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Carnival Rides Become Geometric Light Paintings in Long-Exposure Photos

Photographer Roger Vail has been making carnivals his photographic bread-and-butter since 1971 and shows no sign of stopping.

by Andrew Nunes
Jul 28 2017, 3:02pm

Carnivals may seem like a memory of America-past to some, but photographer Roger Vail seems determined to preserve their cultural legacy. Taking long-exposure photographs of carnival rides and county fairs for over four decades, Vail transforms these fairs into hallucinatory renderings of pure pleasure.

Currently included in Summer Selections, an ongoing group show at California's Joseph Bellows Gallery, Vail first began his long-exposure carnival quest in the early 70s on a whim. "I made the first image in the summer of 1971. I had been shooting at night with a view camera mostly in urban settings and time exposure was necessary," the photographer tells Creators.

"Inverter," Roger Vail, 2001

"That summer I made photographs at a carnival for the first time. I thought I would try one of a ferris wheel not knowing what it would look like. When I saw the film, I was really surprised and pleased with what I got and couldn't wait to do more."

"Kamakazi," Roger Vail, 2002

Since that first occasion in the summer of 1971, Vail has returned to carnival photography again and again, entranced by the unpredictability of the subject matter: "I keep coming back to carnival rides because they are so much fun to do. Making them was always about discovery, the fun of not knowing what they would look like until the film was developed. That is what kept me coming back again and again," Vail adds.

"Wave Swinger," Roger Vail, 2001

His obsession with long-exposure photography, a stylistic approach typically limited to experimental photography or starry landscape images, seems to be a result of his photographic schooling. "I was educated at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Bauhaus idea of using photography and its form and techniques to make something original and never seen before was a big influence at the time, and certainly on me," he explains. "Time exposures were just one of those techniques that I particularly liked."

YoYo, Roger Vail, 1996
"Carnival Ride," Roger Vail, 1971

An archive of Roger Vail's long-exposure carnival photography can be found on the Joseph Bellows Gallery website, where his work is currently being shown as part of group show Summer Selections, until August 26.

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