Among the most accomplished color photographers of our time, Jeff Brouws presents over 80 resplendent photographs capturing the dreamy magic of the carnival midway. Gravity-defying amusement rides, brightly colored booths, the beseeching barkersBrouws' tableaux are accompanied by dozens of historical images from photographers such as Ben Shahn, Marion Post Wolcott, and Arthur Rothstein, and vivid text by cultural historian Bruce Caron. Inside the Live Reptile Tent is a journey to the heart of every special weekend and holiday adventure.
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Jeff Brouws who has been photographing American culture over the last 15 years. His previous books include Highway: America's Endless Dream and Twenty-six Abandoned Gasoline Stations. He lives in upstate New York.
Bruce Caron a cultural anthropologist and documentary videographer. He lives in Santa Barbara.
In the first of five essays accompanying Brouws' knockout photos, Caron apprises us that carnival midways, though related to the traveling circus, sprang from such more stationary amusement venues as the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The various, often scruffy, definitely vulgar playlands that sprang up in the wake of that epoch-making world's fair flourished until the 1950s, when TV and other home amusements burgeoned and Disney created the grander, politer, cleaner theme park. Caron argues that carnival architecture influenced the looks of plenty of later amusement centers, from Anaheim to Orlando and from Vegas to the nearest Indian casino. Influence aside, the old places looked great--garish and goofy even when the sun did the lighting, and the rides were turned off. Brouws' pictures of roller coasters, sideshows, and games of chance may be elegiac, given the paucity of people in them, but they are so vivid and evocative, especially when compared with the black-and-white historical photos that directly illustrate Caron's remarks, that you can hear the calliope and smell the corn dogs. Ray Olson
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