Panayis Chrysovergis’ photographed a lot more than cotton candy and carousels in his new series, Never Never Land.
Amusement parks have long been fodder for horror films: fun houses quickly show their sinister sides when jovial clowns become psychotic slashers. Although these transformations are nightmarish, they aren't always as interesting as what can happen when the sun sets on them IRL.
Photographer Panayis Chrysovergis documented Paris' Foire du Trone -- a park that draws an ethnically and economically diverse crowd from across the city -- in his new series Never Never Land. As night falls, the space transforms from relatively tame playground to full on Spring Breakers. The fantasyland becomes a complex suspension of reality, where violence and machismo aggression become illuminated against neon flashes.
Tell us about the theme park you photographed.
The Foire du Trone is a Parisian theme park in the 12th arrondissement. It is open to the public from March to May on a daily basis from morning to late in the evening. The theme park is operated by the City of Paris and the people who visit come from all over the city. You encounter a diversity of cultures, age groups, different religions and social backgrounds.
Why did you begin shooting there?
I visited that place after the completion of my work Heterotopia and my visit led me to realise that I was dealing with another form of heterotopia -- a place where utopia and the imaginary obtain a material dimension. I was impressed by the diversity of the visitors and how they so radically changed depending on the hour of the day. During the day, I saw mostly children and younger adults, but as the night drew closer, it was mostly adults. What made the biggest impression on me were the security measures the park enforced: people were thoroughly searched before entering and police presence was evident mostly after dark. It was one of the first things that led me to question why this transformation was occurring.
What did you expect to encounter when you began?
When I first started working on this project, I mostly visited the theme park during the day. There, I was met with colourful and happy images -- something similar to the stereotypical image we have of a theme park. But this image was not consistent with the almost 200 police officers tasked with conducting body searches on visitors. I did not want to stick to a simple depiction of reality. I wanted to go deeper and depict my own reality, asking my own questions. This is what photography is all about in my eyes.
What did you actually experience?
The first time I was there after dark, I began to see a transformation of the scenery. Theme parks looks more like casinos now. Most games were games of skill and their rewards aimed at "grown up" children, such as mobile phones, motor bikes or even 500 euro bills.
Theme parks are designed as spaces of innocence and childhood, but many people in your images aren't children -- they're groups of men. Tell us about that dynamic.
I would say that some theme parks are not designed as spaces of innocence and childhood, but as spaces designed to recall such memories of childhood. Today, I think they are a social stereotype, left over by past times and dressed up with images from our childhood (candy, carousel, pop corn). I met "grown up" children that tiptoed between the duality of flirting and childhood tantrums. Responsible for this, in my mind, was the erotic attraction between the two sexes. This context really brings out the primal instincts of dominance by the alpha male.
There's also a lot of violence in the images -- a firing gun, the cracks in the glass, a man throwing a punch...
A theme park is generally a place where we step out of our social boundaries. There, we can scream, crash toy cars, shoot with a gun, search for the limits of our adrenaline through speed or terror. At this point, I would dare to compare a theme park with a football stadium. I think that once we arrive there, we are subconsciously transformed and set free. It is that vacant stare on each face that tells the tale of this particular borderline state. At the same time, the sexual attraction of two people is a primitive instinct, as is violence. But, what happens when the two meet in this colourful heterotopia?
What do you hope people take from this series?
What I always hope they take: the realisation that photography is never innocent.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Panayis Chrysovergis