In America’s Stage: Times Square, street photographer Betsy Karel (born 1946) uses five New York City blocks as a metaphor for urban America today. Her premise is that many of the major trends of our society are present in Times Square: globalism, consumerism, ubiquitous sexualization, hucksterism, surveillance, narcissism. All are compressed and amplified here. In Karel’s photos fantasy parades as reality, corporate interests invade almost all public spaces, and Times Square becomes a vivid, almost hyper realistic, form of theater.
“Karel is a native New Yorker who haunted Times Square to find what most of the city’s dwellers seek to avoid: the tourists and everything that exists for them in that historic mecca. She records the intermingling of those responsible for the cacophony, those reacting and those who appear oblivious. She recognized the sadness that co-exists with outrageous exhibitionism, the excessive signs competing for attention with 24/7 congestion, workers, beggars and lovers.” —Anne Wilkes Tucker
American photographer Betsy Karel first visited Waikiki in 2009 with her husband, who was then in the final stages of terminal cancer. While there, the symptoms of his disease seemed to temporarily recede amid his joy in Waikiki’s beauty and resources, and Karel promised to capture his happiness in a new series of photographs. This highly personal book, which continued over the next four years, is dedicated to his memory. Karel’s vision of “paradise” is kaleidoscopic and vivid, and her rendering of Waikiki is often ambiguous and complex. The people she pictures are relaxed, reveling in the sensuous pleasures of a sun-drenched destination. Yet while depicting a manufactured dreamscape that oscillates between real and imaginary worlds, these photographs testify to the intensity of our desire to experience our dreams--and equally to escape unpleasant realities.