Susana Raab May 16, 2008Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Ohio University, United States.
Tags: American Rituals, Florida, Ohio University, Susana Raab
Watching the Battle Royal, Medieval Times, Kissimmee, Florida 2005
Susana Raab is a documentary photographer who began her career as a photojournalist in Washington, DC covering politics. She worked for the New York Times Washington bureau for four years before attending graduate school at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communications. Her two long-term projects: Consumed: Fast Food in the US; and Off-Season: America at Leisure have received recognition from the White House News Photographers’ Association, The Ernst Haas/Golden Light Awards, PhotoLucida’s Critical Mass, American Photography 28, The Santa Fe Center for Photography and Photo District News. Her work is widely exhibited, both nationally and internationally, most recently at the Arts Club of Washington, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo in Madrid, and the Noorderlicht Photofestival in the Netherlands.
About the Photograph:
No one quite understood what I was trying to do, driving from Athens, Ohio to Orlando, Florida to explore tourist venues that market history, perhaps least of all myself. But this is often part of the process of any journey. At the Medieval Times, I enjoyed a leg of mutton-type repast with the P.R. lady, who waxed poetic about the queries she received from prospective patrons of the dinner theatre, which recreates a medieval battle for damsels’ virtue and knights’ honor. “Once someone called me and wanted to know if we actually killed people, ” she said, non-chalantly, while taking a sip from her stein of ale. As the crowd roared at the theatrics on the floor below, I got up to discover the allure of the battle. I was reminded of a girl I interviewed at a NASCAR event who said,” I love the smoke, the gas, the noise, the danger. Everyone loves it when they crash. Except, of course, when it’s Junior.” More about Off-Season: America at Leisure
The convenience of modern living has allowed us to enjoy unprecedented amounts of leisure time and methods through which to spend that time. Off-Season explores our modern preference for the marketed moment, the pleasure purveyed.
It began with a set of brochures found in the lobby of a Gainesville, Florida motel. “Visit Jerusalem in Orlando!” was the unlikely announcement on the Holyland Experience’s handout. “Step back in time to the dawn of the Middle Ages” offered the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. “Be Petty” was the succinct tagline for NASCAR driver Richard Petty’s Driving Experience. The exchange of cash for the opportunity to enjoy free time well spent. That’s how it seemed to me.
I started the project with those venues, and by continuing to photograph festivals, celebrations, and events I seek to unravel one aspect of our modern malaise, one amusement at a time. Despite a surreal start at the Holyland Experience theme park where the passion of Christ is re-enacted daily, save for religious holidays (when for obvious reasons it would be inappropriate), there is much sweetness in America. Throughout Iowa a generosity of spirit and love of family prevails, witnessed by the large extended Iowan families who park their RV’s and camp out at the state fair campgrounds for weeks at a time. In Chittenango, New York, devoted Wizard of Oz fans preserve the spirit of the 1939 movie. A fan club of aging baby boomers in Orlando bonded over Elvis Presley while raising money for needy children.
The images also reflect how these good times have diverted us. In the hustle of our lives, leisure time can be as stressful as work. But it does prevent us reflection, from finding a moment’s contemplation. The bright lights of the fair can be a darker siren’s call. We are lost, wandering through an interminable off-season. The festival is ongoing, but the party is over.