The Boardwalk on Maryland Avenue in Downtown Baltimore.
NEW YORK, NY.- Atlantic City, which was once referred to as “The World’s Playground” due to its dazzling casino hotels and night clubs, as well as its famed boardwalk and beach, plays a significant role in the popular imagination in the United States. It has been the subject of a number of movies, including the classic film “Atlantic City,” directed by Louis Malle in 1980 and starring Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster, as well as the critically acclaimed HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” which is set around the time of Prohibition. Throughout its history, the city served as a haven for people on the run during the Prohibition era. The casinos held up the unsettling hope that one might get their money back with just the pull of a handle or the roll of some dice.
Timothy Roberts photographed the iconic American resort town of Atlantic City between 2015 and 2019, during a time when the city was in an economic crisis due to the closure of many of its casinos, including three that were owned by Donald Trump. Roberts is based in Philadelphia, which is approximately an hour’s drive from Atlantic City. The local populace, a large portion of whom had been dependent on the casinos for their means of subsistence, was left without jobs, and the rate of unemployment soared to forty percent. In 2016, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey passed a rescue bill that would keep Atlantic City from going bankrupt due to a lack of available funds. Timothy Roberts tells the story of Atlantic City in his upcoming book titled “Atlantic City: The Last Hurrah,” which will be published by Daylight in April of 2020. In this book, Roberts follows the city as it rebounds from the brink of financial ruin to stage another much-anticipated comeback. An attorney from Atlantic City named Steve Hankin, who was interviewed by Roberts, provided the following commentary: “We’ve gone through a lot of different stages.” This is the last one in the series. This will be the last time we celebrate.
Roberts states as follows: “In its long and eventful history, Atlantic City has been many things, including a health retreat in the 19th century, a speakeasy during the Prohibition era, a destination for mid-century nightclubs, and a gambling Mecca on the East Coast. Many of the plans that casino impresarios and other developers had for expanding gambling across the country were derailed as a result of the economic lull that followed the near-depression that occurred in the late 2000s. The construction of casinos that were never finished resulted in the demolition of several city blocks. At one point, the default rate on home loans was the highest it had ever been in the entire country. During the most dire moments of the economic crisis, the state of New Jersey assumed control of the city’s financial operations. In my photographs, I make an effort to convey the character of the people who reside in the area as well as the setting.
Atlantic City: The Last Hurrah is comprised of 55 photographs taken in black and white by Timothy Roberts. These photographs give the work an enduring and classic feel. Regular people, both locals and tourists, who are in Atlantic City to enjoy the city’s famous beach and boardwalk, rides at the amusement park, fishing off the jetty, and a variety of other attractions are the subjects of the photographs taken by Roberts. He does not capture high rollers in his work. We see the contrast between the old and new architecture, families having fun on the beach; casinos looming menacingly over the homes of residents, the ever-present seagulls, the magnificent sea and surf, and portraits of people who came to Atlantic City to look for work in the building trades, such as Frankie, who is pictured bare-chested showing off his tattoos. Frankie came to Atlantic City to look for work.
Timothy Roberts has a significant amount of experience working as a journalist in both the southern and western regions of the United States. In addition to having his work displayed at the Fifth Barcelona Biennial, he was a nominee for the Pollux Documentary and Reportage Award in 2018. Roberts was a newspaper reporter for a good portion of his career, working in both the South and the West. His reporting on the drug conflict in Juarez, Mexico, earned him the Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2010. The award was given to him in 2010. Back then, and still today in his role as a documentary photographer, he searches for narratives that focus on individuals or locations that are undergoing significant change, as well as those that are battling the challenges and opportunities that life presents.
Amy S. Rosenberg, who is stationed on the New Jersey Shore, is a feature writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She writes about Miss America, as well as Atlantic City, beach culture, local power grabs, Philadelphia arts, and other topics, regardless of where she ends up living.