Stefano Cerio, “Lunaeur Roma” (© Stefano Cerio)

The wide eye of a wooden playground horse on a spring, or the dizzying bends of an amusement park roller coaster, all get a little eerie at night. Italian photographer Stefano Cerio told Hyperallergic that he is interested in the “absence” not the “abandonment” of these places, where sites that are joyous frenzies by day become uncanny in the darkness. A frontier schooner looks to be levitating from its ferris wheel, while the head of King Kong trapped in a lonely cage at the center of some whirling ride is more melancholy than menacing in the low light. In each scene, the emptiness and seemingly limitless black background heighten the surreal settings.

Stefano Cerio: Night Games, out July 25 from Hatje Cantz with text in English and Italian, features 54 of his photographs from after-hours exploring of what he calls “the fiction” in these parks. Selections from Night Games are also currently on view at Galleria del Cembalo in Rome, with another exhibition opening June 1 at the Camera — Centro Italiano per la Fotografia in Turin.

Cover of Stefano Cerio: Night Games (courtesy Hatje Cantz)

He says in an interview with book editor Nadine Barth that his photographs “are concerned above all with human beings, even though they do not appear.” That theme connects his other recent series, such as the 2010 Winter Aqua Parkon water parks in winter; 2012’s Night Ski, on ski slopes at night; and 2015’s Chinese Fun, on off-season Chinese amusement parks (previously covered on Hyperallergic). Most of the locales in Night Games are in Europe, including places he went to as a kid, like Rome’s LunEur Amusement Park, where a huge owl perches on a simulated stone building, a colossal skull nestled under its arches. Much of the built environment of these parks replicates somewhere “real.” Mirabilandia in Ravenna, Italy has a not-quite-right tribute to New York City, where signage for a “BDFV” MTA station is visible beneath faux urban decay and graffiti. In contrast, Cerio has a few shots from New York City itself, in which the Coney Island Parachute Jump and a Central Park playground are both illuminated spectrally in the night.

“From Lake Garda to Florida, from Bergamo to France, these places are populated with improbably colored houses, cartoon characters, and strange animals,” author Angela Madesani writes in a book essay. “These products of globalization are made, perhaps even born, to be photographed.” Yet, she adds, Cerio’s images “are a million miles away from the ones taken daily by visitors.”

Stefano Cerio, “Cinecittà World Roma” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Lunaeur Roma” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Gardaland Verona” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Gardaland Verona” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Central Park, NY” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Nettuno Beach Roma” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Eur Lake Roma” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Coney Island, NY” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Gardaland Verona” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Mirabilandia Ravenna” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio, “Leolandia Bergamo” (© Stefano Cerio)

Stefano Cerio: Night Games is out July 25 from Hatje CantzThe Night Games exhibition continues through July 8 at Galleria del Cembalo (Palazzo Borghese, Largo della Fontanella di Borghese, 19, Rome).

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...