Once or twice a year I drag myself from the grip of my awkwardly contradictory, extroverted introversion and join the ranks of other photographers in shooting an event I end up regretting soon after I arrive. Parades, festivals, all the various “Cons”…I despise pretty much any event where photographers gather to take the same generic photos. Maybe it’s my increased saltiness in general as I’ve gotten older; maybe it’s just my disdain for 99% of camera carriers. Perhaps, thinking positively here, I can trace my hate for shooting organized events to more noble roots. I mean, after all, I am a mythical huntsman of the streets, lying in wait for months, chasing perfectly timed captures created with equal parts preparation, patience, and luck. Being handed gift-wrapped photo opps, for me, strips away everything that drew me to street photography in the first place. But last weekend, I found myself immersed in a sea of body-painted bare breasts, fish scales and mermaid tails…………….and all the bottom feeder wannabe pervtographers that come along with an event such as the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.
Now, before I continue, my main reason for going to the parade was to link up with a few photographer friends, one of whom had traveled here from Australia. Were it not for his visit, I would have been nowhere near Coney Island that day. I swear. I had gone to the same parade once, years ago, and the only redeeming fact about it was that I was new to street photography at the time and the mermaid parade was full of life and character…an easy score for a new street photographer. Among the sea of fleshy photo opps, however, was an army of poachers…camera carriers just waiting for someone else to do the work before swooping in to grab the same shot. New to the game, yes, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t out there trying to capture unique moments. The whole situation just didn’t sit right with me. Taking photos of interesting characters at a parade meant for interesting characters felt like taking pictures of animals at the zoo and calling it wildlife photography. On top of that, every time I raised my camera, I had a 70-200 poking over one shoulder, a 100-400 over the other, and a fauxtographer with 4 cameras strapped to their body trying to climb through my legs to make sure they didn’t miss my shot. These are no conditions for an artist to work in. I had to do better. Below is my “prized” takeaway from that day.
Bathroom lines at the parade are notoriously long, and I managed to capture a lone parader waiting in front of a row of color-matching porta-potties. The decisive moment had arrived, and the best part was that there was not another camera in sight. I managed to get off one frame before the photo opp vanished. Just when I finished squeezing off a shot, one of the doors opened and she mermaid her way to the latrine (see what I did there? LOL), providing me just enough time to capture the moment, yet not enough time for anyone else to. Perfect.
Fast forward a few years and I was willing to try my hand again, all for the love of friendship. And guess what…every time I raised my camera, I had a 70-200 poking over one shoulder, a 100-400 over the other, and a fauxtographer with 4 cameras strapped to their body trying to climb through my legs to make sure they didn’t miss my shot. So we decided to take our talents to Manhattan…
After 2 hours in traffic, countless tasteless Abe Lincoln jokes and blowing an entire pack of gum on trying to throw it in the windows of cars who used the bike lane to try and cut us off, a group of 4 street photographers and 1 Justin Timberfake made it to the Lower East Side for some good food (Boulton & Watt on Houston St is my favorite restaurant….shameless plug) and actual street shooting.
I’m used to roaming the streets alone, so when I go out shooting with others, I take advantage of the company. There’s nothing like roaming the streets with people who share your passion for photography and vigor for the streets. I love seeing how differently each of us sees the same scenes, and how each person’s originality and style is reflected in their images. In comparison to the parade poachers, who are just reacting to my camera being raised, or to a pair of boobs that will give them a raise, my circle of shooters are artists in their own right. We feed off each other’s energy, often talking about what we saw and our approach to shooting it.
When I played basketball, I always found that my game was better when playing with better players who challenged me more. Play with inferior players and you will play down to their level. The same holds true for me in regards to street photography. I’m on a constant quest to elevate my photos while further developing my style. Being in the presence of photographers I respect pushes me to be better. In photography. In life. Ok, enough rambling…I’m sure the 5 people who will read this just want to see some photos from the day…