“Coney Island: 40 Years” book review by Courtney Alston
Harvey Stein began his 40-plus year love affair with New York’s Coney Island in 1970, documenting it in a way that lets the viewer feel as they have just walked across the boardwalk, smelling the hot dogs and seeing the sunbathers taking refuge on the their beach chairs in the middle of the walkway and the children running wild without supervision. The vivid images and the compassionate way he photographs illustrates his love and respect for Coney Island.
The black and white photographs seem timeless, giving the book a “we’ll be here forever” feeling. The feeling caught on camera in, “Sun Flare and Shadow” is a liberating and electrifying emotion, that once you arrive at Coney Island you are at home. The ease Lola Star conveys in an image at the beginning of the book shows that even though Coney Island is filled with strangers, somehow they come together and become sociable and together they celebrate this wonderful place.
Stein takes the viewer on a tour of Coney Island starting from the Boardwalk to the Beach, documenting the spectacle of strange faces, bodies, young children, teenagers, older people, streetwalkers, tourist, and the regulars; this is a new culture the viewer has entered. Stein does a great job in depicting the daily occurrences at Coney Island from the obscenity of “Man WavingDildo” to the simplicity of “New Year’s Day Run Into Ocean.” The concoction of the sweet and sour taste that Stein has recorded with the first section is just a preview to what the viewer may see in the remaining sections, and you can not help but be pulled into see more of this spectacle. Covering six sections of shocking, sweet, and strange photographs, Stein’s book and design is bold. Some images are simply centered and printed large on the page and others consume an entire two page spread. The binding in the book cuts the pictures in half making the viewer struggle to view the entire photo. The photographs start from 1970 – 2010 but are not in sequential order making the viewer question when the image was taken and suggesting a continuum of vision instead of a chronology.
Stein’s description between a dream world and a reality is the most accurate way to describe the hundreds of images within this book. Once viewing these photos one may feel this overwhelming obligation to see Coney Island in the flesh and keep returning as has Harvey Stein.