In 2009, I was invited to exhibit work from Cerealism at the Lishui International Photography Festival in Lishui, China. The people were welcoming, generous and seemed to truly appreciate that I had come to share my photography at the festival. After attending the festival’s opening ceremonies and the multiple exhibits around the city, I had an opportunity to explore. Armed with my Holga, I set off to explore the city of Lishui and the surrounding landscape.
During a previous photographic series, Back and Forth, I postulated that the coin-operated ride was disappearing from the urban landscape in the States, specifically Phoenix, Arizona where I live. What I found here in Lishui was just the opposite; a plethora of coin-operated grocery store rides dotting the urban landscape. The rides were flourishing, lining most of the streets that I ventured down. I’ve seen a fair amount of China and in my travels, I have seen a few rides in various Chinese cities, but nothing like what I saw in Lishui. I would openly (and jokingly) wonder if they were all being shipped from the USA right into Lishui, except that it is obvious that the rides are constructed of very different characters and animals than what I’ve seen in the US.
I returned to Lishui in 2012 with the intent of taking more images of the coin-operated rides. Thankfully, many rides remained allowing me further opportunities to document them. What became evident the more miles I logged walking around the city is that the rides were a disconnected calling card for the micro-businesses that appeared behind the roll-up garage doors that were their storefronts. Just like in the United States, I rarely saw anyone on the rides; they become more of an entertaining fixture of the storefront. I’m not sure what, if anything, the large number of coin-operated rides is saying about the city of Lishui, or what it says about our society vs. theirs, but it remains a pleasant surprise seeing them after having spent the past decade documenting their disappearance from America’s urban landscape.