“Go. Go ahead. You know you want to go!!”
“And … you need to work off all that food!”
My shoulder Devil-Angel were working in tandem, urging me to get out and go downtown Mardi Gras day. Not something I normally do unless I have visitors from out-of-town. But the day was beautiful, the city festive, and I had just devoured a dozen oysters, a bowl of crawfish bisque, an Irish Mule (the drink, not the donkey), half a king cake and three-quarters of a container of pimento cheese in the last 24 hours. I’d sworn to myself that would be the end of the indulgences for the week. Exercise was in order. Plus, I needed to get out and shoot before all of the invaluable knowledge from the Foundation First workshop evaporated from my brain.
The walking parades were just entering the French Quarter when I arrived down town. People spend months, even a year or more, designing and putting together their costumes for Fat Tuesday. Pirates, monks, giraffes, and sugar skulls all band together drinking, swaying and marching from the Faubourg Marigny to S. Peters Street in a display of color and cacophony. As I skirted the edges of the crowd, I was greeted by a member of the Krewe of Greasy Grandpas and gifted with a purple beverage coozy and friendly conversation.
The afternoon was bright and clear, and sharp shadows added mystery to the faces and gazes of the revelers. Initially, I thought I’d have difficulty getting decent shots, but then remembered to embrace the light, and the shadows, and just enjoy the freedom of shooting.
Royal Street was my destination. Most people head for Bourbon Street, but the crowds and the shenanigans can get a bit overwhelming there when you are flying solo for the day. Royal Street is a bit calmer and less manic, populated with antique shops and art galleries by day, but no less colorful and entertaining than Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras. There were wrestlers, showgirls, zombies, and sharks, and traveling DJs cruising down the street with portable turntables and speakers blaring Queen and Journey.
At one point, the street evangelists showed up and started barking their message of hellfire and brimstone. This is when I remembered my lesson of “stop, wait, observe … and wait some more” from the Foundation First workshop. I watched in amusement as the “sinners” and self-proclaimed “saints” walked past one another with dismissive and judgmental glances.
The afternoon light shifted and I decided to stay in one place and wait for couples and pedestrians to pass through a lovely spot of light on Decatur Street. I waited … and waited … and waited (and have the contact sheet to prove it), and while my photographs were not spectacular, I was proud that I stayed and allowed for the potential of a scene to develop before me. That is not something I would ever have done before the photography class last month.
After lunch, it was time to walk back to the car and head home. The afternoon had been exciting and I was encouraged with the variety of photographs I’d shot. But, the crowds had thinned and there was more negative space to work with now … and a few interesting stragglers. “I need your phone number, I’m starting a business, and I need people like you”, said the old guy with the cigar and bowler hat. I’d not even spoken to him yet. I laughed and at the same moment, his companion walked up, a lovely elderly lady who informed me that she was, as the hand-lettered sign she carried said, a former Playboy bunny. For a minute, I felt like I was in some weird adult version of Alice in Wonderland.
One last character caught my eye as I exited the French Quarter. He said nothing as I asked if he minded a photograph. So I quickly snapped a couple of shots and stopped to check my exposures. When I looked back, he was gone, and with him the end of my romp through the city that day. Next year I’ll be ready, camera in hand, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll work up the courage to go in costume.
Note: view the full gallery on my website.