A Feast for the Eyes


Sunday, August 19, 2007; Page BW08


CARNY Americana on the Midway By Virginia Lee Hunter | Umbrage. 104 pp. $35


Virginia Lee Hunter has been traveling with carnivals since 1996 "across the western plains of Nebraska and Wyoming, deep in the hollers of Appalachia, and through the valleys of California." In the photographs in Carny-- which are accompanied by suitably surreal song lyrics from Tom Waits -- she captures the bright lights of the tilt-a-whirl and the seedy thrill of games with dubious odds and cheap prizes. A carnival owner tells Hunter, "We are a professional traveling amusement company. This is our 'Disney on Wheels.' " But carnivals are also refuges for people who just want to get away from where they are. In interviews with the carnies, she conveys the hard lives -- full of drugs and lost children -- of the people responsible for the spun sugar and shine on the midway. "I don't want to run away from life," says Rose, who operates a game called "Shoot the Pooh," "but I wish I could run away from mine."