“Instead of going to a daycare my grandparents would come to my house and watch me while my parents went to work. Many days they would tell stories from growing up in the 1920s during the depression, of how they would only pay a nickel for gas, their evenings at the Knights of Columbus hall playing bingo or how good my grandma was at bowling,” says photographer Kalin Hayden, who’s currently studying for her masters at Columbia College Chicago. “Their leisure activities were passed down to me on Friday nights when my grandpa would help run bingo night and my grandma would run the food counter.”
Carrying on the traditions of her grandparents, Kalin now travels around photographing bingo halls and bowling alleys in the Midwest of America to capture the “commonality between the two activities” and to examine "how their communities survive in the contemporary world”. “Over the years I’ve experienced that every bingo hall or bowling alley feels the same, filled with similar characters. Their tchotchke-line bingo cards or personalised bowling shirts speak to a post-war Americana culture,” explains Kalin. “I am interested in these social spaces in middle America and the people that frequent them to stay connected to a time my grandparents spoke so fondly of.”
Kalin set out to find the traditional bingo halls and bowling alleys that have resisted new technologies and still carry that air of nostalgia. “I travel between Chicago and my hometown of Edwardsville, Illinois; a city part of the St. Louis Metro East Area… I am lucky to be in a big city where there are multiple places for me to visit, but in my hometown there is one bingo hall and a couple bowling alleys.”
With many of the bingo halls being held in local churches or community centres and the same groups of people bowling together, a warm and familiarity is portrayed throughout Kalin’s images. “I look for spaces that are stuck in time. A time of low-tech, saturated colour, and nostalgia. The patrons of these time-warped nests represent a character that reminds me of my grandparents,” explains the photographer. “I try to capture the in-between moments of action where the body resets, similar with the still lifes. By freezing that moment the viewer begins to see all of the details in the space and it starts to develop a narrative about the person and space.”
Adopting an uncomplicated approach to her work, Kalin is keen for the images to speak for themselves and avoids overly editing the final photographs. The series combines a healthy mix of portraits, landscapes and still lifes, building a concrete and considered picture of these places. “I like that each type of picture informs the other. They can stand on their own but presented as a group the story becomes more rich,” says Kalin.
The biggest challenge for Kalin was to convince the bingo players and bowlers that they’re a worthy subject. “When I approach people and ask them if I can photograph them while they play, they just look at me. But once I take their picture, I print one off and give to them as a thank you and they start to get it,” says the photographer. “By returning every week everyone is used to me being there and taking their pictures.”
The photographer hopes her images shed light on a community and provide an insight into seemingly forgotten pursuits. “Playing bingo and going bowling is very middle America, a rural, meditative process. There are moments of stillness in these games that today we fill with scrolling through our phones,” says Kalin. “But being surrounded by people who use little to no technology, their time is filled with conversation and thought. Through conversation one can learn a lot about a person and life through their experiences.”