Review by Gerhard Clausing •
What moment can be more appropriate than a major holiday to write about a book of 50+ years of photographs documenting the happenings at an iconic American mecca for folks living out their holiday fantasies? The beach and entertainment areas known as Coney Island are located at the southwestern tip of Brooklyn, a borough of New York City. Harvey Stein has been fascinated by the goings-on at Coney Island for more than half a century, and we are able to share his visual narratives in this latest volume presenting his many insightful observations.
The history of the Coney Island location goes back to the 17th century, as a timeline provided in this photobook demonstrates. In all that time, it has had many ups and downs, with the last century or so particularly marked by its development as an iconic entertainment and relaxation area. Some five million people visit this peninsula every year, and even the recent pandemic has only had a very slight impact on its continuity.
“A photograph is a fragment of reality rescued from the anonymity and flow of life at a fraction of a second; it becomes a memory the moment it is made.”
Stein has visited Coney Island more than 600 times, and his images show an ongoing special bond with people that has inspired his visual presentations over all those decades. We clearly get the idea that Coney Island is a stage on which many individual ‘actors’ live out their fantasies in public. We also clearly sense, as Virginia Hines hints at in her accompanying essay, that we are viewing aspects of our own dreams and aspirations in these images. Stein’s dynamic wide-angle views allow us to see a more comprehensive narrative; from foreground action to backgrounds showing the environment, we are privy to layers of bustling activity, always meaningfully contextualized, and evoking an entire world of sound, motion, and magical enlightenment.
Coney Island is truly an equal-opportunity theater, a happy melting pot, one that even extends its purpose to the cold winter months (cf. the hardy folks at the annual event by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, swimming in icy waters). The beloved Wonder Wheel ride and its history are visualized and described as well. The black and white images illustrating all those special moments are dynamically presented on large double pages, and it is truly a delight to travel through five decades of people’s individualism displayed in public and captured superbly by this master street photographer.
The PhotoBook Journal previously reviewed Harvey Stein’s Then and There: Mardi Gras 1979.
Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Harvey Stein – Coney Island People: 50 Years
Photographer: Harvey Stein (born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, lives in New York City)
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA; © 2022
Texts: Essays by Harvey Stein, Virginia Hines, Alan Klotz; interviews: Dennis Vourderis and Dennis Thomas
Hardcover with illustrated dust cover; 200 pages, paginated, with 174 b/w images; 12 x 9.5 inches (30 x 24 cm); list of plates, with dates; printed in India; ISBN 9780764364068
Editor: Ian Robertson
Photobook Designers: Danielle D. Farmer; Jack Campbell (cover)
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are under copyright by the authors and publishers.