It was Helin Bereket’s first time in the Playground of the World. She hadn’t planned on visiting, and certainly hadn’t planned any things to do in Coney Island, New York winter was in full swing after all, which meant it was off-season for the famous Brooklyn beachside amusement park. Still, Helin had hoped to see a few operating rides or a cotton candy stand beckoning a couple of hungry tourists, at the very least. Instead, she found a ghost town. 

An artificial palm tree with a sandy beach behind itA well-known holiday destination since the early 20th century with shores lined by some of the best hotels in New York, Coney Island attracts crowds of visitors during the summer, especially on weekends, when the salty ocean breeze mixes with the smell of fried oil, candy apples, popcorn, and sunblock.

However, once the season is over, the boardwalk becomes deserted and things to do in a usually thriving Coney Island New York dwindle. Fast-food shops close up, beach crowds surrender their places to the seagulls, and the trendy summer hotspot transforms into a dead zone. With desertion taking over Coney Island amusement parks, New York proper picks up the slack. 

It was this side of Coney Island that greeted Helin as she wandered into eerie stillness on that late-winter day. The dark, cloudy atmosphere stood in obvious juxtaposition to what she had expected to find. Colors appeared dull under the sunless sky, and there wasn’t enough light to capture any strong shadows or contrasts.

With only the distant cry of gulls suggesting any sign of life, she decided to make the best of the situation and set out to capture the other side of Coney Island — the exact opposite of everything it stands for.

Seagulls flying towards the beachOriginally from Istanbul, Helin completed her bachelor’s degree in architecture and went on to finish her master’s at the Berlin Weissensee School of Art. It was there that she discovered a bridge between architecture and other artistic disciplines, a relationship that eventually led her to photography. She created her Instagram account in 2015 and, ultimately, her newfound craft became her full-time job.

Her photographs are a mixture of bucket-list locations and sights she stumbles upon spontaneously. With a knack for looking at the ordinary in a different light, she strives to capture the interesting and overlooked details of everyday life. True to her architectural background, she prefers simple and minimalistic compositions, but her style is never fixed — it simply reflects her current interests, whatever they might be.

Amusement park booths with a Ferris wheel behind them, all shut down for the season

That said, Helin has always had an affinity for encapsulating the feeling of a place left behind. Coney Island is only one of the several off-season locations she has discovered, always by chance. Each time, she’s recognized a certain feeling of anticipation that permeates the air.

“It’s an ambivalent feeling, like remembering your childhood or watching someone you love going away,” she says. “It’s that feeling of losing something precious, or a holiday that is coming to an end.”

An amusement park ride named the Steeplechase is shut down for the season
The top of a roller coaster

But beyond the nostalgic feeling of something lost, a sort of expectancy always follows. Summer will soon return. People will come back to claim the beachside, shops will reopen, and the air will be tinged with the sound of laughter. There will be life there yet again, till the next blanket of winter falls and the same bittersweet cycle begins once more.

To view more of Helin’s work on Coney Island, New York City, and beyond, visit her website and follow her on Instagram.