BitDepth 773 - March 15

Carnival Tuesday, Queen's Park Savannah: nexus of posed photography, security lapses stageside and loutish band security.
About last Tuesday...
Caption: Tribe put at least 430 bodyguards on the street to protect their band members. One of those things that you just have to ponder. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

I wish a had a photo of it. I didn’t realise, at first, that it was a prop. It seemed to be a DJ toasting the song playing onstage, but no, it was one masquerader, then another, running around on Carnival Tuesday brandishing the ultimate prop in a media saturated environment, a fake microphone.
For years the relationship between those who record Carnival and those who portray the masquerade has been changing.

What was once something governed by a respectful distance, camera wielders supplicating more or less literally at the feet of mas players, has become a close dance, the cameras embedded in the bands like correspondents in a particularly fleshy and befeathered war zone.
It began with the video cameras who wanted to be all up in the faces and cheeks of masqueraders and had the audience clout to successfully insist on it.

Still photographers followed their trail of cables into the crowd, and today it’s a rare band that doesn’t have at least 20 cameras weaving in and out of its Tuesday stage presentation.
The intrusiveness is one thing, and I know I’m being old school about this, but it’s understandable because to this day, there are no sensible shooting platforms available to the visual reporters at the Savannah venue.

More intriguing is what’s happened to costumed band presentations after Carnival photography became such an intimate encounter. More than a decade’s worth of foot-cock-up-in-the-air images has changed the relationship between camera and subject from capturing creative expression to one of director and models.
It’s become so commonplace for masqueraders to come to a complete halt in front of a camera and strike a pose that reflects something they’ve seen in another photo that it’s doubtful that much of the photography of individuals and small groups reflects anything real about Carnival anymore.

Still cameras trade in fractional slivers of time that now cumulatively record an alternate reality of Carnival, one invented spontaneously by photographers and their subjects that’s representative of their understanding of what constitutes a photograph of Carnival.
As a novice photographer, I learned a lot from the veteran photographer Gary Chan, but the lesson he shared that lasted longest in my career was his trick for photographing Carnival for Roy Boyke’s Trinidad Carnival publication.

Chan would stand in the middle of the road in front of an oncoming band and photograph revellers as they approached and veered away from him. The result was intimate, honest and frequently surprising. Today, that section would halt and create architectures of limbs, buttocks and bosom for his lens, offering a second’s worth of manufactured mas unreality.

If this faux Carnival is reproduced by the thousands in magazines and newspapers each year, does it then supplant the actual event that takes place on the streets and on the stage in the common mind? 
Do we see Carnival for what it is, or do a thousand shutter clicks reassemble for us as a record of the festival that has little to do with what actually happened all day long on Carnival Tuesday?

A quick note to the NCC.
Yes, it was me fussing interminably about the security at stageside. After seeing Carnival presented at the Savannah sometimes functionally and usually poorly for 25 years, I know when some things are just irritating and others are simply dangerous.
People were being allowed to put themselves in position to be seriously hurt in an environment in which senses are dangerously overloaded and for once I skipped bitching about it in this space to tell any one of you, the executive committee, to your face, on the spot.

That the faces I confronted were uniformly confused and uncomprehending wasn’t that surprising, but it shouldn’t have been impossible to find someone in authority on Carnival Tuesday morning. Your dark suited bodyguards of VVIP should have been able to sense when their job had moved beyond keeping the riffraff off the carpeted suite and taken some initiative.

A quicker note to bandleaders.
I understand the need for security, but your thugs in t-shirts have a moral contract with you and your masqueraders that their directions should be followed, not with me or with anyone else in the media.
Accredited media get nothing in return for the fee charged for their pass but the right to photograph Carnival from the access points offered by the NCC and their mutual stakeholders. Something as simple and basic as a chair is specifically denied on the pass itself.

A band security brute has no authority to attempt to push me off the stage and such efforts will be resisted stoutly. So earpiece lout from Yuma, be grateful that I settled for a mutual cussout instead of a lawsuit for illegal restraint. I’m just saying.

Photographing Carnival
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