Still images of American bingo halls with outdated decor and an overall retro vibe seem like a niche market. But one photographer’s motivation for going through the remaining bingo halls in the Midwest isn’t for lucrative purposes. In what seems like an ode to nostalgia, Kalin Haydon documents a forgotten subculture that continues to resist the forces of total modernization.
The Evolution of Bingo
Haydon’s grandparents played an influential role in her upbringing. Hayden shared in an interview that her childhood was filled with their stories of the 1920s and the era that came after. It was a difficult time, but in many ways, it was also a simpler one. Her grandparents frequented bingo halls, to place bets or to serve other players who came by.
But bingo as America knows it isn’t a product of the Great Depression. The Thought Company chronicled its first appearance as an Italian game called ‘Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia’ in the early 1500s. From then on, different countries have adapted it into their own respective cultures, adding their own twists and modifications – from France’s ‘Le Lotto’, which was only played by the wealthy to the US, where it was popularized as a carnival game. It quickly became a cultural phenomenon, with fundraisers skyrocketing its success in America.
Nowadays, the once ubiquitous bingo halls can hardly be found. It’s rare to see people marking their calendars for Friday Night Bingo. The game, however, continues to be a highly-favored pastime, just not in a live game hall. In a string of traditional leisure activities to be modernized, bingo is moving to the platform of virtual or online gaming.
Online gaming is a billion-dollar industry according to Forbes and now has a more inclusive demographic. Onscreen versions of bingo are slowly becoming the standard primarily because of its accessibility. The bingo videos on Foxy Television highlight how the game can be played on any device at any given moment without having to go through traffic, endure smoke-filled rooms, or wait for game schedules. Older generations who can no longer leave the house on a regular basis can simply learn to navigate a computer or smartphone for a quick session. Bingo in the digital era is within reach of anyone and provides a wider variety of choices and themes. These developments are changing the landscape of the subculture.
But at its core, bingo retains its most crucial element: socialization. Despite each culture or era’s personal touch, what Haydon wishes to preserve in all forms of the game is its nature to induce a sense of belongingness that is shared by its players.
Unlike many of its counterparts in the world of gaming, bingo often spurs meaningful encounters within its members. Haydon’s photographs capture the true spirit of bingo which lies within the different communities that the game forms. It shows a side of America that wants to remain untouched by technological advancements, in places where every kind of conversation buzzes through the room. Haydon, as a child, could only live vicariously through her grandparents’ tales but her photographic portfolio now tells a story of her own.
You can view the rest of the photographs showcasing American bingo culture on Kalin Haydon’s website.
*Cover photo by: Kalin Haydon