Return to Luna Park
New Yorkers take the subway to the beach. The F or the Q train pulls into Stillwell Avenue and when the doors open you smell the ocean. The Lenape Indians called this place “the land with no shadows”. The Dutch hunted rabbits “konijn” and called it Coney Island. In 1901 everyone’s favourite ride was a voyage to a papier-mâché moon so popular they called the place Luna Park. On Surf Avenue is the original Nathan’s where the hot dog was invented in 1916. Coney Island is one of our myths, the landscape of our carnival. With one eye on the map Rem Koolhaas calls it “the clitoris of New York.” Ferlinghetti saw it as a metaphor for the fantasy of the American Century, “A Coney Island of the Mind.” It staged our lurid spectacle of the masses: sardined beaches, freak shows, the gritty Brooklyn of immigrant America, the clarinet drenched fantasy of a midcentury where Woody Allen can grow up under the roller coaster in Annie Hall. The fortunes of Coney Island have risen and declined: like the stock market, like the urban crisis, like the eighty-foot drops of the Cyclone. The parachute jump, the “Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn,” is a defunct amusement ride. The Dreamland Wonder Wheel overlooks housing projects and empty lots. Yet what remains is a structure, a space invested with memory, nostalgia, and doubt. Franck Bohbot captures a Luna Park in transition, caught between the long seediness of its past, fading like the ice cream pasteboards, and perhaps a glimpse of the American future, the privatized, sanitized austerity of a modern melancholia. And yet, as these photographs show, Coney Island may still surprise. In its lurid candy-colored glazes a fantasy still beckons. The dream has lost its fever, but there is no sign of waking up.
Text by Jesse Mc Carthy