I'm a fourth generation New Yorker. I grew up going to Coney Island and am always drawn back there. For the past few years, I've been shooting the Mermaid Parade on film only. Something about the nostalgia, simplicity and economy of film that appeals to me for the look of that shoot.
I want to take in the sights and sounds. And I only want a handful of shots. My drive to capture this iconic gathering is personal. I'm not only looking to monetize or editorialize the images, I just want to document them for myself and by keeping the shots to film, I can have a consistent body of work that will span over the years.
My weapon of choice is my trusty Nikon F100 film camera and 35mm f/2. This is a really easy-to-handle system with a lot of flexibility.
This year, I shot Tri-X. Not my first choice for an incredibly brilliant sunny day, but it's what I had on hand. Sure, I could have been more pro-active and bought more film beforehand, but the Tri-X was a fine choice.
I love the look of Tri-X. At ISO 400, it's quite versatile, yet the grain structure is pretty tight. Yes, it's grainy, but not to the point of fuzz. The F100 has a max shutter of 1/8000 so it's possible to shoot wide open even with 400 film. (and maybe next year I'll bring an ND filter)
I love the look of a 35mm lens for documentary and street. It's wide enough to tell a story, yet has just enough throw to isolate subjects from the background.
This year, they did something a bit different and spread the backstage lineup across an additional city block. Doesn't sound like much, but the intensity of all of the participants crammed into 2 blocks was lost.
The staging area just didn't have the frenetic vibe and energy of past parades. The backstage lineup can be so intense and I love framing my shots against the undulating sea of people. It's easy to get caught up in the energy of the crowd which only feeds the creativity of the shots.
Although I wasn't able to get all of that wild energy this year, I committed to shooting my roll of Tri-X and got some decent shots. I like what I got, but am not in love with this year's batch as much as past years. No biggie. It's an evolution.
I sent my film to indiefilmlab.com. They do a great job of processing and offer excellent scanning. I highly recommend their services. They were founded by a collective of photographers looking for better processing and scanning in Alabama and ultimately realized they could offer the same high standards of service to others. Check them out.
One of the most compelling things about photography is that it's ever-changing. As much as it's good to pre-visualize and plan for a shoot, it's likely that things will be different and you'll have to improvise. I love that part of photography. Knowing that if there isn't a solution, there's got to be a workaround.
I also cannot stress how important it is to challenge yourself to shoot personal work and shoot in different formats. It's easy to shoot digital to an SD card. You can chimp and adjust your exposures. Shooting a roll of film makes you more selective. Slows you down. You take in a lot more of your surroundings. Slowing down is a good thing. I look forward to shooting the Mermaid Parade every year. And I love the anticipation from sending out my film to receiving the scans. Well worth the wait.