In many ways a celebration of light’s relationship with motion, photographer Arthur Drooker‘s new soft cover monograph, Cosmic Carnival, captures the swirling colors of rides at several county fairs. Nothing shy of a feast for the eyes, the 34 page photo book taps into childhood nostalgia and dizzying memories—but it also addresses the way we understand kinetic color. “I wanted to make the Cosmic Carnival monograph the photographic equivalent of a ride,” Drooker says—and while caught in the grip of each image, and ultimately the book’s flow, it becomes evident that he’s succeeded.
“I had just finished a years-long book project about city halls,” Drooker explains. It was “a very serious work. As a change of pace, I wanted to do something quick and fun. It just so happened to be summer, the fair season. I attended a couple of local county fairs [Marin and Alameda], shooting with my iPhone. Using its long exposure mode, I made photos of rides that captured their blurs of color and patterns of light. I was so captivated by the results that I attended more fairs throughout the summer and photographed rides using my 35mm DSLR on a tripod to make sharper and more vivid long exposures.” Although Drooker had been toying with the idea of a county fair photo book for some time, this iPhone to DSLR transition was the thematic birth of Cosmic Carnival.
Drooker wasn’t revisiting a childhood obsession. Rather, he was trailblazing down a specific photographic path. “I was really exploring light, color, and movement through long exposures,” he explains. “In some ways, it’s like painting. The viewfinder was my canvas. The subject—the ride—my palette.” With that, his process required careful consideration and still offers wonder and awe.
“By first observing how a ride moves through space, I set up my tripod, which is the easel, in the best place for the shutter to act like a brush. Exposures typically lasted between two and five seconds. No matter how pre-visualized and prepared I was, the results were always surprising and thrilling—just like the best rides,” he says.
“I’m always looking for a sense of a story with photographs I make,” he adds. “Even if the subject is as abstract as long exposures of rides. As I accumulated photos, I realized that a beginning, a middle and an end were starting to emerge. I played around with sequencing photos.” Flipping through the pages it becomes evident that Drooker begins with rides in the context of fairs populated with attendees. Images grow more abstract or, as he says, astronomical. “No names, no people, just blurs of colors and light trails, resembling heavenly bodies, planets, and shooting stars.”
Cosmic Carnival ($25) is available for purchase now online.
Images by Arthur Drooker, additional reporting by Evan Orensten