Every year, there is a festival in Minneapolis starting with first day of May.
On the First of May, Morris Dancers gather at dawn to dance the sun up, then, after a song-filled breakfast, go out to perform around town. They show up either by pre-arrangement or unannounced to dance traditional (and not so traditional) Morris dances. This is followed by an evening at a local pub or brew-house, chosen with an eye toward ensuring there is room to dance, tolerance for boisterous singing, and a good selection of brews.
Then, on the first Sunday in May, At the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater performs. They start with a parade, which progresses down Bloomington Avenue, and continues into Powderhorn Park, where it is followed by an act of theater.
The parade and the ceremony afterward tell a story. The theme of the event is always in support of the environment. It celebrates our Earth, and warns against that which would harm it. The parade is also a celebration of the diversity of our neighborhoods. The energy of the event is joyful, and there is a strong sense of community.
People gather on the sidewalks to admire giant puppets as they go by. Various artistic and political groups join in the parade, either integrated into the story or in a “free speech” section at the end. One group conducts a drum jam on a float made of metal and fire, complete with a mobile skateboard ramp following behind. A bicyclist has welded a barbecue to the front of his bike and cooks lunch along the way. Unicycles and double-decker bikes wind around those walking in the parade. Political candidates and their supporters may join, and advocates of various stances. Churches and religious groups join in. Marching bands, Native American dancers, Morris dancers, and drum corps join as well.
Everyone wears their brightest colors (which, admittedly, for some is black).
Thousands of people gather on a hillside in Powderhorn Park to watch giant puppets announce the return of summer. We sing “You are my Sunshine” as a red and yellow flotilla rows the sun across the lake, returning it to us to awaken the Tree of Life. It is Minnesota. We’ve just lived through a long, Minnesota winter. You can excuse us for being a bit eager for the sun’s return.
Afterward, a friend of mine invites an extended community over to a back yard barbecue, and we feast, talk, sing, and dance the maypole, again awakening the joy of the coming summer.
What does this have to do with photography?
Photography, like any other art, has stylistic approaches unique to the artist.
I have seen photographers create amazing works of art capturing the exact right moment in a crowd, the exact right expressions on faces, which then tells the story. I have seen photographs that are busy with the crowds, but still draw our attention to the element the photographer wants us focus on. I admire those photographers and their work.
My style, however, is one of finding the essential. I clear away the background, find the angle that includes only that which I want to show. My challenge is to capture the essence of this event. In the crowds on May Day, we feel a connection, as we all experience a shared joy in the anticipation of summer. How do I carry though that joy without cluttering my image?
I am still working on that. I have an image of the peak of the maypole at the beginning of the dance. Another with the dance in full swing, the ribbons pulled taught, bursting out from the pole in a profusion of color.
And then there is the photograph below. Here, I am playing. There was a child on a Pogo stick, bouncing his way along the parade route. The rainbow shirt, the joyful bouncing, the way he looked ahead, all seemed to be emblematic of the event: full of self expression and delight, as we, along with the child, experienced the crowd and the sunny day. I took many shots in rapid succession. I sliced them and created one image of movement. I applied a filter, as I didn’t want to focus on individuals in the crowd, but on the movement. It is not perfect. Part of art is the joy in the process of creation, of trying new things.
This Mayday Festival is about community and summer and respect for the Earth, about self expression and creating works of art together. Each year is different, different themes reflecting the world at the time. Art can be a reflection of community, of experience, and is always a work in progress, each piece a step in a path of exploration. We pronounce a piece complete, but only until we revisit the themes, techniques and ideas in a new piece, in a new way, next time.