I’ve been photographing Coney Island for years, but in this series I wanted to do something different. I picked up the Harinezumi camera because I am a fan of non-traditional cameras. I like cheap cameras, old cameras, toy cameras etc. I’d never used the legendary Harinezumi, so I asked myself, “why not?” When I first started using the camera I was not impressed; it’s difficult to get a well exposed image. I put the camera aside for several months and went on with 35mm film.
While in New York City this summer I decided to head out to Coney Island – a favourite haunt for me – and I took the Harinezumi along with me just for kicks. I was quite surprised and pleasantly so. This camera just captures the essence of the place. The over-saturated color and the graininess and the slight distortion (emulating heatwaves) was ideal for this project. I started snapping away. Seven weeks later, I had completed this project – to be titled, “Bronze” and released as a full-length monograph from Brooklyn Arts Press in 2015.
Coney Island is a special place for photographers. Famous and not-so-famous photographers alike have been prodding their way through the sand there from the very beginning. It’s full of opportunities. I always get great photographs at Coney Island. I especially enjoy the beach, and that was the focus of this project. Although I did steal a few shots from the boardwalk, I really stuck to the sand for these photographs. This is where this little cheap toy camera really excelled – pointed down at the bright hot sand, colourful beach clothing, and weird and wonderful designs in the sandy landscape.
It is important to understand and know your equipment; it’s strengths and weaknesses. I exploited the camera for what it was and for what it could do. I didn’t bother trying to make it do something that it couldn’t – portraits, for example. Oddly, I had also used the Harinezumi on the streets of Manhattan this summer as well and really didn’t like the results. I’ve ditched most of that work and hidden away a few shots for a rainy day. But essentially this camera is done for me. I’m over it. I used it to create this project and it did that well, but I am not in love with it. I’d not recommend the Harinezumi to anyone – it’s relatively expensive (for a toy) and very finicky and stubborn. PowerShovel is not very good at supporting their photographers either. But I am happy that I was able to dominate this hunk of cheap plastic into submission for me for this particular project. I certainly got my $200 worth of photographs. It produced a body of work for me that is truly unique – different from any Coney Island photography I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen most of it. The over-saturated colors were the big draw. Of course anyone can do this in post-process, but it’s not the same. This camera does this natively and organically. These images are all jpgs straight from the camera – no post whatsoever. The files are too lowfi, they won’t even handle post-processing if I wanted to do it.
Am I done with Coney Island? I’m not sure, I won’t make any promises. I have certainly exploited the place and its people over the past few years. It may be time for me to move on. So many photographers have had a “Coney Island Period” … and now I’ve had mine. I’m content. Maybe I’ll go to Harlem next. I’m curious and eager to get up there and see what’s going on. No, I’m not trying to follow William Klein around … not that it would be a bad thing to do.