2020 Mardi Gras in Rural Acadiana
In Louisiana, Mardi Gras is a time to revel in the fleeting pleasures of carnal life before having to confront our mortality the next day by observing Ash Wednesday. In 2020, growing concern about the coronavirus made this shift in mood even more stark. As I write this two and a half weeks after Mardi Gras, festivals and performances at large gatherings are being cancelled or postponed in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. (This includes the Liberty Theater's Rendez-vous des Cajuns show, which has been suspended until further notice.) As a result, this spring I may not have many opportunities to photograph Cajun and zydeco musicians. The long-term impact of cancellations on Louisiana’s cultural economy could be very serious, but the top priority has to be controlling and I hope ending the coronavirus outbreak. So, this collection of Mardi Gras photos taken in late February depicts a world that seems far removed from the present moment.
During Mardi Gras that began Friday, February 21, I was more careful than in past years to wash my hands thoroughly when I got home, but I didn’t change what I did in other ways. The crowds were still big, full of exuberant joy, having fun without a care. The weather was good, warming as we approached Mardi Gras when the clouds gave way to bright sunshine on Mardi Gras afternoon.
At 72, I am slowing down. I don’t photograph quite as many activities as I used to. This year, I did manage to get up to Mamou for a Mardi Gras Parade down the north end of Sixth Street where Keith Frank was performing Mardi Gras afternoon. The crowd was huge, much larger than the other time I went on a rainy day in 2013. I decided not to try to catch up with the Mamou Courir de Mardi Gras this year, partly out of concern that my 2007 Honda Fit would get stuck if I tried to park on the narrow, soft, wet shoulders of the rural road the courir traverses. Last year, I made a wrong turn on a back road and missed the chicken chasing in Church Point, but in 2020 I had no problem navigating to the location that must hold a world record for the most chickens thrown at one stop.
This year, when shooting courirs, I tried using auto ISO with my Nikon D850 set on manual as a way to control shutter speed and aperture at the same time. I kept forgetting to lower the shutter speed after shooting an activity like chicken chasing, resulting in shots taken with unnecessarily high ISOs.
As in the past, I used the utility 28-300 mm lens to shoot courirs so that I would have the flexibility to zoom in and out of the action. In addition, I can keep the same lens on my camera, avoiding having to change lenses in problematic situations like chicken chasing on a muddy lawn. The lens is not as sharp as my other lenses, but, for these action shots, I prefer to trade sharpness for flexibility. However, I’m still far from proficient in photographing action. Too many times, I failed to get the focus point in the right place. In shooting chicken chases, I tended to focus too far ahead of the chasers, filling only part of the frame with action.
Toward the end of the performance by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys in Downtown Eunice late Mardi Gras afternoon, I moved to the back of the dance area to try to get some wide angle shots of the crowd. I took a lot of shots, but only a couple of shots with a few dancers turned toward the camera at an angle that avoided showing too much of a trash can in the foreground. When Mardi Gras scrambled on stage for the finale, I decided to push through the crowd to get nearer to the stage, abandoning my camera bag, which was too bulky to maneuver in the crush of people, and taking only my camera with a 24-70 mm lens. I held the camera above my head to get the crowd in the foreground at the bottom of the shot with the Nikon D5 in live view mode focusing on the stage. Autofocus in live view can be quirky, but it worked for most of the shots. When I returned to the entrance point for the dance area, I was relieved to see that my camera bag was still where I had left it.
This year, the Fred Charlie Music Stage in downtown Eunice had three overhead lights shining down on the center of the stage with only dim lighting on both sides of the stage. Overall, the improved center lighting helped, but taking photos of musicians wearing hats pulled down over their faces with bright light coming from above was a challenge that I tried to resolve in post-processing with only limited success. As in the past, I tried to stick with available light to avoid becoming a distraction. I occasionally used bounce flash with the built-in card raised, which helped a little with overall illumination.
As I noted in my comments last year, during Mardi Gras I tend to fall back on the hope that, if I take enough photos, I’ll get some decent ones in the mix.
Posted March 13, 2020
For a listing of Cajun and Zydeco bands and Mardi Gras photos included on these Flickr pages, go to www.cajunzydecophotos.com or www.cajunzydecophotos.com/mobile.