“At first glance an amusement park looks really fun. But after you spend some time in one, you realise it’s actually a bit nightmarish and everything’s falling apart,” says David Brandon Geeting, whose new book takes its lead from these polarising fun factories
There is something frantic about David Brandon Geeting’s photography. In his latest collection, Amusement Park, the Greenpoint, Brooklyn-based artist creates a mood that is exhilarating and vibrant, but also verging on collapse, as though its tether could snap at any moment. Where his 2015 book, Infinite Power, was energetic and kinetic, with Amusement Park he’s aiming for “information overload”.
“I’m not afraid of making people confused or dizzy,” he says. “I wanted it to be an onslaught of colours and forms and things that don’t make sense.”
It sounds a little ominous but as we speak, Geeting seems warm, if mischievous – an artist dedicated to playful rebellion more than malevolence. At the time of our call he is in London, planning a commercial shoot for “like, Chinese Amazon Echo” and, given his out-there style, I ask if he finds it hard to focus on commissioned advertising work.
“Sometimes if feels like I’m signing my pride away a little, but then you get a nice cheque so it evens out,” he laughs. “I think with this one, in the end it will still look like my work. They want it kind of messy and wild. They have scenes in mind of houses under construction and dogs with things in their mouths. I’m actually pretty excited.”
As his star rises it seems likely his brand of bold imagery will be increasingly in demand in the commercial world – hot on the heels of his editorial work for titles such as Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Another Magazine, Vogue, The New York Times, The Fader, and many more. It’s good going for someone who only graduated from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in 2011.
And messy and wild are two words that perfectly describe the inception of Amusement Park, a collection of edgy portraits, outrageous still lifes and cryptic documentary shots, all assembled by publisher Lodret Vandret and with additional typography by Bráulio Amado. The project formed from the scraps of discarded commission shots, studio improvisation, and images captured on ventures with his camera, says Geeting.
“I shoot in a very non-linear way,” he explains. “I’m never thinking about the end goal. I just shoot until something happens. I’ll be in my studio throwing shit at the wall and seeing what works, just improvising the same way a musician would. What’s funny is that a lot of the half-baked ideas are the ones I end up liking most, so a lot of my work has a sort of sketchy vibe to it.”
It was only when he invited his friend and fellow photographer Jason Nocito to take a look that the focus of the collection became clearer. “[Jason] came to my studio to look at some prints and the first thing he said was: ‘Man, your work reminds me of an amusement park’. I guess what he meant was that, at first glance, an amusement park looks fun but after you spend some time in one it’s actually a bit nightmarish and everything’s falling apart. There’s an excitement there but it’s really kind of dark.
“The next week I went to one nearby. It turned out it was its last day open that season. I learned that on the East Coast of the US all amusement parks close the day after Halloween – which is really depressing when you think about it, closing all the parks on the Day of the Dead. It had been raining the day before so it was all dark and grey. Everything was shutting down, everyone was trying to get one last ride in. It was eerie. It definitely helped set the tone for the book, even if most of the pictures in it were made by hand in the studio.”
In fact some of the most striking images in Amusement Park are the still lifes, which seem to strain at the notion of stillness. “Someone once said to me that I ‘add life to still life’,” Geeting says. “I know it sounds like the corniest thing in the world but I guess where still life is generally rigid and calculated, my stuff is almost about to fall apart. It’s considered but it’s chaotic at the same time.”
Equally captivating in Geeting’s collection is the subtle and unconventional editing, something which can again be credited to his distinctly disobedient approach. “The ones you think have been photoshopped haven’t,” he chuckles. “I add little touches here and there in post, and there are certainly images that have been doctored, but for me the most surprising ones are the ones straight from the camera.
“I think it’s fun to use photoshop wrong. Instead of taking a pimple off someone’s face I’ll mess around with an image of a guy eating a banana in a car, or add a drop shadow somewhere to make it weirder.”
It points to a DIY spirit and a sense of something rebellious – take the images of balloon animals and shapes, for example, crudely taped to home depot carpets in front of old backdrops. It comes as no surprise to discover that Geeting has played in numerous punk bands, and carries that ethos into his art.
“Once it’s in your life it’s there to stay,” he says. “It’s just the whole ‘Fuck you, I’m going to do it my way’ attitude. And I really embrace the DIY aesthetic. The way I see it is that if I want something to happen, I’m just going to figure out how to do it. It’s haphazard and rough around the edges, but I like it like that.”
Geeting has a haywire creative charge, and he’s is already thinking of what his next book will be – a collection of random shots taken on strolls through Brooklyn, with the intention of glorifying the mundane. It’s something he has already been playing with with on Instagram, and says has already cost him “tonnes of followers”. Not that he seems to mind. “I’ve gained a bunch too. People who appreciate being hit over the head with this monotonous stuff. I like focussing on the weird little details that might otherwise go unnoticed.”
And in that, he adds, it’s not so dissimilar to an amusement park. “I guess it either makes you happy or makes you want to throw up,” he says. “I hope people are at least intrigued by this book. I want people to have a dream that looks like it.”