Tuesday, September 13, 2011

They Come Back

It’s That Time Again, 2011

When the little miniature cars start showing up on the streets of Virginia Beach, you know that the Shriners, like swallows to Capistrano, have come back to Virginia Beach. We were barely over Hurricane Irene this year when the “Welcome Nobles” banners started fluttering in the breeze in front of hotels and restaurants in the resort area.
I’ve written about the Shriner parades before, so I don’t want to repeat the background about this event. There’s also a series of my photographs of Shriner parades at Flickr and even a book of them at Blurb. We don’t need to revisit those, either.
As I contemplated on Friday night whether I’d even go down and watch the parade this year, it dawned on me that I’d pretty much lost interest in Shriner parades. I’ve shot most of these floats, midget cars and cornball clowns many times now. The Shriners themselves get a little older, a little fuller in the belly and fewer in number each year. But I knew Saturday was going to be a beautiful day and I was itching to get out and take some pictures. So there I was, standing on Atlantic Avenue just before 9:00 a.m. this past Saturday morning waiting for the parade to start.
I’ve learned a few useful things about shooting parades over the years. For one thing—and it still amazes me that some people don’t know this—you’re starting from behind if you don’t know what the parade route will be and what time the parade’s supposed to begin. It’s also wise to scout out the route the day before at that time to get a sense of where the light and shadows will be. And finally, it’s good to know where the staging area for the parade will be.
I’ve learned over the years that some of the best photographs will be taken in the staging area. Parade participants are much more relaxed there and generally looking their best. It’s easier to move among them and get close to people to whom you can’t get as close during the parade.
Ready to Roll, 2011

As I wondered what I’d do this year to keep from merely duplicating all the pictures I’ve taken in the past, it occurred to me that I might turn the camera around, as it were, and focus on the people watching the parade.
A smart idea, you might think, but easier said than done. Because if there’s one thing you learn if you’re a regular parade goer, it’s that the experienced spectators sit in the shade, especially on a sunny humid morning in Virginia Beach.
No sooner had I started wandering down Atlantic Avenue that I realized that all the people I wanted to photograph were in deep shade. “Well I’ll just shoot the people on the sunny side of the street,” I told myself, only to notice that hardly anyone was sitting in the sun.
I’ll be honest. I hung around the staging area as the parade got started and then walked up and down the parade route several times before concluding that I’d seen enough. I left before the parade wasn’t even halfway done.
For All Your Color Needs, 2011

To be sure, there were still good pictures to be made. But if there’s one final thing I’ve learned about shooting pictures, it’s that when my mind has decided it’s seen enough, it’s already turned off my eyes and there’s no use fighting that.
Writers have “writer’s block.” I don’t know what that’s called for photographers. My solution, in keeping with the sage advice of funk musician George Clinton (“Free your mind and your ass will follow) is to find some distraction that will “re-set” my mind. Today that took the form of coming home and mangling…“pruning” hedges.  The Shriners will be back next September. Maybe I’ll be more ready for them then.


  1. Hahaaa--well, you got great shots, anyway. Love this last one.

  2. Appreciate the pointers, Chris, even if that second clown in the second shot does remind me of my ex-mother in law.

  3. 13 north was thick with Shriners this past Sunday as we were heading to Jersey and they were heading home. My first episode at photographing a parade was last year's Smithfield Chirstmas parade in which I was a participant, walking dogs for the IOW Humane Society. I probably could have used your tips before I started snapping, but I was very pleased with how things turned out. It was an early part of my effort to take more photos of people.