As a member of the Corinth Emergency Squad, George Holland was among the first responders to arrive on the scene of local automobile accidents. His camera always with him, Holland often photographed car crashes even before police or emergency vehicles arrived. Many of these accidents were at night, so his flash bulbs often had to illuminate dark and grisly scenes. Some of Holland’s images document expressions of public curiosity by showing small crowds close to the wrecked vehicles, with individuals often shown peering into car interiors. Holland always respected the privacy of accident victims, though, for there are few instances when an accident victim was photographed.
There is a long history of human fascination with tragedy. Holland’s photographs were made in a period before television portrayals of such tragedy were common, so it is not surprising that automobile accidents would draw large crowds of spectators. What is more striking is that observers often appear on the accident scene in the middle of night, and at remote rural locations. Car accidents had the potential to serve as important events for the community as both a common social experience and as a way to offer support for those injured in the crashes. The images show people of all ages observing the remnants of the automobile accidents, although teenagers appear to be present in greater numbers.
These images portray the human fascination with tragedy, but they also reveal an altruistic response to disasters. In several photographs non-emergency personnel can be seen assisting those injured in the accidents. Despite the myth that individuals are often selfish and panic after disasters, sociological research suggests that individuals are highly altruistic and organized in disaster situations. The Holland photographs reflect this tendency as by-standers are seen calmly assisting those involved in the accidents. That George Holland himself did not photograph the victims, and by-standers can be seen on the ground beside those involved in the accidents, suggests that individuals were primarily concerned with helping the injured.
The automobile accidents that Holland documented from 1955 to 1965 were in an era before seat belts were widely available in American cars, and before automakers began to design automobiles with a concern for occupant safety. Death rates were high. In Corinth there seemed to be a particularly high rate of automobile accidents in the spring and summer months, and public memory notes that tragic accidents routinely claimed the lives of the community’s teenagers.
Even today, for both biological and cultural reasons, young males record the highest rate of car accidents. Social norms that encourage males to drive automobiles are related to their cultural desire to exert control over machines. And driving fast and engaging in risky behavior behind the wheel is often considered a means to demonstrate one’s manhood. Teenage boys, then and now, are particularly susceptible to this desire.
George Holland never published any of these images in the EMBA News, but he most likely provided them for insurance companies and to local newspapers. Many of the accidents represented in this section involve fatalities. Many survivors of the crashes shown here continue to live in Corinth, so only the year of the crash is used as a photo descriptor.