Welcome to Weekends on Wednesday, your little mid-week fix to get you looking forward to the weekend! The purpose of Weekends on Wednesday is to provide you with ideas for local spots you can visit during the weekend- not just as a guest or visitor, but also as a photographer. My requirements for picking a place for Weekends on Wednesday are:
1. Is it a local novelty? It can't be part of some big, national chain, unless something really sets this place apart from the other locations in the chain.
2. Is it unique? I'm not looking just any small business or little location; the places I visit need to have something new to show me.
3. Does it make me want to crack out my camera? Some places are local and unique, but simply don't have the design or appeal to start snapping photos.
These places don't have to just be businesses, either! It can be a specific street corner, some part of a beach, or even a tree in a park! It has to be something where someone can spend more than 15 minutes enjoying themselves while having the opportunity to advance their photography collection.
For the first edition of Weekends on Wednesday, I'm going to take you to YESTERcades, the retro arcade in Red Bank. This is an incredible spot in one of the most popular parts of Red Bank, located just down the street from Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash. For only about $8/hr, you can enjoy uninterrupted play at YESTERcades, a virtual (literally) cornucopia of childhood memories for people my age or older and for younger generations, it also provides a wondrous look into how previous generations spent their quarters and hours. As explained to me by General Manager, John, the games are "the connection they can make with their parents; Mommy used to play this, Daddy spent hours on this." He explained how parents even start to get giddy and feel like their own kids again.
The thing which first blew me away about YESTERcades was the sheer volume of games. The game cabinets are in impeccable condition, regarding their age, and every single one is BEAUTIFUL. Throughout the days, you'll find swells and lulls in the crowd, which will provide you opportunities for multiple ways to get intimate with the machines or some fabulous shots of people enjoying the games. Of course, if you're going to photograph other people trying to enjoy their time, try not to disturb them and make sure you ask permission before taking any pictures which would make them easily recognizable. With the large windows at the front of the arcade, there's plenty of opportunities to get pictures with natural lighting, and the ambient lighting allows for easy pictures. You may be able to tell by my pictures that I'm a big fan of using flashes, which plays in well for my fondness of freezing motion.
I'd suggest using the slower hours to find really close and interesting angles on some of the games. If you're like me and played many of these games growing up, you'll find an emotional connection to certain parts of the games. Use this- find an angle which makes you feel nostalgic or simply makes you say "oh." Also, try to get into the minds of the children playing these games for the first time. The manager, Christian, told me that one of his favorite things at YESTERcades is helping the kids and making them happy; he loves the fact that the younger players don't understand the instrumentals of all the old consoles, but find them so fascinating. Many of the younger kids have no idea the struggles we went through just to play with a single cartridge on Atari, Sega, or Nintendo. For them, hooking up a controller with a wire is is a new experience and a person blowing into a cartridge to make it work is pure magic.
As the crowds begin rolling in, you should consider setting up for some bigger shoots (with permission of course) of other players coming in. There are multiple comfy couches with more modern gaming systems and large LCDs where gamers like to cozy up and play together; this will give you fantastic opportunities to photograph some groups. The great thing about taking pictures of people playing games is the fact that you barely have to pose them or ask for them to give you more emotion; I don't think there's emotion more raw than three people trying to whup each other in a game of Mario Kart.
Just make sure you always ask people if they mind you taking pictures first...
While waiting between taking pictures, consider playing some games! You'll be surprised by the kind of collection at YESTERcades, many people will find themselves locked on a single game for hours on end. Of course, the games adults seem to play the most are the ones they enjoyed most when they were younger; the employees even reported to me of a man who flew all the way from the UK to play Gorf! Cabinets and pinball machines like these are hard to come by, which is why people will come from near and far to enjoy a taste of their childhood again. What I personally find most impressive is the fact that nearly all the games are always functioning; if you find a game with an out-of-order sign on it one day, it'll certainly be running flawlessly the next time you stop by. This feat made all that much more impressive considering the fact that the employees at YESTERcades lovingly tend to and repair the majority of all the games. These games are old and some of them take a little more finesse to keep running so efficiently, which means you might actually get to see an opened game if you're lucky enough. Ask politely if you can get a picture of the inner workings of these games for some wonderful tech images to share with an all new crowd. Careful not to put your camera too deep into the machinery, you don't want to break anything or get hurt!
When the employees at YESTERcades are not checking on the games or customers, they provide wonderful fountains of information regarding the arcade and different games. I was fortunate enough to get some great pictures of them in front of some of their favorite games using a Ring Flash Diffuser.
The guys at the front not only maintain the arcade and help the customers, but they also help with the design and decoration within the arcade. They have access to all the items in the display cases and if you ask really politely, you might even be able to snap a picture of them posing with some of their favorite accessories.
YESTERcades is a labor of love for all the employees involved. Each person at the arcade will spend hours each day checking each and every game so that it is in best working condition by the time you come in to play. This attention to detail leads to some of the hardest and best parts of working for YESTERcades. Maintenance on the machines can be painstaking and tedious, but their work pays off the moment customers walk in. Repeat customers of YESTERcades are so dedicated and excited that they can almost be more closely described as fans. It is the attention to every detail that provides such a wonderful gaming experience in such a well-decorated environment. While trying to decide on the layout of the arcade, the employees consider what kind of decorations and items they'd like to see in a room of their own. This attention to detail can be seen in the lamp, posters, layout of the games, and even game controllers carefully placed in a thoughtful place yet looking left around. You can take all of these items as great opportunities for an interesting or unique photo. Because the decoration is based on the passions of the employees, there's something in the arcade to attract everyone.
Just like many photographers, photography can either be a job or a hobby, the employees at YESTERcades have their own passions outside of the arcade. For Christian, he enjoys riding his motorcycle outside of work; for Tucker, he spends his off-time returning to the arcade or playing other games. These are all people who took something they loved and turned it into something which benefited them. For the owner who started everything, it all started with his passion for just one game.