Pete Maclaine has photographed the Notting Hill Carnival many times. Here he describes one particular aspect of his quest:
Winston Churchill said, “If you find a job you love, you’ll never work again.” For me, the combination of press photography and the Notting Hill Carnival bring this quote to life.
A love of photography coupled with the vibrant imagery created by the artists and performers, along with the behavior of uninhibited revellers make this a win-win situation. Whether the sun is shining or the rain is torrential, there is always a fresh new picture to be taken. Of course there are also hundreds of obligatory shots that should be sent in, and already have been many times by photographers during Carnivals past. Although this can be tiresome the press snaps them up year after year.
Originality be damned! I have always set off to cover this event with one shot in mind. It has plagued me from the first Carnival I covered in 2010: ‘Embarrassed police officer with woman/women gyrating against him.’ I have seen this picture published a few times over the years but never managed to capture it myself. So for the last five years I have followed male police officers around for hours aiming to get this clichéd shot.
Exhausted, my clothes soaked through and covered in paint. Drenched Chamois leathers and face towels draped over my cameras. Hunched over from donkeying a heavy backpack around, and in a heightened state of awareness scanning everyone that comes within a few feet of the police. It is no surprise when a suspicious copper or two asked why I was skulking around? Answering their question has caused much laughter and a few have told tales of when this had happened to them. “I didn’t know where to look,” said one Sergeant from Croydon nick. Another officer suffered recall blush as he explained, “I did not want to push her away, so kept turning around in circles until she stopped.”
By 5:30pm on Bank Holiday Monday I gave up on my quest. I was hungry, probably the munchies from passive weed smoking. My legs were sore and my back was feeling the weight of my kit. I had once again enjoyed myself but enough was enough. I’d skip the clear-up operation this year and head home for Horlicks and an early night. I made my way along Kensal Road through the throngs of people dancing alongside the remaining floats about to set off around the parade route. Eventually I found an exit that leads to a footbridge over the Grand Union Canal onto Harrow Road.
Trudging up the walkway onto the bridge I heard a commotion on the road below. The sought after photograph responsible for years of expectation fatigue was finally taking shape. I hadn’t taken a picture since my decision to leave and the light had changed. I took a burst of 9 frames on my Nikon D3S with the trusty 70-200 and hoped for the best.
A quick scroll on preview revealed that I had at least four shots in focus. By this time the laughing policeman, straight outta Tower Hamlets, was making his way up onto the footbridge and his embarrassment grew as he realized I had captured the whole thing. I was ecstatic and tried to explain how chuffed I was but he looked at me like I was nuts. I realized you had to be there, in my head, to get it and stopped talking.
I was a bit put out when my daughter and my girlfriend, both way cooler than I, informed me that the dance is actually called ‘whining’ not ‘winding’ as I had captioned it. Nobody deskside pulled me up on it or pointed out how un-street I had been. When published, the caption read ‘dancing provocatively.’
I probably sent out more images over the two days of carnival than I should have, as I struggle with the concept of ‘less is more.’ Although many of them were used, most were bog standard. There were only two that I am proud of, the embarrassed old bill with the provocative dancer being one.
With this shot finally in the bag, heaven forbid next year I have to come up with something original.