Coney Island Mother of Exiles

Nancy Oliveri

Coney Island has been a virtual magnet for photographers for well over 100 years. Robert Bracklow began shooting the New York City beachfront in the 1890s. Harold Feinstein made a career of documenting it and Walker Evans went to the Island for inspiration very early in his career in New York. Nancy Oliveri’s Coney Island Mother of Exiles is worthy of comparison to these chroniclers. Part Robert Frank, part Diane Arbus, part Danny Lyon; the book is a celebration of the contemporary American experience. Shot between 2015 and 2019, all manner of complexity, simplicity, diversity, disparity, eccentricity and humanity are captured by her lens.

Mother of Exiles refers to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus. In Oliveri’s modern interpretation, her subjects are often exiles on the cultural fringes of society. And while the mermaids and snake handlers seem to at least be able to co-mingle with the masses, the newest of immigrants are pictured in isolation; in the landscape but not of it. Having been taken in the most public of spaces, many of the images seem solitary, Oliveri playing with the physical expanse of the space and isolating people in the frame.

Oliveri has a gift for capturing moments of introspection and self-awareness in her subjects. Coney Island Mermaid 2017 is all about empowerment, the woman in the photo all but daring you to cross her. A loving embrace on the beach coexists in the same space as a man sharing his own love for his pet rat. Stars and stripes are posted on the walls behind a bored carny. Two girls strike an Arbus like pose of twins in Festival of Eid al-Adha 2016.

In essence, Coney Island Mother of Exiles is a modern day The Americans shot in a microcosm.

Coney Island Mother of Exiles won the Bronze Medal at the Tokyo International Foto Festival.

During this time of lockdown, Nancy has graciously made this book available for download.
Click the cover below to access it (22mb file).


Nancy Oliveri is an American artist who studied fine art and photography at Hartford Art School. She has had three solo photography exhibitions and has exhibited her work in juried competitions in the US and internationally including Berlin, Barcelona, Istanbul. Her work has been acknowledged with numerous awards including Still Life Category winner in the Pollux Awards 2018, Women See Women at the Julia Margaret Cameron awards, and Still Life Category Paris Prix3 in 2018. She has been published in L’Oeil,The Eye of Photography Magazine, Musee Magazine, White-Hot Magazine for Contemporary Art and two self published books. She is
an art collector, mother, a licensed psychotherapist and has maintained a private practice in NYC focusing on artists, writers and creative entrepreneurs for the past 25 years.

Nancy is currently working on a black and white book during the COVID-19 health crisis, based on the 5 stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. It’s explores the psychological process during isolation and pandemic and from her view in the south Brooklyn landscape.

Instagram @nancy_oliveri_photography

~ Posted by Mark Walton