We have a big place in our hearts for Coney Island. It’s why we were thrilled to publish Elizabeth Kiem’s fascinating series, “Astroland’s Last Summer” about the families, business owners, and domestic carnies who keep the boardwalk alive, and also why it was exciting to see Rivka Shifman Katvan’s “Coney Island Baby” show go up at Gallery 138 (September 28—October 26).
Katvan drops her own misfits into the scene for some theatrical improvisation, and captures the boardwalk with a touch of camp and whimsy, both removed and touching. Her photographs have been exhibited nationally, including solo and group shows at Apex Fine Art in Los Angeles, Gallery 138, the International Center of Photography, and the Museum of the City of New York Theater Museum. All images courtesy of Gallery 138. All images © Rivka Shifman Katvan, all rights reserved.
You’ve shot a lot in New York’s theater community. Was going to Coney Island a logical next step?
The unique style of the characters in the photographs represents so much of what I feel Coney Island and New York City used to be. Placing them there today juxtaposes them against a changing world and creates a new world of theatricality.
When was the first time you visited Coney Island?
When I first came to this country from Israel in the early 70’s, I studied at the School of Visual Arts. I used to wander around New York City looking for interesting places that would excite and inspire me, and Coney Island was one of them.
Something as colorful and madcap as Coney Island can be overwhelming if you’re plotting a scene. How did you choose your shots?
My method of photographing is not predetermined or technical. I go to a location and see what I feel. Occasionally I would direct them, but because of my experience as a fly on the wall in the theater, I generally just let things happen and shoot what strikes me.
Coney Island’s going corporate; Coney Island of the Mind has become a standard college textbook; the sideshow freaks all have websites. What are we losing?
The gentrification of New York City is very sad to watch, and Coney Island is without doubt one of its victims. Although the series does not address this issue, there are some subconscious elements of nostalgia that creep into these photographs. I am more interested in creating compelling images than making social commentary.
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a series about a town in the Catskill Mountains where my family has a country house. In this series I take a more documentary approach, as I try to capture the “Americana” of the town and its residents. I am not nearly finished, so I don’t think I should say any more at this point!