When I first moved to the United States I was surprised to see cars from so many states besides New York parked on the streets of Manhattan. It immediately occurred to me to begin documenting license plates from as many different states as I could find. American plates are of particular interest to us Brits (well, this one at least). The UK’s nondescript white-and-yellow plates are graphically identical, irrespective of a car’s town or county of origin. By contrast, America’s colorful plates feature a variety of great graphics and quaint slogans. Seen together they are a celebration of the country’s vast geography through the history and diverse culture of its fifty states — a breath of fresh air (laced with exhaust fumes) in an increasingly homogenized society.
Most of the photos below were taken on strolls around New York City; others were snapped while visiting different parts of the country. In some cases states are represented more than once due to there being alternative or older designs still in existence. For reasons of space I chose not to include unofficial novelty plates representing sports teams, colleges or wildlife. Some states proved harder to find than others: I eventually found both ALASKA and WYOMING parked a long way from home on my very street!
For the longest time the one state that continued to elude me was what became known in this household as the holy grail of license plates, UTAH. I even saw it twice on the streets of Manhattan, but on both occasions it was screwed to a moving car (and I didn’t have my camera with me anyway). Three years passed, and my hopes of ever spotting a parked Utahn vehicle had dwindled to a point that I’d all but neglected a project for which I’d once expended an obsessive enthusiasm. Then, one freezing afternoon in January, I received an email from my wife’s uncle. Attached were photos of not one, but two local license plates from his recent skiing trip to Park City, UT! I was amazed he even remembered my fixated need for pointless cataloging, but so touched that he’d gone to such trouble. So, five years after it began, the Plate Project is finally complete. Thanks again, Uncle Chuck!
- Categories →