Artificial Light: Photographers Research – George Wilson

08th July 2021

George Wilson documented the life within a British arcade where he worked as a bingo caller. Because he worked at the Cairn’s Amusements in Herne Bay, Kent, and as a graduate of David Huron’s school of Documentary Photography he was able to take many photographs. He “… captures many of the features that are distinct to the British amusement arcade: the arcade as an inter generational space; the presence of fruit-machines, bingo, penny-pushers, pool, and video games; the arcade as social space.” (Shepherdson, K. 2019)

His photographs are the only known series of documentary work on the subject of British Amusement Arcades, although there is an American equivalent by Ira Nowinski’s titled, ‘Bay Area Arcades’ which is archived at Stanford University.

Fig. 1 Arcade Tales (1981-1982)

The British arcades are rarely photographed apart from the occasional snaps from tourists. Shepherdson (2019) states that the lack of documentation of the arcade culture is due to,

… associations with illicit fun, its framing as low-culture, and the periodic calls for greater regulation, or indeed prohibition of arcades from the seaside, that the amusement arcade remains rarely photographed or theorised. Seaside councils often attempted to block the development and expansion of arcades, citing the threat of moral decline, and arcade operators became vigilant to people photographing activity within their spaces”.

Shepherdson, K. (2019)

Wilson states, “I think it would be impossible [to make the work] now because they’d throw you out. But they couldn’t throw me out ‘cos I used to work there.” This is quite an odd statement I feel as I always pop in and take a few photographs and I have never been stopped at all. However I do tend to focus on the actual machines with their colours, shapes, lines and reflections on the ceilings.

I actually want to really learn from this exercise and shoot in my local amusement arcade because I am working long term on the subject of Lowestoft because I want to document the life down by the ‘seaside’.

The images are an amazing study of body positioning and facial expressions of the arcade visitors and I find the concentration on people’s faces absolutely fascinating. It does not matter about age or gender the same fixed stare is found on all the faces.

The use of black and white film, which omits the bright colours of the machines strengthens the documentary style and the viewers eyes predominantly study the people.

This is where Wilson’s and my photographs will be a contrast. For Project 2: The Beauty of Artificial Light, it is the machines themselves which will be my focus.

Below are a few more of Wilson’s photographs which in black and white fo not show the colours of the magical world inside an amusement arcade. However his subject matter is the life of arcades in terms of the people that ‘play’ within them.

In my research I noticed that Wilson shot a few images in colour. These images which are low in number still focus on the people within the arcade. If we study the image below the colours and strength of the lights that the machines give out are not as bright and dynamic as the machines of today. Maybe this is why there are not any images of machines as the sole subject matter.

Fig. 3 Arcade Tales (1981-1983)

Wilson’s images of the people in the arcades between 1981 to 1982 are a slice of time showing amusement arcades of an era gone by.

How different would these images have been if the artificial lights of today had been present? The close up studies of the people and their facial expressions would have been lit up during the night and many different colours would have been bouncing and spreading throughout the composition. It would have been a feast to the eyes, yet at the same time the documentary element of the series would have been less effective.


Fig. 1 – Fig. 3 Wilson, G. (1981-1982) Arcade Tales. [Photograph] At: (Accessed: 08.07.2021)


Karen Shepherdson (2019) Arcade Tales: The George Wilson Collection. At: (Accessed 08.07.2021)

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