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Fort Lauderdale photographer finds a sea of despair in cruise life

From his perch on the second floor of his friend’s apartment overlooking Port Everglades, photographer Mitya Trotsky caught hundreds of vacationers boarding cruise ships, even if they never saw him.

Hiding with his Pentax telephoto lens 650 feet away, Trotsky spotted singles, couples and senior passengers appearing on square cruise-ship balconies. Here were bored-looking shirtless men wearing floppy hats, teens buried in their smartphones, a family gazing out to sea, unsmiling retirees and curious moms peeking into next-door balconies. These slice-of-life scenes fascinated Trotsky, 46, who describes his new exhibit, “A Supposedly Fun Thing,” as a “visual anthropology” of travelers who board cruise ships to escape what he calls “mundane lives.”

“It’s the ambiguity of organized fun,” Trotsky says by phone from his Fort Lauderdale home. “You have no choice on a cruise ship. You’re trapped there for seven days, and you have to play bingo. You get this very special feeling because you see how artificial everything is constructed around you, like it’s a mirage.”

Opening Thursday, Feb. 15, at the ArtMedia Gallery in Wynwood, “A Supposedly Fun Thing” is inspired by “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” a 1997 essay by David Foster Wallace. The celebrated late author behind the Bible-length novel “Infinite Jest” opens his essay by explaining the “nearly lethal” comforts aboard a luxury cruise line leaving Port Everglades, going on to mock “the shattering, flatulence-of-the-gods-like sound of a cruise ship’s horn” and meeting cruise-ship staff “with the monikers ‘Mojo Mike,’ ‘Cocopuff’ and ‘Dave the Bingo Boy.’ ”

“I have seen nearly naked a lot of people I would prefer not to have seen nearly naked,” Wallace writes near the beginning of the essay.

Although the exhibit’s title is inspired by Wallace’s piece, Trotsky says he read the essay after finishing the project, which included about 7,000 panoramic and close-up images shot between 2015 and 2017. Twenty of those photos appear in the exhibit.

What Trotsky saw in the expressions of the passengers was anxiety and loneliness, emotions that he says he felt when he went on similar cruises for research. Trotsky says he traveled from Fort Lauderdale to Italy on three cruise lines, and while his experience hardly mirrored the relentless joy conveyed in advertising brochures, he says he still enjoyed the dancing and bingo.

“These pictures only show the start of the journey, and everyone looks worried and anxious. They’re full of expectations,” Trotsky says. “People express themselves differently when they don’t realize they’re being watched. There’s something existential happening on the balconies. To be honest, people should look at this and be conflicted about cruise ships.”

“A Supposedly Fun Thing” will open with a reception 7-10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, at ArtMedia Gallery inside the Wynwood Building, 2750 NW Third Ave., No. 12, in Miami. The exhibit will close May 4. Admission is free. Call 305-318-8306, or go to ArtMedia.Gallery.

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