Film: Minshall - Donkey Derby

Peter Minshall, photographed at the Callaloo Company mas camp, Cocorite, 1993

In 1993, Peter Minshall and his Callaloo Company were gathering the debris of the failed wedding concept and repurposing the materials and partly finished costumes into the Donkey Derby at a warehouse space in Cocorite.
I was producing a Carnival Souvenir for the Express and a story on what Minshall was planning that year would be part of the story package.

It was around eight in the evening when I got there, and the place was buzzing with activity. There didn’t seem to be many places where I could photograph the masman, who was showing signs of getting frazzled by all the demands on his time, one of which was to be this nuisance of a photographer who needed to get a picture.

Tucked away under a stairwell was a little nook where the wireframe headpieces for the band were being shaped and skinned with papier-mâché.
On the platform were a number of the headpieces in varying stages of completion, from wireframe to fully painted.

I had a choice of two possible angles, ugly discoloured galvanize siding or dancers rehearsing in the background roughly 20 feet away. I set the two strobes up to highlight the dramatic potential of the situation and jacked the shutter speed right up to the limits of flash sync and the power output on the unit to maximum, shooting with Fujichrome 50 on a Pentax MX camera.
The slow film, burst of strobe light and relatively dark rehearsal room behind the scenario dropped the background out to complete black, though one of the support pillars for the stairway is still just visible to the right of the frame.

It’s worth noting that this was shot using White Lightning’s early model strobes, the WL 10,000 units or the soup pots, as most pros call them.
I’d discovered this Texas based company through ads in PhotoDistrictNews some years before and through my cousin, William Aguiton brought in first two and then another pair of the units.

As far as I can tell, I was Paul C Buff’s first customer in Trinidad and Tobago and William eventually switched from Norman units to more modern White Lightning units a few years later. I also introduced Garth Murrell to them, suggesting that when he moved on from the Novatron pack he was using that these units would make a good alternative.

Peter Minshall finally made himself available for the shoot, looking at the scruffy circumstances in which I was about to place him with some suspicion.
“If you could just sit here, and hold this,” I told the band leader, handing him the wireframe headpiece.
Minshall looked at me quizzically for a moment and then I looked over the top of the camera and told him, “Alas, poor Yorick.
His eyes twinkled as he got the idea, he gave a wry smile and turned contemplatively to the headpiece, immediately settling into the vibe.

I banged away a full roll of transparency film on the situation, bracketing a full four stops either way on the setup.
I saw Minshall a few weeks later at the end of a play at the Central Bank Auditorium.
“The photographer did well,” Minshall said, pausing in the aisle.
“The subject was excellent,” I replied, and we exchanged smiles.

The photograph of Peter Minshall was used this month as the key image in the second issue of ARC Magazine, published as a full-bleed two-page spread (better than it got in its original publication) to lead off a story by Dalton Narine on the iconic mas maker.

It's not the only photo I've ever taken of Mr Minshall, but it's one of the better ones.
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