Seph Lawless is obsessed with ruins and abandoned structures, making a career of documenting everything from the abandoned shopping malls of the 1980’s (Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Mall) and the decomposition of America’s rust belt (Autopsy of America). The Cleveland-based artist and social activist’s latest project points the camera lens at the crumbling, candy-colored skeletons of the world’s amusement parks, showing that everything is eventually reduced to ruin and rubble.
To assemble Bizarro: The World’s Most Hauntingly Beautiful Amusement Parks, Lawless visited 10 abandoned amusement parks, ranging from the Abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in North Carolina to Berlin’s legendary Spreepark, the former GDR-controlled amusement park that served as the third act set piece for the 2011 action thriller film, Hanna).
For dramatic effect, he timed his shots for near sunset, or during severe thunderstorms, giving many of his images a post-apocalyptic quality. According to Lawless, it was Spreepark that was especially memorable. “The architectural style there is creepy in its own right, and most of the rides are still blowing in the breeze,” he writes by email, pointing out that he was eventually arrested by German police in Spreepark for trespassing.
But other amusement parks that Lawless visited had different horrors in wait for him. The former Six Flags in New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrine 10 years ago; there, Lawless says, he stumbled upon live alligators hidden throughout the park, lurking in the flood waters. (Lawless says he’ll be exploring the ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans in greater detail as part of an upcoming photo essay for The Guardian.)
Asked why he photographs ruins, Lawless says it’s because he enjoys tapping into the strong emotional connection people have for relics of the past. “I want to create something beautiful and intimate for the viewer,” he writes. “Abandoned malls, abandoned NASCAR speedway tracks and abandoned theme parks were all communal spaces for a lot of people. They shared good times there, formed memories. These people don’t want to forget these places, let alone slowly watch them die.”