The Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery, located in the Design District, hosted photographer Harvey Stein, who conducted a book signing for his fans this weekend. I sat with Stien at a large table surrounded by 12 photos featured in his book, Coney Island 40 Years.
Stein started the project in 1970 at the direction of his photography instructor, Ben Fernandez, who saw potential in the young artist as a street photographer. "He told me to get a Leica, and a 21mm lens, and go to Coney Island" Stein told me of his instructor. There he captured the image of an old man sitting on a railing like a marionette. The man's feet were comically large, his limbs slack and thin, and his eyes were obscured by thick-lensed glasses and the dark brim of a hat.
That shot was featured in a 1970 issue of Life, giving Stein his first nationally published photo, and fueling his love for the characters and scenery of Coney Island.
Stein considers himself an interactive artist. Instead of capturing candid shots he talks to his subjects, listening to their stories and framing pictures that capture brief moments in seemingly insignificant lives - a child running down the wet boards in the rain; the naked legs of a woman, her body obscured by a photo booth; the Thunderbolt, an old, wooden coaster, standing like a ghost on a barren landscape.
Though the images span four decades, time seems to stand still through the collection. The grainy black and white images defy chronology -- an image from 1997 looks as weathered as one from 1970.
While Stein signed my book a woman walked in, wearing a black Polar Bear Club jacket she earned after multiple cold water swims off the Coney Island beach. The three of us sat trading stories about cold water swimming, the mermaid parade, concessions and amusement park rides. Danielle Bennignus lives in Dallas now but spent significant time on Coney Island, and recognized a few friends in the pages of Stein's book. She halted when she turned to a page depicting a swimmer preparing for the Polar Bear Swim
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"Oh my god, that's me," Bennignus called out. And there she was, nearly 20 years younger, wearing a bikini with her eyes closed under a cloudy sky. Stein captured her just before jumping into the air -- an attempt to warm up before jumping into the cold ocean water. Bennignus didn't know she was featured in the book until she saw herself that afternoon.
Stein's photography captures hundreds of similar, personal moments in images that illustrate an Island you'd only understand if you've seen it yourself. His new book let's you do just that.
Select photography will be on display at the Gallery through the end of this week. His book is also available on Amazon.