Brooklyn Museum Leads With Show: âGoodbye, Coney Island?â
By Henry Stewart
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
CONEY ISLAND â As residents, developers and the city duke it out over Coney Islandâs future, artists, curators and editors are looking back to its past.
Photographs of the storied amusement area, showing the neighborhood both as it is and once was, are on display across the city in museums, bars, galleries and on the pages of magazines.
âItâs an excellent time to revisit the history,â said Patrick Amsellem, the associate curator of photography at the Brooklyn Museum and organizer of the show, âGoodbye, Coney Island?â running through early April.
With its legendarily colorful characters and locales, Coney Island has been a favorite subject for photographers since its establishment as an entertainment area in the late 19th Century.
But the area has been in a steady state of decline after hitting its peak in the years after World War II.
âIâm seeing Coney Island at its low point,â said Deborah Matlack, a part-time professional photographer whose shots of the neighborhood are on display at Park Slopeâs Patio Lounge through early March.
As the neighborhood has changed, so too has the way in which artists photograph it. Where they once tried to capture its present, now, they try to capture its past.
At the Brooklyn Museum, the photographs of Coney Island from the first three-quarters of the 20th Century generally focus more on people than place. The neighborhood lured photographers not only with its striking architecture but because it had crowds larger than anywhere else nearby, Amsellem said. It was a liberating place where people could be found acting out and enjoying themselves.
âConey Island has attracted photographers all along,â said Amsellem. âYou could always capture something interesting, something fun.â
But today, much of Coney Island looks less like a place people go to than a place people once went, an area where vacant lots and decrepit buildings are as common as the seagulls scavenging the shore.
âI gotta document this place as best I can before itâs gone for good,â Matlack said.
Many of the contemporary photographs in Matlackâs show, as well as those in Anna Sawarynâs âConey Island Through the Invisible Lens,â which was at the East Villageâs 4th Street Photo Gallery until Feb. 15, and those by Robert Polidori in the Feb. 18 issue of The New Yorker, feature architecture â some kitschy, some decayed â more than people, the vestiges of a once-thriving entertainment Mecca.
âThe beauty in the ruin,â as Amsellem described it. âThat sort of poetry.â
In addition to the usual photographs of bright lights and familiar landmarks â Astroland, the Wonder Wheel, Nathanâs Famous â the photos in Matlackâs show capture the âghost shipsâ of Coney Island Creek and the neighborhood in the winter, when the beach and boardwalk are desolate and blanketed in snow.
âThereâs a loneliness about the place that appeals to me,â Matlack said.
Sawarynâs show presented a similar sense of place as Matlackâs. Using an old-fashioned camera that was more en vogue in the 19th Century, her photographs have a hazy and milky texture that gives them a nostalgic glaze.
Arguably even more than the historical photographs on display at the Brooklyn Museum, Sawarynâs photographs capture the âghostsâ of Coney Island, the neighborhoodâs ineffable aura, that Coneyphiles fear could be lost in the upcoming redevelopment.
Because her camera requires a long exposure time, Sawarynâs photographs emphasize the neighborhoodâs haunted quality by turning people into translucent blurs.
With little to attract photographers anymore save its ghosts, Coney Island seems in danger of being overwhelmed by its own fading legend. One of Robert Polidoriâs photographs in The New Yorker highlights this by featuring an encroaching fog that looks as though itâs swallowing people as they walk down the boardwalk.
But Amsellem noted that Coney has always been evolving, a place of constant change. He remains optimistic about the neighborhoodâs future.
âHopefully, it will not disappear,â he said, âbut be transformed.â
Â© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2008
All materials posted on BrooklynEagle.com are protected by United States copyright law.
Just a reminder, though -- Itâs not considered polite to paste the entire story on your blog. Most blogs post a summary or the first paragraph,( 40 words) then post a link to the rest of the story. That helps increase click-throughs for everyone, and minimizes copyright issues.
So please keep posting, but not the entire article. arturc at att.net
Main Office 718 422 7400