For five years, photographer Alison Turner has been traveling around the United States armed only with her dog and her camera. During time spent in Maine, she came across a bingo hall and decided to step inside to see what was happening. As soon as she began interacting with the people playing and taking photographs, she was hooked. Over a two-year period, Turner began seeking out other halls around the country, including those in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, and California. She titled the work “Bingo Culture.”
Turner often shows up unannounced, asking the person in charge if it would be OK for her to hang around and take some shots. A self-described shy person, Turner said many of the gamers were happy to have her around; one caller even announced her to the group. “They were all so open,” Turner said about the people she photographed in the halls. “Showing me photographs of their grandkids and telling me about their life story—everyone had something interesting to say.”
Turner said she was interested in documenting the players and the game, which she fears won’t be around forever as younger generations embrace games played on their mobile devices. Most of the people who were playing were older and attended solo; regulars would arrive early, stake out their favorite spots, and spread out their cards (sometimes quite a lot) and some good luck charms. “Some looked like they brought a suitcase full of items to surround their area,” she said. “Photographs of children, troll dolls, or handmade wooden sculptures were just a few of the items I saw as good luck to the players.”
Turner said she was only turned away once at a hall because they didn’t allow women inside. Typically, the biggest problem she faced was lighting, since she doesn’t use a flash. Even more difficult: trying to capture the exact moment a “Bingo!” was called, since halls are often cavernous and figuring out a potential winner almost impossible. “I have a lot of the looks of people when bingo was called, and they weren’t the one calling it,” she said. “It would resemble a slight scowl to a full-blown scowl.”
Regardless of the outcome, Turner said there was a sense of kinship at the games that transcended the successes or disappointments. “They all knew each other, so along with playing the game, it was a social activity for them. Even if they lost money, it was getting out and seeing friends that mean as much as playing the game. Although you don’t know their story by looking at them, you might feel sad for them, but as one player told me, ‘It’s better than sitting in front of the boob tube!’ ”
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