The Log Flume Rider This is a photograph taken in the summer of 1987, in the picture starting at the top is my mother, me, my father, my sister and my two half-sisters. The photograph was taken at the Alton Towers theme park in Staffordshire, England. Myself and my extended family are riding the very popular record-breaking log flume ride. The log flume became an increasingly fashionable attraction at Alton Towers through the nineteen eighties. The ride was a focal point after development of the park since the owner John Broome’s takeover in 1980 and a focussed attempt to introduce more American-style ‘blockbuster’ rides. The photograph was taken by an automated camera installed somewhere near the apex of the log flume, off to the right of the chute. The photograph’s direction; sloping downwards from right to left, feels instinctively wrong, but most likely comes down to practical rather than aesthetic decisions. The log flume ride at Alton Towers was one of the early examples of a theme park installing a camera to capture the moment before park-riders plummeted the 100 feet or so into the splash tunnel below. The log flume is a great example where the ride itself is more than matched by the preevent wait. Firstly you had to deal with a poorly designed queuing system that snaked incrementally towards the ride, then away and then back again; so as to make you feel that you weren’t actually moving forward at all. Along the route of the queue was a secession of signs and text, a mixture of the fictive and real that attempted to break up the monotony of the situation.
Inside the log-carriage there was the pre-climactic approach towards the focal point of the ride and the pay-off; the drop chute itself. The flume meandered in a similar manner to the queuing system, being careful to never reveal the final destination, and to expertly build upon a sense of suspense and not-knowing. This journey was made all the more bizarre by the planner’s insistence on taking you through a wooded area away from the noise and excitement of the park, so as to provide a profound sense of dislocation. There were moments where you were treated to a series of minor peaks and falls as a template for the forthcoming experience. The uneven distribution of weight between my parents and my siblings transferred jarringly through the boat. We were not so much gliding as rather being buffeted around the trough. This was made much more evident as we began to make the climb up the final and culminating slope. Gears snagged and clunked as they attempted to lock the boat onto the ascending mechanism. The park planners made sure that the moment your ascent began, the boat in front disappeared from view. Their forward screams melted away into the mechanical whirring that now was taking place directly beneath your feet. It was enough time for your young mind to ponder on the suitability of your vessel to safely take you over the threshold. There was scant padding; a trim of riveted leather that optimally tried to anticipate where your soft body would meet the hardened fibreglass hull. The photograph at the top of the log flume ride does several things. It captures the collective moments of you and your family (or in this instance my extended family) a shared unknown terror and subsequent release. It allows for braver members of the family to acknowledge the camera itself, usually in the time-honoured way of unclasping the safety bar and extending arms in the air.
This is not something anyone in my family would have attempted. The boat tends to be a certain length, perhaps 10ft, which means that the front rider has already experienced that moment of tipping, whereas the rear passenger is caught in that weightless, euphoric point where the apparatus falls away. The riders flanked by these positions move between the point of reflex and the switch to comprehension. The log flume photograph is presented by theme parks as a unique record of an experience. The fixed camera and precarious vantage point, monopolises any alternate amateur versions. Recent editions, presumably digital files at this point, are embellished with the full range of effects and alterations, these gain complexity as time progresses. Also at some point during the early part of the century, the log becomes replaced by a bath, presumably as a concession to the sponsors. This has the perverse effect of creating a photograph that appears utterly devoid of reality, somehow negating the singular experiential moment that the pictures were original designed to capture.
The constructed souvenir photograph becomes replaced by the dynanism of the log flume Point Of View. In this instance the front rider does his or her best to emulate the experience of the ride by consciously holding and steadying a video camera pointing forwards. This seems all the more perilous considering the vast quantities of water dispatched at various points on the ride. The downward splash into the final part of the ride and the ensuing soaked drift towards the disembarking point is not solely connected to the ride and the experience. It provides time for the taken image to travel to a waiting preview screen. I recall thinking that this part of the process impressed me the most, where I was able to see the exact moment I plunged down the chute. This was set up against the anticipation of again waiting for your image to arrive on the CRT screen. Although having thought more about this, the technology was probably not yet available in the mid-eighties and therefore the photograph was never made immediately visible to me. Perhaps instead we were greeted post-ride with a series of identikit pictures of other families posing for the log flume camera. What remains clear is that this picture is the first I could say that I really owned, a picture not taken by anyone I knew. It stands as a kind of awkward family portrait, my step-sisters’ and my history crossing for a moment. The ownership became complete by an accompanying certificate of authenticity, and my own signature declaring an authorship.