For more than a hundred years, traveling carnivals have roamed the American landscape from spring to fall. Many point to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as their catalyst. Powered on a novel use of electricity, it introduced 25 million ticket-holders to the first great Ferris wheel, which soared 250 feet in the air. Less than a decade later, the first documented traveling carnival opened its debut show in Chillicothe, Ohio, according to Bruce Caron’s book Inside the Live Reptile Tent.
Intrigued by the enduring mystery of carnival culture, photographer Eric Kruszewski wanted not just to shoot the carnival, but to experience it from the inside. In 2011, a friend introduced him to the Davis family, who for several generations have operated Davis Amusement Cascadia throughout the western U.S. He spent time with them near their Las Vegas base and at several carnival sites. Over dinner, the workers talked about their kids; over beers, they argued about football. While strolling through the grounds, they discussed business.
For that entire summer, Kruszewski’s job was to transport the ice cream parlor. He documented life as a “carny” in off hours. His photography blends the poeticism of the lit-up carnival with the reality of the road, where hard work and family living combine.