CNN Photos

A night at the drive-in

Chloe Ellingson first spotted it two years ago in the middle of a cornfield — the glowing single-screen Mustang Drive-in.

She was new to the Guelph, Ontario, area and relatively new to driving; this was the first drive-in movie theater she’d ever seen. At the very least, it seemed like something fun to do on the weekend.

But almost immediately, it became a project for the Toronto-based photographer.

“I was seduced right away by the beauty of this wonderful pastime,” said Ellingson, 29.

She was drawn in by the regulars — the dad who brought his kids most weekends, the couple who constructed elaborate mattress-and-pillow arrangements in the bed of their truck, the teens looking for a little privacy to celebrate sweet 16.

Somehow, it seemed easy, Ellingson said. Most of her photo projects centered on the relationships between people; she’s drawn to them because she has something to say. At the drive-in, there was no great message. Everybody was just enjoying the moment.

“The drive-in is the closest thing you can come to spending a cozy night watching a movie while having the stimulation and sense of community, being out in the world,” she said.

Ellingson saw beauty there, too: dusky skies that faded to darkness, and pockets of light and action — the silhouette of a woman working at the snack bar, restless moviegoers walking beneath Batman on the big screen, and headlights flickering past the red neon Mustang sign.

“In terms of what the world was giving me, it was one of the easiest situations,” Ellingson said. “Visually, it’s so enchanting. You do it under a starry sky. If you have a skylight, that’s perfect.”

During a half-dozen visits that summer, she saw a few movies, including “Ted” and “Skyfall.” But for everyone there, it didn’t seem to be about the movie.

It was about seeing friends they only knew from Saturday nights, snacking on popcorn in the front seat, making out in the back seat and escaping into a low-tech world where digital projection never existed and Hollywood sound effects were only as good as the car radio.

It’s been two years since Ellingson visited the Mustang or any drive-in. She said she’ll go back this summer. Maybe she’ll shoot some photos, or maybe she’ll just enjoy a movie from the seats in Little Red, her 1996 Honda Civic.

“I have a feeling nothing’s changed,” she said. “I will be delighted if it hasn’t changed.”

- Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN