We have spent several seasons photographing the carnival that comes to Nantucket in the summer. The small and shabby midway appeared this year after the film, comedy, and wine fests and before the music and dance fests. There is no way to make this event fit the Chamber of Commerce image of Nantucket – you can’t slap a whale tail on it, you can’t make it precious or preppy. It is a carnival after all, with carnies and bad food and tired rides. It’s dead until the people get there and it takes lots of them to bring it to life. The small crowds are made up of locals, seasonal workers and a few vacationers, less lily white than the Lilly Pulitzer crowds elsewhere on Nantucket. The most remarkable thing about it is how like every other carnival it is.
When we went back this year to photograph this event, we were struck by how little effort was put into maintaining the happy illusion. It felt like everyone was too tired to try. The Ferris Wheel was mostly unlit and every ride seemed to be missing lights. Some rides had been downgraded from cars that were colorfully painted to plain white, unlit cars. Light bulbs were out everywhere. A few workers were friendly, others seemed depressed and still others were downright hostile. The poor lighting meant that the shadowy places were more obvious, the darkness was easier to see. Our photos show noticeably less joy on the faces at the current carnival, and little of the enthusiasm of the attendees two years ago. A few even show the menace we felt from some of the staff.
We began this series to show the small patch of magic where, once a year, we agree that an inflatable shark is worth the $10 or $15 to win it, and that fried dough is a treat even if we will never think of it again until next July. This year though, we were confronted by more shadows and less magic, represented by the missing lights and the dark silhouettes. We looked at our pictures at night after reading news stories of children blown apart, raped, hanged and shot from the sky. Children on the world’s midway at night – the darkness hidden in the shadow of the lights. If we have ever loved one child, we have loved them all and wish we had held them closer and hope that we have never added to the darkness. We wish the world was better. We know the darkness is there, yet we do too little. We avert our eyes from the carnies, agreeing to the bargain. It’s just a carnival.
“…and the shining is as thick darkness.” Job 10:22
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