Land Without Shadows

Text & photography by Nguan

Beirut – Scenic World 
Lon Gisland EP (2007)

During its heyday a century ago, Coney Island’s glittering theme parks and extravagant sideshows made it a symbol of modern culture. “Not to have seen it,” the writer Reginald Wright Kauffman told the nation in 1909, “is not to have seen your own country.” That same year, 20 million visitors flocked to Coney Island, including Sigmund Freud, who declared that it was the only thing in the United States of America that intrigued him. Two American icons: the roller coaster and the hot dog were invented here. Coney Island became widely revered as “the playground of the world.” Then, the Great Depression intervened and the island fell into steep decline. Nevertheless, Coney Island’s storied beach and decaying amusement remained a welcoming escape for New Yorkers requiring affordable respite from the brutal summer heat.

Over the years, this beaten-down incarnation of Coney Island created a unique fascination within photographers: a young Diane Arbus stalked its rickety boardwalk with her Rolleiflex, while others like Weegee, Lisette Model and Bruce Davidson made several of their most iconic images here. Some landmarks from the glory days survived, namely the legendary Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel—once among the highest Ferris wheels in the world, and the now-defunct Parachute Jump, a gigantic red and yellow structure, often playfully called the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn. Nearly everything else was razed. What could not be easily wrecked is that which continues to make Coney Island one of the most photographed places in the world: its populist, renegade spirit and restless energy embodied by its crazy, romantic revellers, hell-bent on having a good time, especially if it costs them nothing.

Read more in N˚2: Constant.