Italian photographer Stefano Cerio has captured ski resorts at night, empty cruise ships, drained water parks, and, most recently, the uncanny bleakness of China’s off-season amusement parks and other constructed entertainment. Chinese Fun, out this month from Hatje Cantz, includes over 50 of his plate camera images.
People are absent in the photographs, which are draped in gray skies and smog. It’s easy sport for a Western photographer to go to a country like China with its recent building boom, and document its shoddy corners, but Cerio does have a good idea for some truly strange scenes. Clocks keep time on empty beaches; roller coasters stand vacant and serpentine alongside shiny new skyscrapers; a huge, concrete bowl of fruit bleached by the sun looms over a street; and fragments from global architecture are recreated in concrete, metal, and plastic — from the Colosseum to the Eiffel Tower. A fake piano in an empty field attracts couples for wedding photographs in spring and summer, yet in winter is adrift and otherworldly.
Walter Guadagnini, chair in history of contemporary art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, writes in an introduction: “It is the collapse of meaning, as well as of any possible identity, that opens the way, in the end, to a vision of the most accentuated surreal character.”
Some of Cerio’s photographs will be on view at Fondazione Volume! in Rome from September 23 to November 3. The photographer purposefully finds places that are not actually abandoned, even if they might appear post-apocalyptic. One exception is the inclusion of the Wonderland Amusement Park in Nankou, a Disneyland knockoff that was never completed and left to decay. It’s all rather bleak on the surface, but these are mostly places in hibernation, waiting for the crowds to return to give their absurdity a purpose.