Fantasy clashes with reality in wonky wonderlands


Zombies sit at the bar of Johnny Rockets after the Atlanta Horror Fest presented it's fourth annual Zombie Walk which started off at Lenny's Bar, headed through historic Oakland Cemetery, crossed over into downtown Atlanta and ended at the Underground Atlanta mall. 

One of the mermaid actresses sits near the exit to greet the audience after performing Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Little Mermaid' in the underwater theatre in Weeki Wachee State Park in Spring Hill, Florida.

Kendrick Brinson stands in front of the 'Walk Through Time in Georgia' exhibit at Fernbank Natural History Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

Guests at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas ride on a waterslide through the middle of a shark-filled aquarium on the resort's property.  Themed for it's namesake, Atlantis offers a complex with a water-park, aquarium, casino, spa, six hotels, a fitness center, golf, shopping, a speedway, a night club, and a plethora of dining options, all linked with an array of fake lagoons, Atlantis encourages guests to stay on property.  In fact, they make it kind of difficult to leave.  At Atlantis, you are literally offered complete immersion into this surreal play-land for your entire vacation.

Costumed employees take a turn in the photo booth during a 30th birthday celebration at a roller rink in Atlanta, Georgia. 

One of the mermaid actresses holds a finger to her mouth to hush the crowd while performing Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Little Mermaid' in the underwater theatre in Weeki Wachee State Park in Spring Hill, Florida.

A lion handler sits with his pride inside the lion enclosure at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. 


A couple takes in a miniature model of the city of Jerusalem in Biblical times at the Christian theme park, Holy Land Experience, in Orlando, Florida.  The religious tourist attraction serves as a mix between a place for worship, historic study, and a large scale three-dimensional stage for the daily live performances.

An actor playing Jesus stands with his arms outstretched greeting visitors at the Christian theme park, Holy Land Experience, in Orlando, Florida.  The religious tourist attraction serves as a mix between a place for worship, historic study, and a large scale three-dimensional stage for the daily live performances.

A faux Airstream trailer houses a miniature bowling alley inside the Silverton Casino Lodge in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Themed with the outdoors in mind, the casino caters to the bass-fishing types and even houses a grand scale Bass Pro Shops prominently next to the front entrance.

Tourists explore The National Wax Museum in Dublin, Ireland where visitors are invited on a tour through Irish History followed by an odd mix of popular culture ranging from fairy tales and music to horror films, all depicted by magnificently crafted wax sculptures.

Tourists pose with a fake Greek statue outside Ceasar's Palace Casino on the strip in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The stretch of road offers one casino after another, each with themes of their own, ranging from New York City to ancient Greece.  With a nickname of 'Sin City', and a common belief that, 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,' the city has become an adult sexual fantasy land as well as playing host to countless fake realities. 

An employee at the World of Coca-Cola hugs a life-size version of one of the company's marketing campaign icons at the company's permanent historical exhibition in downtown Atlanta, GA.

Venezuelans celebrate Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Caracas and in the Petare barrio in Caracas, Venezuela.  Semana Santa is the last week of Lent, and the week before Easter.  It includes the religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  Petare, which is considered the largest barrio in Latin America, hosts an elaborate staging of the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross), which draws a massive crowd as local actors depict Jesus carrying his cross to his own crucifixion and his final hours, or 'Passion', before his death and subsequent resurrection. 


The huge white pillars of the Southern-style plantation home welcome you as you approach the very birthplace and origin of all things Cabbage Patch at Babyland General Hospital.  A nurse with baby in arms greets visitors with a smile and a bit of a wild eye as you sign in and head towards the nursery.  At the end of the hallway of pastel pink and blue nursery rooms filled with infant dolls, double doors open into the main event.  Some might call it a glorified gift shop, but the live birth demonstrations around the enchanted tree make it something much more.  Colored glowing lights change hues casting strange ambiance onto fairies flying around the tree, and the small faces reaching out of the cabbages which lay at its base.  While the place serves as an elaborate ploy to sell merchandise, it still takes the time to sell an entire lore surrounding the creation of the small Cabbage Patch Kids to the large imaginations of the tiny visitors soaking it all in.  

Real life gets old real quick. Work, chores, traffic jams, monotony — all the details of the daily grind infect the human body and build into a fever that only breaks when bags get packed.

The search for diversion leads to amusement parks and roadside wonders, roller coasters and stage extravaganzas. Kids can be kids, adults can be kids again, and sometimes, David Walter Banks is on hand to capture fantasy becoming reality with behind-the-scenes images that cast new light on tourist attractions.

Such moments of cognitive dissonance comprise The Fourth Wall. The entertainment industry takes in billions annually but even the most luxurious resorts and casinos provide an imperfect illusion. Visitors fill the gaps between animatronics and costumes with their own imagination, and the disconnect beats at the heart of Banks’ photo project.

“I love the idea of these places,” he says. “As adults, so many of us have lost our wonder and given up our urge to chase dreams. In a way, these places invite the adult population to chase an outlandish dream once more, even if only for a fleeting moment. Even if it’s plastic and cracked and they know it is all fake. They are still getting up, putting on their tennis shoes, and going out in search of magic.”

Over the course of two years spent exploring imaginary lands, Banks discovered his own escape from a tired approach to work. The theme park guests found a way to lose themselves and the photographer found a new path forward.

It began with flash mobs and a happy accident. Banks had been shooting the Atlanta Zombie Walk and fixated on a stray image he’d taken on his way home of two costumed kids in a diner. Their corpse paint contrasted with the restaurant’s ’50s nostalgia, two fantasies clashing in the real world. A concept was born and a list of dream locations drafted, but the reality of money couldn’t be ignored.

“Though I did spend a lot of my own money, I did save a lot by tacking the work on to assignments and other personal travel,” he says. “I normally just paid for the larger attractions since I really just wanted to experience them as any normal tourist would. For the smaller places and venues, I would normally ask permission and even often offer to share the images with the subjects.”

Two zombies ordering burgers proved doubly inspiring. The casual feeling of the photograph planted a seed in Banks, a desire to grow beyond the lessons of journalism school and the strict objectivity of newspapers.

Although this fly-on-the-wall documentation captures tourists in their natural state, the fantasy worlds remains in the background. There are no mile-long lines, extortionate concession stands, temper tantrums or meltdowns. The veneer of pretend is clearly chipped but trash-strewn concourses and screaming parents never become the focus.

“I certainly spent my time in angst and turmoil, but my aim was not to take a strictly documentarian viewpoint,” Banks says. “A lot of my work is based off the idea of escapism, and for this project I was more interested in the idea of these places than the actuality. I don’t want to show the filth and anger, but instead the fantasy of it all. Though I do like to include little hints of the cracks in the facade.”

Tromping through wonderlands wasn’t all work and no play. The camera spent time in storage lockers while Banks hit the rides, throwing himself into the experience he’d come to document. As the project progressed, editors began calling — the new photographic approach was resonating in the real world of careers, and that emboldened Banks to throw himself further into new directions.

A couple of years before starting The Fourth Wall, Banks had quit The Athens Banner-Herald to co-found LUCEO Images and work freelance. Since the project’s completion, he’s left the collective and moved from his southern hometown to Southern California to nurture the commercial photography business he created with his wife.

Vacation currently takes the form of camping instead of Disneyland, but Banks hopes to revisit the themes of The Fourth Wall. He continues picking up assignments and pursuing personal projects, striving for perpetual improvement in his trade and to continue exploring the lessons learned by watching people let go, have fun and believe in magic.

“Before this project I thought I had to function strictly as a photojournalist,” he says. “I always felt a little out of place. Through this project I realized that I could create my own narrative through documentary photographs. Now, in my personal work, I’ve moved further in the direction of creating fictional works out of nonfiction photographs. Just as an author can research a place and interview real people and base a story off real characters while taking that story to a more fantastical level.”

Photos: David Walter Banks

  • freemdoom

    Well that was barely interesting, not to mention completely non-Apple related.

    • headwrong

      They gotta get those page views.

  • Spellguy

    Dear author, please check following link before writing another article:

    I’m not even a native English speaker. When I read an error like that in your first sentence, I seriously can’t continue. Sorry.