 pp.) first crossed the editor’s desk. But, strange as it may seem, it’s a lovely slice of Americana — a gorgeously photographed, clever peek into each of our 50 states.

It all started two years ago when Crane, then a New York City advertising executive, had a chance to do what so many of us only dream of: take a few months off work and explore the country. An avid photographer, Crane moved into the back of his car and set off to shoot the places and faces that make up our nation.

Early in the trip, inspiration struck.

“I started noticing brightly painted hydrants and thought it would be a good device to document America,” he says.

Crane had intended to use the photos for a large art project for his living room, but as he continued to shoot, the idea of a book dawned. During a Missouri sunset, Crane caught a yellow-topped hydrant sitting pretty underneath St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, bathed in the morning sun.

“That was the first time I started shooting the place more than the hydrant,” Crane says.

From that point on, he was on a mission to creatively capture a city or two in each state, using a fire hydrant to convey the surroundings.

After 10 months of traveling and burning a hole in the lens of his camera (all film, no digital for this guy), Crane came to Detroit for a job offer in advertising. Once settled in the Motor City, he began pitching the book idea to publishers, and secured a deal in less than four months.

Appropriately enough, the first entry is from Albertville, Ala.— the fire hydrant capital of the world. Some of the more memorable hydrant backdrops include a yellow brick road in Sedan, Kan.; a blurry Bourbon Street in New Orleans; graffiti in the Bronx; two young girls in witch costumes in Salem, Mass.; Mt. Rushmore in Black Hills, S.D.; and a reflective hubcap in the Motor City. Some photos are impromptu and some are staged, such as Crane’s car “defiantly parked” in front of a hydrant in Defiance, Ohio.

Of course, not every state presented such golden opportunities.

“Some of them were a stretch,” Crane admits, “Like Delaware.”

It turns out Delaware is home to many corporate headquarters, so Crane captured a hydrant in front of the du Pont building.

And, of course, no photographic essay on fire hydrants would be complete without at least one shot of a dog — here the mutt is Crane’s mother’s dog, frolicking in Cape Ann, Mass.

“I thought it would be a good idea to pitch it as the first coffee-table book for your dog,” Crane says, “but the publisher didn’t go for that.”

Sarah Klein is the interim arts editor of Metro Times. Send comments to

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