_ Coney Island _
I’ve been photographing Coney Island, almost compulsively, for the past five years. Some places are just ripe for photography and Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn, New York, is exactly such a place. Just when I think I know every inch, every person, every grain of sand, something new pops up – another great photograph. Therein lies one of the chief merits of this legendary beach – it is at once familiar and yet never the same.
Most of New York’s famous photographers have been at Coney Island – Weegee, Model, Frank, and more contemporaries such as Gilden and Stein. They have all made their “Coney Island photographs”. How would I ever compete? How would I even begin to make photographs that add something new to this conversation? The process wasn’t easy and it wasn’t technical. Time and persistence, combined with following my own instincts as a photographer, are ultimately the secret ingredients in my recipe.
I always use a 28mm lens and this project was no exception. However, using a wide lens means getting in close, very close, to your subject. This is one thing on the narrow and crowded sidewalks of Manhattan, yet another thing when you’re on the beach and lingering mere inches over someone in their bathing suit. Confrontations were inevitable and, yes, they happened, but I got the photographs and that’s what matters.
The photograph is a technical marvel, when you actually stop and think about it. A tiny fraction of a moment in time is captured and kept, as it were, for eternity. Well, perhaps not forever, as we seem to be losing photographs as quickly as we make them in the digital age. Yet, there is something rightly mesmerizing about the photographic medium that is, perhaps, ineffable. That magic, combined with the physicality of one of my favorite spots in New York City, was the impetus behind this project and the motivation for going back to the blazing hot boardwalk week after week, year after year.
Each one of these photographs, although simply a snapshot, are a gruelling work of art for me. Coney Island is not what it was a decade ago, three decades ago, and it will not be the same in a year or two from now. It is a place of change. I have only a moment to capture the essence of what it is now, in my time. Like the end of history, it is nearly impossible for me to conceive of a time when I will not make photographs at Coney Island. But that time will come. They say it takes seven years to master something. This summer will be my sixth at Coney Island.
Michael Ernest Sweet
Michael is a Canadian writer and photographer. His works have appeared in publications around the world including, Popular Photography, Digital Camera World, Black and White Magazine, Photo Life, The Evergreen Review as well as online at The Village Voice and The Huffington Post. Michael is the recipient of two of Canada’s highest civilian awards for significant contributions to education and the arts – A Prime Minister’s Award and The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Michael Sweet lives in New York City.
Check Michael on Instagram: @MichaelSweetPhotos