A Carnival Atmosphere

Photography Exhibition in California that Captures the Magic of the Fairground

They say good things come to those who wait. Well, photographer, Roger Vail’s exhibition Carnival at Joseph Bellows Gallery has been nearly 45 years in the making, and it still seems to be more than worth it. “One evening I was shooting a carnival and decided to set up in front of a ferris wheel to see what would happen,” recalls Roger. “When I saw the negative which became Spinning Carnival Ride 1971 #1 I was floored and decided to continue with this approach.”

Spinning Carnival Ride, 1971
Spinning Carnival Ride 1971
Using long exposure times, Roger’s mesmeric, magical images capture all the movement and wonder of the fairground and condense it into a single moment. In this sense they offer a unique snapshot of time and place, chronicling fairgrounds across the decades through a wistful lens of nostalgia. Yet as artefacts of history they uncharacteristically vivid and alive, as if capturing that youthful exuberance associated with the fairground and bottling it.

“Part of the fun of doing this work was the inevitable surprise at first viewing. All are ‘straight’ photographs with no added manipulation, no ‘Photoshopping.’”

We spoke to Roger about the journey he’s been on with this enchanting series:

The Plus: What’s it been like putting the images together into a coherent show after all this time?
Roger Vail:
Very rewarding. Joseph Bellows and his gallery director Mike Mulno curated and mounted the show with my hearty approval. This is the first time all the carnival ride pictures have been shown together.

TP: What are you hoping to convey in Carnival?
The simple, uncomplicated visceral presentation of objects in motion that I consider works of art in themselves.

TP: What kind of professional background are you from?
I was educated at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and taught for many years at Sacramento State University in California. In this country the unfortunate and pretentious term ‘fine art photography’ is often used to describe work made by artist/photographers shown primarily in galleries and museums. That’s what I do but I wish there were a different moniker that I could hang my hat on.

TP: Do you have a favourite fairground ride?
No, they’re all my children.

TP: Are you more of a fresh donuts or candy floss man?
I made a photograph of a cotton candy stand early on but have only sampled the products visually.

TP: Do you think Fairgrounds have an enduring appeal in the modern world or are they becoming strange relics?
Well I still love them and they definitely have an enduring appeal but, who can say, maybe we’re both strange relics.


Roger Vail’s Carnival is at Joseph Bellows Gallery until 22 August 2015.