The Mermaid Parade – Hot, Crowded and Wonderful

Just back from the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, always fun and always a spectacle.

What struck me this year, though I know it’s the same every year—is the large number of photographers that come out. The parade organizers got smart and charge anyone with a camera twenty bucks for behind the scenes access where participants and their crazy costumes, make-up and floats gather before the parade.

It’s money well spent since arguably this is where the best photo opps are. The problem with shooting a parade in New York City is access. Unless you’re accredited as media or participating in the event you are delegated to the area behind the barricades which is often eight-people deep with limited mobility.

But photographers there were, many, many photographers and serious ones at that. Who is shooting film anymore? Well many were, I saw an eclectic group of shooters from young to very old, sporting an array of tools that took me back to my earliest days in photography. I saw film cameras I had not seen in a very long time, many of which I had owned over the years. Holgas, Leicas, Fuji medium formats, twin-lens reflex, Widelux— it was great to see and it reminded me of the seriousness of their commitment.

Cameras and photographers came in all shapes, ages and sizes at the Mermaid Parade.
Cameras and photographers came in all shapes, ages and sizes at the Mermaid Parade.

It was a beautiful hot and sunny day…maybe not ideal light for the parade but you can always find the perfect light if you look hard enough, or create it yourself.

Nikon D5 w/24-70mm f2.8G VR Lens.
Nikon D5 w/24-70mm f2.8G VR Lens.

I saw lots of fill-flash going on—makes sense in harsh bright light situations—from small flashes with a variety of tupperware-like softening accessories, studio flash and a photographer carrying his own wooden frame he asked subjects to hold as he took their portrait. Nice idea.

There were so many passionate photographers, it was kind of inspiring and once you got your “behind the scenes” wrist band you realized just how many there were. But it could be intimidating as well. There were scrums around the most outrageous costumes and the skimpiest ones. I’m more a lone wolf.

SD5_1641The beautiful day meant crowds were really big and it was hard to move around at times. This kind of event, with so much going on made me feel it should be relatively easy to get something strong. But it was challenging. My mantra is always to work on a project, a set of images where the sum is greater than the parts. I didn’t have an agenda on this day. I was there to shoot and enjoy.

SD5_1870 SD5_0645 SD5_0206But I know that many of the photographers I ran into were working on longer-term projects. When you know what you’re looking for you have a better chance of finding it. I admit that without an assignment or agenda for the shoot, I did struggle some. I will think about that more before next year’s parade. I’m thinking about a consistent portrait series with flash and soft-box.

It has been done many times, but not by me.

As Henri Cartier-Bresson once said. “There are no new ideas in the world, just new arrangements of things”.

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  • sadly the parade has morphed into a photo challenge.there are more photographers than mermaids.

    if that’s not depressing enough there are more “cell phone photographers” than camera photographers and mermaids.

    time to move on to other events.

    technology has crowed out “legitimate” the photographer.cameras are so easy to use anyone can operate one.

    just because one possesses a drivers license,does not entitle one to drive in the Indi 500.

    • Hi Simon, well there are some resources like TimeOut New York and a bunch of guidebooks. The summer is a busy time for NYC…also hot and humid!

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