It’s that time of year again, y’all! Carnival time! As I’ve been spending my evenings and weekends prepping for my fourth Mardi Gras trip, I’ve been thinking back to five years ago when my colleague and friend, Janelle Nanos, asked me if I wanted to go with her to New Orleans while she was writing a feature story on Mardi Gras. She enticed me, “It is going to be a great time, and after all, they are going to need photos for the story!” While I’ve always have had a strange attraction to New Orleans–even before I ever stepped foot in the city–I’ve never had the actual desire to go to Mardi Gras. Of course, I was a victim of believing the stereotypes of booze, boobs, and beads.
I went along with Janelle for a purple, green, and gold colored ride and have never quite been the same since. I discovered kindred spirits in the people who live in or make yearly pilgrimages to the Big Easy. Many of the people who I met on that first trip, including lovely Jenny (pictured above), have been friends ever since. Our bond is no less strong even if we only see each other once a year. We smile, we hug, we compliment attire, and we weave our way through the magic of Mardi Gras day, knowing we will see each other next time around.
New Orleans is a photographer’s dream at any time of the year, but during Carnival season, it is visual overload. I rubbed elbows with families, college kids, and all kinds of parade lovers while snapping photos with one hand and catching beads with the other. I prowled the quiet early morning streets with my new friends in search of a flash of feathers from a Mardi Gras Indian. And then I fell down the rabbit hole when I arrived at the beginning of the St. Anne’s Parade. I was told to bring a costume, but the costumes I saw were no Halloween-grade costumes, they were visual splendor. Riotous convergences of fabric, glitter, quirk, and creativity. I was hooked.
This Mardi Gras sceptic returned to DC with a changed mind. I know the experience can take many shapes and forms, but what I really learned is that Mardi Gras is what you make it. As the Rebirth Brass Bad sings, “Do whatcha wanna!” And if you want to go and aren’t sure where to start, perhaps our story that was published in the January/February 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler is a good place to start. I hope that it inspires people to see beyond Bourbon Street and find out what Mardi Gras is really about. Take a look at the layouts below and go to National Geographic’s website to read Janelle’s full article and see more of my photos. Clearly, it converted me!