Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras is a huge celebration for the citizens of Mobile, AL and the surrounding areas. Schools and businesses close and people crowd the streets to catch beads or moon pies, shout "Throw me something, Mister!" and dress in flamboyant costumes that hide their identity. Mardi Gras is the last day to "sin" before the first day of Lent. It's a day of debauchery and revelry. Mobile, AL is the birthplace of Mardi Gras in America and Mobilians do Mardi Gras resplendently.

Since Mobile is only 50 miles from my childhood home, I spent 14 Mardi Gras seasons walking with the elaborate parades and photographing the paraders and the parade onlookers. Outstreched hands, screaming faces, marching bands and masked people flinging trinkets create a wonderland of photographic opportunities.

I don't usually write about the "technicalities" of my photographs, but these photographs show an approach that is outside of my normal strategy of making images. Most of the Mardi Gras images are made using the "shoot from the hip" method of photographing. I used a wide angle lens (28mm) on my Canon AE-1 Program and by setting the focus at about 15 feet, I was assured a sharp depth of field, thereby eliminating the need to focus the lens. I could then hold the camera in a one-handed-away-from-the-eye manner and release the shutter. I never knew exactly what I would have included in the frame until I developed the film and made contact sheets. The amazement I experienced from shooting this way was often as rewarding as the images themselves.

Several of my "photo buddies" would carpool to Mobile together, find a free parking space and set a time to meet at the car at the end of the day. Then we would go our separate ways to cover as many of the Mardi Gras events as we could. We would arrive around 8am and leave around 6pm when the light would wane. On the way home, all the adventures of the day and many "Did you see the guy/gal that.....?" comparisons were bandied about. We had a blast shooting together and working in the darkroom together. None of us had the same images...a phenomenon which, to me, has forever been one of the more amazing properties of photography. Many people can photograph the same thing and then produce no reduntant images.

One year we had problems walking with the parade...cops were giving us hassle about being on the "wrong" side of the barricades. The next year we forged press IDs on a Macintish SE in order to cross the barriers that keep moon pie enthusiasts from storming the floats. Thank goodness no one ever looked too closely at them!