Classic Coney Island Through the Lens of Michael Ernest Sweet

Curators’ Corner

Classic Coney Island Through the Lens of Michael Ernest Sweet

Coney Island is one of America’s most enigmatic attractions. In many ways, it’s the quintessential New York City experience – gritty, fascinating, and endearingly kooky.

Yet in others it’s completely puzzling. Coney is far removed from its glory days prior to World War II, when it had three bustling amusement parks that attracted millions of visitors each year. As what many would consider a downtrodden day trip destination, it took what easily could have been a knockout punch in Hurricane Sandy. But Coney Island will always survive. And if you visit this summer, you’ll see that it’s in fact overflowing with energy and excitement.

Photographer Michael Ernest Sweet has spent the last three summers capturing the essence of Coney Island: the people. Sweet, who also writes beautifully, detailed how he became “almost obsessed” with Coney in a recent Huffington Post piece.

“Photographers from around the world will often write to me because they are planning a trip to New York City – Where should I photograph?” he wrote. “While there are many places to explore in and around New York City as a photographer, I never neglect to implore them to take the train out to Coney Island. If one doesn’t do so they are, without a doubt, missing some aspect of the New York City photographic experience.”

Michael Sweet Man smoking Michael Sweet Woman laying on the sand

Sweet’s black-and-white street photography accentuates Coney Island’s gritty character. It’s incredibly easy to snap away and capture the masses in a setting like Coney, but Sweet manages to frame intimate portraits of urban beachgoers relishing the sand and sun. When viewing his images, it feels like each subject is somehow connected to the next, despite likely being total strangers to each other.

Michael Sweet street photography Michael Sweet man and woman Michael Sweet Man in coney island Michael Sweet Man lain on sand

Perhaps the most interesting part of the photographer’s narrative is his advice on photographing people in public.

“Whatever you do, don’t hide the fact that you are making photographs. This is the fastest way to get someone to call the police on you,” he says, adding that he has only had a handful of minor altercations in five years of photographing the streets of New York. “If you are obvious and polite about what you are doing people will show resistance if they don’t want to be part of your photographs. When they do, you move on.”

Michael Sweet Man in front of it sugar Michael Sweet Woman Reading on the sand

Sweet’s Coney Island shots are completely intriguing. To see more, visit his website or buy his book, Michael Sweet’s Coney Island.

All images © Michael Sweet Photography