Friday, 10 May 2013

A Coney Island of the Mind

in the land of thrills, a one-eyed spook is king

One of the reasons why I have decided to compile ‘After You’ve Gone’ is to share with you some of my old photographs which I've rediscovered after decades in hibernation. Last year I was very fortunate to have one particular series of images exhibited in London after nearly 25 years shelved in plastic boxes. To me, their attractiveness had much to do with the power of time passing, with the images of now vanished things turning into historic artefacts themselves. This was not entirely unintentional, as I always regarded myself as an archivist, collecting photographs of people and places at a certain moment - usually those brittle years when they were just hanging on, before their inevitable end. Or perhaps a chance for a re-birth - a place in the new order brought about by the 'regeneration' of a locality.

I have only hazy recollections of visiting Coney Island, Brooklyn, USA. It was April 1989, and a day out to the once-famed New York resort and amusement park during a brief stay in New York.  I know that I wanted to see place - it was in the lyrics of ‘Oh Oh I Love Her So’ by the Ramones after all. More importantly for me then was the American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s classic 1958 book ‘A Coney Island of the Mind’.  It’s a fabulous title, inspired by Henry Miller’s ‘Into the Night Life’, and which also contained selected poems from a previous Ferlinghetti publication, the also superbly titled ‘Pictures of The Gone World’.

woman in red, boardwalk

digging for victory, boardwalk

It was definitely the boardwalk that I was drawn to, as it felt a bit like walking on a typical English pier, except that the wooden boards were set alongside the landscape, and not protruding out of it right into the sea. I chatted with the stall holders, ate several hot dogs and was also compelled to photograph the relics of amusements past. 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was very keen on using colour 35mm transparencies. It was an exciting process sending the film off for processing, and about a week later getting a package in the post. I went for the strips of film which I’d then cut up the individual images, and carefully slip each slide into a glass-windowed mount. Then came the ritual of loading them into the carousel, with the exact precision needed to turn them around and then up and down to make sure that they would be projected correctly (and not back to front) on my collapsible stand-up screen.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti opened his epic poem ‘A Coney Island of the Mind’ with the lines “In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see the people of the world exactly at the moment when they attained the title of ‘suffering humanity’...”. He describes the poem as “a kind of circus of the soul”.
These photos were taken when that circus had by and large left town.
But, let's scroll the years forward by a quarter of a century, and today the one and only Coney, according to it's very own website: " a thriving, year-round entertainment destination full of fun things to do, both historic and brand new". 

two men, a dw lk
parachute jump and deserted boardwalk

stop or stuffed
big teddy
reading by Mary, win a TV
be a winner
Jason's, Red is Smiling

clam stopped

Caged Thunderbolt:
"Then we went down to Coney Island on the Coaster and around again" The Ramones 1977
wrestling giants

smooth character

Coney Island baths

my own copy, 22nd printing

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