08/28/2014 09:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Photographing Iconic Coney Island

The concept of Coney Island as an outdoor photo studio is nothing new. Famous and not-so-famous photographers alike have been trekking over the sand there since the very beginning. There is a lot to see and photograph at Coney Island - beachgoers, amusement park weirdos, iconic rides like the Wonder Wheel and the now defunct parachute jump, and the "others" - those people who just seem to be attracted to the place. These "others" are a certain kind of people - a hardened bunch of people who've weathered too much New York and too much sun. There is something in combining all of this that gives Coney Island a special energy. Fortunately, this energy can often be captured by the lens. I produced a recent series of photographs there using a toy camera called the Harinezumi. This little plastic Japanese camera produced unique, slightly distorted, highly saturated photographs, which helped to enhance this special Coney Island charm.


(c) Michael Ernest Sweet

According to Wikipedia, between 1880 and WWII, Coney Island was the largest amusement park in the United States. That's quite something considering what it is today. Although the Coney Island of yesteryear is not the Coney Island of today, it is still a special place with a special kind of people. Then there is the Coney Island Mermaid Parade , which is a real blast for photographers. I've never photographed the parade myself, but many noted photographers including Harvey Stein have done so. It is surely a great opportunity to capture some truly unique images.


(c) Michael Ernest Sweet

If you're not going to be in New York during the Mermaid Parade no sweat, there is lots to photograph at Coney Island any day of the summer. The images are always unique and contain a special feel, which can only be a result of sun, sand, and New York's famously humid summer heat. When I look back over my photographs of Coney Island from years gone by I can still feel the heat on the back of my neck, the sweat dripping from my forehead, and the sand between my toes. You will have to slog through the day's heat and the crowded beaches and even deal with some rather confrontational people to get those truly iconic images, but it will be worth it in the end. The work I have produced there over the past few years has been truly rewarding and also quite successful.


(c) Michael Ernest Sweet

Just take a look through some of the work from the past century from photographers like Weegee, Harold Feinstein, Lisette Model, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, and of course, Bruce Gilden. Gilden did some of his best work ever on the beach at Coney Island.


(c) Michael Ernest Sweet

Opportunities abound for photographers at Coney Island. So, if you're going to be in the New York area anytime soon, and want photographs the other tourists aren't likely to get, jump on the N train from Times Square and head out to Coney Island. It's a long train ride but you won't regret it and you'll have the photos to prove it. Become part of history and join the long line of photographers before you who roamed through this very sand making now classic works of art.


(c) Michael Ernest Sweet