In Kibuts Kalia, an Israeli resort town along the Dead Sea, the Atraktzia amusement park sits locked up and long abandoned. Once a popular destination for family vacations, the water park’s vibrant colors have been faded by the harsh desert sun, the rides are broken and rusted, and weeds grow relentlessly over the pools. Nearby, sinkholes riddle the coast of the Dead Sea, discouraging tourists from visiting the area.
Photographer Dana Stirling came across the abandoned park a few years ago while exploring the nearby beach town with her husband, also a photographer. She’d never visited as a kid, but the park had been so popular during her childhood it held a sort of mythic significance for her, and she felt nostalgic for the park she never knew. “I think when you see places that you know had a function and now they don’t have a function anymore you feel sad for them,” Stirling says. “You can identify these places and how they once were. I think that’s why we love places that have broken down. There’s something about it that’s very appealing to us.”
Aktrakzia shut down in 2000, when political tensions in the area made it harder for Israelis to vacation there. “It’s Israel, everything’s complicated,” Stirling says. “Since Kalia’s on the way to the Dead Sea and it’s in the middle of the desert, it’s not really easy to make it safe.” In her series, Dead Water, Stirling captures the soft pastels of the painted rides and faded signs of the amusement park, which has remained virtually untouched since its closure. To bring out the colors under the bright desert sun, she used a Brionica camera and Kodak 100 film.
Images of urban decay and abandonment have become pervasive in recent years, and some have criticized “ruin porn,” as it’s so charmingly called, as being empty nostalgia at best, and exploitation at worst. But with her images of Aktrakzia, Stirling hopes to draw a parallel between the park and another nearby victim of shortsightedness and negligence. The Dead Sea has been has been steadily shrinking over the course of a few decades, due to industry’s use of water and the sea’s rapid evaporation rate. The sea is eroding, with sinkholes appearing all along the water’s edge. “What’s happening to the Dead Sea now is like the water park,” Stirling said. “It’s being overused and abused.”