Abandoned Fairground Fashion Shoot

Abandoned Fairground Fashion Shoot

When I hear the word “fairground,” I think of roaring roller coasters with it’s screaming riders, acres of game booths, the twinkle of the lights bordering every edge of every building surface, cotton candy, and of course… the craziness of a million people around you. So you could imagine the eeriness of driving onto the local fairgrounds in the off-season to see the exact opposite. For a second your mind wonders to those post-apocalyptic movies, where the land is barren, a location you know yet is unrecognizable, the occasional piece of stray trash rolling along the ground with a gust of wind.

We were here for a photo shoot. One of my clients, London Couture, wanted to do a spread on the recent retirement announcement of clothing designer, Betsey Johnson. Betsey’s clothes are more on the playful side, often using bright colors in her designs. An active fairgrounds would be a perfect fit, however, we liked the idea of shooting the retiring designer’s clothes on a “retired” fairgrounds. It would give the mood of the shoot a symbolic dark side. Indeed, driving onto the grounds was interesting, all of the game huts were boarded-up and herded to far corners of the property, leaving acres of open asphalt space. It turns out that even most of the rides that are active during the fair are only taking up temporary residence during the couple weeks of the event, as they are rented out by fair ride companies. If it wasn’t for some of the large, permanent rides on the corner of the property you wouldn’t even know you were standing in the fairgrounds. So, we definitely got our abandoned fairgrounds…. almost too abandoned to make this shoot work. I was hoping for things to looked closed, but with everything moved and clustered in corners of the large property, it really didn’t look like a fairgrounds at all, open or closed. This left only a couple places we could shoot where our imagery would properly translate the intended environment. A challenge, yes, but without this push to work harder to properly capture “fairground” or even “closed fairground,” I wouldn’t have come up with the crazy idea that I ended up using.

Like I said, the off-season fairgrounds didn’t leave us much to work with, and my eye kept wandering over to this old wood roller coaster. Approaching the ride, my first inclination was to somehow pose the models in the coast seats. Upon further inspection, the seats were in complete disrepair, dirty as hell, and nothing I’d ever want to get near. One of my basic rules in photography is that I generally will never ask anything of a subject that is something I’d never do myself. I quickly left that idea, especially considering my main focus of this shoot is the clothing, and clothing isn’t particularly well-displayed while tucked into a coaster seat. About to leave the ride all together, my eye looked down the coaster tracks from the direction the coaster pulls in. I walked a ways down the tracks. As I walked, my eyes scanned the property for security guards, as they were rather abundant considering the grounds were closed, and I doubt they’d approve this. I hit a spot not too far down that had some great slopes and combining with the rest of the wood structure provided a visually pleasing geometry. I got the models up on the ride and we got our first set of photos. Albeit, the tracks were a bit challenging for high heels, but the girls did a good job watching their step.

Next location was a much more colorful ride which had a lot of Betsey-like colors. The ride in combination with the bright outfits we dressed the models in was a home run. Unfortunately we were not-so-blessed with a very gray day out, heavy cloud cover, which will… well, produce very gray, muted results. I can’t help but imagine how this set of photos would pop with a nice blue sky in these shots, along with some sun giving us a nice warm backlight. Oh well, I compensated a bit with some side lighting to makeup for the lack of sun, and I just keep telling myself that it was meant to be, further reinforcing our sad, closed fairgrounds concept. Considering how bad the weather was in June, we were lucky we didn’t get caught in the rain. I really like all the colors in these, and the balloon props were a good touch.

The sun faded fast between setups and we finished our shoot with a more model-centric shoot with mostly black in the background. We utilized a large welcoming sign in the background to gain a touch of remain fairground feel.

We are going to reapproach this type of fairground concept later down the road, capturing another set while the rides and games are active. It’ll be fun to integrate all of the lights and busyness of what we typically visualize when we think of a fair. More to come…