Friday, 15 June 2007

Where Has All The Good Time Gone?

Documentary Images from the final days of the Rotunda Amusements

All images © Matt Rowe 2007

The 1953 film O DreamLand directed and produced by Lindsay Anderson, takes a look
 at the visitors to  Margate’s Dreamland fun fair. For ten minutes it is a sharp centred survey of 
the theme park. The camera’s distanced gaze takes in the visitors and the fair- 
ground frivolities, revealing both to be a disenchanted spectacle. 

Matt Rowe has taken O Dreamland’s premise of recording the funfair scene and 
taken a series of photographs of the contemporary Rotunda amusement park in 

Folkestone, Kent. He has documented the Rotunda site with the use of a vintage camera, 
commenting on the decline of the seaside resort. The previously iconic Rotunda is 
undergoing a period of transition. The roller coaster, an emblem of the town’s Dreamland hay 
day, was recently demolished due to re development plans. In the lull between 
demolition and development the site was occupied by a temporary fun fair. The 
seaside spectacle of amusements and roller coasters is gradually changing.  
Sites such as the rotunda signify key parts of the town’s identity, history and 
social network. The hub of social activity and survey of society seen in O Dreamland 
has turned into a somewhat empty amusement park with isolated individuals.
The Rotunda fairground was a local hang out in the school holidays, the souvenir 
shops a site to roam through on lazy afternoons. The sea front cafes and ice cream 
vans all held a status within the community. They were places to meet, to work, to hang out, 
and eat  candy floss. 

With the removal of the Rotunda, and its shift into a temporary site ,the social space of the fair has, 
in turn, shifted. It is a little empty with fewer rides and familiarity, a sad reminder of former activity. 

Where O Dreamland documented the mass enjoyment of the seaside spectacle, 
albeit a little grotesque in the surreal revelation of amusement culture, Matt 
Rowe’s photographs depict the present era where it is no longer the bombard- 
ment of rides and entertainers that dis- 
turbs the senses but 

of the present, a social realism no longer gilded but stripped bare, awkward 
and isolated Matt Rowe has chosen to use a vintage camera to document 
the Rotunda scene. The use of the camera creates an equally vintage aes- 
thetic, the faded tones nodding to the contemporary sparsity and igniting a 
nostalgia for the loss of brighter eras, of a seaside committed to memory. 
Struck through with candy coloured pigments the images are brought back 
into a more recent history.

rather the lack of individuals, of crowds, and glamour. It is a bare and 
sparse amusement park. We are shown a figure passing through, or wait- 
ing at the edge of a ride. A mobility scooter, a pram, and a hooded sweat- 
shirt replace the dresses and candy floss of the ideal seaside resort. If the 
1950s Dreamland was an ‘alternatively camp and luxuriously sad, a kind of 
gilded social realism’* Matt Rowe presents us with the faded spectacle and 
isolated amusements

He has manipulated the photo with washes of colour or digital additions. 
We see the highlighted edges of a ride, the lights of an amusement arcade, 
tempting us with echoes of a past glamour, with packed crowds and good 
times. The conscious choice of a memoir aesthetic suggests the images 
are from the past. With an aura of nostalgia the photographs not only pres- 
ent a longing for a prior era but further anticipate the changes yet to occur 
on the Rotunda site. The temporary amusements are already in the past, 

already part of the shifting landscape of Folkestone’s redevelopment cam- 
paign. For Matt Rowe, the shift in the seaside resort is a moment to be re- 
corded marking a point of transition from the dreamland’s of the past to the 
seasides of the present.  It is a shift that leaves us with a space of uncer- 
tainty, a “disenchanted, sad and occasionally ferocious” amusement park, 
a sight to be captured and commemorated along with other seaside eras.   

Text By Laura Mansfield

Monday, 4 June 2007