The concept of the amusement park now seems to be a bygone aspect of classic Americana. Coney Island’s parks were documented as early as 1905, and have since become a relic of the rollercoaster’s golden age. But away from the crowds at the institutions that remain, like Coney Island, Disneyland, and Knott’s Berry Farm, there remain clusters of amusement parks scattered throughout small towns in the USA, inching up against residential homes.
In a new series, “For Your Amusement,” photographer Sean DiSerio traveled around Pennsylvania, photographing the homes that are overshadowed by towering amusement parks. DiSerio, as he describes it, keeps his lens “focused toward modern America and its absurdity,” and the amusement parks are no exception.
“The idea for this series happened by mistake while looking through Google Maps for another project around Pittsburgh,” he says. “I was looking for homes to photograph that are in close proximity to power plants when I stumbled across Kennywood, a dense amusement park with a property line almost touching the surrounding neighborhood. From the computer screen, the area seemed unusual, and I began to look for similar landscapes throughout the state.”
He found several. Across Pennsylvania, he photographed West Mifflin, Allentown, and Hershey. Of the three, Hershey is the most well-known, due to it being the founding site of one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world. “A whole town was practically built around the Hershey Chocolate factory starting in 1903,” says DiSerio. “Over time, Hershey decided to squeeze an amusement park, zoo and golf course next to the factory. Many houses in the shadows of its amusement rides were once housing for factory workers.”
The West Mifflin amusement park is no less historic, however. Over a century old, the Kennywood amusement park first opened in 1899: “The park lived through the crash of the steel industry in the 1980s, and now the surrounding town relies on steel in the form of giant thrill rides for its local economy,” he says.
Across all towns, several photographs capture the residents of these homes, seemingly oblivious to the screeching metallic sounds of the structures behind them. “They pay little mind to the chaos,” says DiSerio. “What struck me was how loud and persistent the mechanical roaring paired with people’s screams were. [But] residents seem to have tuned out the sounds and vibrations that emit from these rides and learned to live with them.”
The looping shapes of the rollercoasters are jarringly out-of-place in the middle of suburbia; one photograph shows a ride weaving through the trees, barely visible in the thick of the greenery. “I attempted to frame the images similar to the composition of postcards; not advertising the park, but highlighting the peculiar real estate just outside,” he says. One image is picturesquely finished by a yellow air balloon floating almost out of frame.
What these pictures reveal are the artifacts of an earlier America, where surging through the air on mechanical carts was a wonder to behold. But for now, they are simply “For Your Amusement.”
By Christina Cacouris
Christina Cacouris is a writer and curator based in Paris and New York
More information on Sean DiSerio here.