Coney Island Dreamers
Central Library, Grand Lobby
Coney Island Dreamers by Charles Denson
This exhibit consists of two parts: sideshow banners from the Coney Island Hall of Fame and documentary photographs portraying the decline and resurrection of a neighborhood. The combination of historical themes and Denson's contemporary photography serve to connect past and present. The iconic, mythical Coney Island contrasts with the reality of the neighborhood as it exists today.
Sideshow banners represent a form of American folk-art, a genre that's played an important role in the colorful history of Coney Island. The banners I've created for the Hall of Fame differ from traditional banners that portray performers. Instead, this series honors people who worked behind the scenes: the inspired inventors, impresarios and eccentrics who made Coney Island famous. Also depicted are architectural landmarks that served as beacons to generations of Coney Island visitors: the Elephant Hotel, the Dreamland Tower, the Luna Park pinwheels, the Coney Island lighthouse, the Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone roller coaster.
A native of Coney Island, Charles Denson is the executive director of The Coney Island History Project. He began documenting the area when he was a teenager and continued photographing the transformation of the neighborhood over the next four decades. As a young photographer he was influenced by the work of Robert Frank and Bruce Davidson whose grainy black-and-white images of Coney Island taken during the 1950s captured the essence of what was happening around him as he was growing up. Denson has worked as an art director for San Francisco Magazine and for New West Magazine, and as a staff photographer for New York Magazine. In 2002 he received the New York Book of the Year Award from the New York Society Library for his book Coney Island: Lost and Found.
Share your stories of Coney Island! Stop by the Memory Booth in the Lobby Gallery to sign up for a recording session and to view more Coney Island artwork.
Charles Denson headshot photo credit: Judith Dunham