I was downtown DC the day of the March For Our Lives gun control protest. I wasn’t actually there to document the march – I was there to see it and experience it, but not even as my primary goal for the day, so I didn’t shoot a ton of film. Regardless, when I arrived at the parade route, the students and parents from Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Florida were passing the intersection where I crossed Pennsylvania Avenue. It was truly moving to be there amongst them as they marched past. I’ll let the images speak for themselves, and just add that the closing image of the series says it all – Don’t just march, VOTE.
For those interested, I shot the entire series on my Mamiya RZ67 with the 65mm lens, which was really the perfect lens to use for this – I had enough room to get groups and action, but I could still get close up and isolate individual people. Film of choice was the classic documentary film, Kodak Tri-X.
Given the polarizing nature of the current president’s personality and demeanor, it should be no surprise that he attracts a LOT of protestors. There are always protestors outside the White House – for as long as I can remember, there was a 24/7 anti-nuclear weapons vigil in Lafayette Square, going back to at least the Reagan administration. The woman who spearheaded that protest has since died, so now the round-the-clock vigil encampment is immigration themed, if I recall correctly.
I don’t usually attend protest rallies or photograph them, given that they can be very sensitive events and I don’t want to be associated with anything that might go wrong when two opposing groups confront each other. Fortunately this is a rare thing in DC, but it does happen.
I was out playing tourist/tourguide with some out-of-town friends over the Martin Luther King Birthday holiday. We walked from the Air and Space Museum up Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House, then on to the Washington and Lincoln Memorials before finishing at the MLK Memorial. Outside the Renwick Gallery there was this character:
Inside his white box, he was playing the harmonica through a portable amplifier. There was no discernible connection between his song choices and the overall theme of his demonstration, so I don’t know to what extent he was consciously protesting, making social commentary, or just serendipitously expressing the zeitgeist because his meds were wearing off.
Outside the White House was a different matter, and a much more pointed display of discontent. This was right after the president had made his “shithole countries” comment, so much of the signage centered around that.
I chose this image because of the profoundly ironic juxtaposition of the happy tourists posing for a family photo in front of the White House with the protesting woman in front. This is something you will experience here in Washington that I don’t think you see many other places – the cognitive dissonance of “oh look, we’re jazzed to be here!” immediately adjacent to “I’m righteously indignant and I’m not going to take it any more!” expressed over the exact same subject.
One good thing about photographing protestors is that if you want to get better at “street” photography, they’re a great subject to practice on, because they absolutely want their pictures taken to get their message out to the larger world.
I’m a big public transportation junkie, so when I heard they were finally launching the DC Streetcar on H Street Northeast (a public works project over a decade in the making and long overdue – the tracks have been in place for two or three years now), I was so excited I ran over after work last Friday to see it and ride it only to find out I was a day early! So I satisfied my urge and photographed the streetcar at the Union Station end of the line, catching it at sunset. The shiny new car reflected not only the setting sun but the buildings across the street, bringing the surrounding urbanscape out of frame back into the picture.
Here is a different view of the streetcar, waiting at the Union Station end of the line, looking down H Street. H Street was, fifty or so years ago, a thriving business district catering mostly to a middle-class African-American clientele. Then along came the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and then with the 1980s, the cocaine and crack epidemics. H Street was devastated.
Obviously now, not so much. It has transformed starting in the early 2000s with the real estate boom. Perhaps the turning point was the creation of a large condominium complex, Senate Square, on the grounds of what was originally a Catholic school and later the Capitol Children’s Museum. Now, pawn shops and lake trout joints are being replaced by artisanal coffee roasters, fancy pubs serving British-Indian fusion cuisine, and cultural outlets like the Atlas Theater and the Rock n’ Roll Hotel (which is not a hotel, but a bar and concert venue). Instead of a Murry’s, the neighborhood is now sporting a Whole Foods.
When finally fully operational (at the moment, the streetcar only runs less than half the length of installed track), the streetcar will connect Union Station and the governmental core of the city to east of the Anacostia River, a long-suffering neighborhood where good jobs and access to quality goods and services have been sorely lacking.
These are two of the wedding photographers I saw in action on my trip – I saw at least two more that I didn’t capture. All were Chinese – I guess it’s a thing now for Chinese couples to come to famous landmarks ( I saw this in Paris as well when I was there ) to get their wedding photos done. I don’t know if they were actually having their weddings in Rome and Florence, or just getting their pictures taken. I’d have loved to have asked, but the photographers were busy working and I’m not going to interrupt them.
I’m not at all surprised by the first location- the steps of Santa Maria in Aracoeli are a very popular destination spot for wedding couples. They were lucky that it was a quiet day – in peak season the steps are very popular with tourists, including pilgrims climbing them on their knees hoping for divine intercession to heal illness or get pregnant, although not so much these days. There are 124 steps (122 if you start on the right-hand side).
In Florence, this was the scene on the Ponte Vecchio, next to the Cellini monument. I know photographers will go to some lengths to get the shot, but this is really taking it to another level. I also observed a much more conventional photo-taking outside the Duomo early in the morning on another day.
I’m a big fan of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, where people get dressed up in all kinds of reasonably (in)authentic garb and indulge in the fantasy of being in another place and time for the day. Costumes range from Renaissance royalty to fantasy characters inspired by Lord of the Rings and other sci-fi/fantasy stories.
While I often get tarted up in my own RennFest costume (I pass for a lesser lord of the Realm in my velvet doublet and tights), it was hot enough out that I decided this time discretion was the better part of valor and I would be better off in street clothes, just taking pictures. I wasn’t as photographically focused as I’d have wanted to be, pardon the pun, as I had a friend in tow who wanted to take in the sights. This was another photo outing where having the Rollei really came in handy, as people would quite willingly (if not eagerly) pose for the cool camera with the two lenses.
Photographing the fairy-wing girl was a hoot- she saw the camera, geeked out over it, and got even more excited when I pulled out my hand-held meter to take an exposure reading: “Are you metering me?? That’s so COOL!”.
I felt so sorry for this poor boy, out selling floral hair garlands from a hand-cart in the blazing sun. Black feathers in your hair, while they do provide some shade for the face, can’t be the coolest thing to wear when it’s approaching 90F / 35C.
I did take this one as a candid, since the Maryland Man was so deep in conversation with the lady.
The living statue was busy posing, like a statue, and would only change or break pose if you put a tip in her cup. A little girl of perhaps five or six years old was enraptured by the statue, and an adult woman who was monitoring the child had to keep admonishing her (in the gentlest and situationally appropriate tone) “Don’t touch the statue- she doesn’t want to be touched”.
Another cast member at the RennFest who was approachable, thanks to the Rollei. He did get a bit distracted by I think a rather buxom young girl in a harem costume passing by just as I snapped the photo, so his expression isn’t what I was looking for.
And yes, if you’re wondering, that’s a Pokemon figurine on his necklace. See what I mean about not hewing to historical accuracy?
No Gay Pride parade would be complete without drag queens, just as it would not be complete without a few Dykes on Bikes and some leathermen.
Drag takes on many forms – from “high art” female impersonation to wild genderfuck and anything in between. First, the “high art”. I use that term very loosely, but what I mean by that is this kind of drag aims to present the illusion that you are in fact looking at a woman. Granted, an exaggerated pastiche of a certain kind of woman, but the intent is to present an illusion that maybe-kinda-sorta-in-dim-light-and-a-disco-soundtrack could be believed. When in drag, these queens refer to themselves (or at least the characters they inhabit) in the feminine. Their presentation is not just appearance, though, but it is performance – singing, dancing, acting. While Miss Gay Virginia is not exactly seductive in her appearance, she’s got a title which means she can do more than slap on a wig and paint up a face.
A specialty in illusion drag is celebrity impersonation. Were it not 30 years on and on the streets of Washington DC instead of a movie lot, I could believe I’m looking at Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
Then you have non-professional drag queens like this one. I’ve seen her at other drag events like the High Heel Race before. She may be someone who qualifies as a transvestite, not a drag queen, and gets dressed up as a woman because she enjoys it and identifies with it. Definitely not a straight guy putting on a wig and a dress as a Halloween lark. She’s in many ways more believable than the pros because she isn’t painting her face to look good in stage lights.
Then there’s genderfuck. The general idea of genderfuck is playing around with, crossing, and even destroying preconceived norms of what any one gender is expected to conform to. Anything from some glitter, some makeup and a pair of purple fairy wings…
… to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters are a national (perhaps even international) organization that combines radical, politically charged drag (men with painted faces, beards, and nun’s habits, with drag names like Sister Imprudentia Vaginismus) and charitable fundraising and volunteer activity. They manage the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco every year, and the proceeds go to HIV/AIDS charities.
This is by no means a complete or exhaustive survey of what drag is, or the practitioners at the parade this year. And if you ask 10 drag queens what drag means, you’ll come up with at least 20 answers, depending on how many cocktails they’ve had before you ask.
The DC Gay Pride Parade always features a political contingent. This year being an off-year for elections, we saw fewer than usual (last time it seemed like there were an interminable array of political contingents – virtually everyone running for office in DC, suburban Maryland and suburban Virginia was in the parade). I captured two notable entries – V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of Vermont and the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s representative in Congress (who can’t vote on anything because DC isn’t a state). She’s always at the Pride march every single year, and has been for as long as I can remember (and I’ve been attending these things for close on 25 years now).
I’ll put the Boy Scouts under the political banner only because of the ongoing controversy surrounding gay scouting that has dragged on far too long.
What a sign of change in the parade – when I first started attending, there were virtually no children to be seen anywhere, either in the parade itself or even in the audience. Now, not only do you have married gay couples marching, you have married gay couples with kids, and the friends of their kids and the parents of the friends of their kids marching with them. This was I believe the PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays) contingent, with parents and kids just being parents and kids.
Many city agencies march in the parade. It’s not quite San Francisco, where the Fire, Police, and even the Sanitation departments have contingents (the sanitation workers ride those little ride-behind sidewalk sweepers that look kind of like lobsters with brushes for claws). But hey, this year we had the DC Public Library giving out beads!
And the DC Public Schools had a very large contingent of kids of all genders, gender expressions and sexual orientations marching with their gay and ally teachers. I think it’s terrific when kids are allowed to express themselves and be who they are with pride – marching in the parade means that they’re less likely to end up on the street, homeless, addicted and practicing survival prostitution.
The United States Military had a very strong presence – each major branch of the service marched, and the grouping was led by a uniformed color guard. Here are some very cute sailors in sailor suits.
What gay pride parade would be complete without a float (or ten) of scantily clad go-go boys drenched in glitter, gyrating to a disco beat? Pride has moved upscale with corporate presences from Fortune 500 companies (Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen Hamilton, and here, Hilton Hotels), and they’re not afraid to get their sexy on. Twenty years ago, you’d not have seen any of these groups.
Of course, it’s the local businesses that are willing to go all-out in the just-slightly-naughty department. Nellie’s Sports Bar had quite the collection of go-go boys.
Another thing a Pride parade wouldn’t be complete without: the Leather contingent. Here are four leathermen hanging out in front of the West Elm furniture store by the “Twinks and Otters and Bears, oh my!” sign, tempting passersby to shop for a chair and a sling…
And the perennial favorite, always the first contingent in the parade, Dykes on Bikes.
Boy (I don’t know her real name, but Boy is what she goes by) is a multiple sash winner in leather contests, and has been a fixture around the DC area for a very long time. She’s the one driving the bike.
Another lesbian couple (I’m assuming, they could be just friends) riding in the parade:
And to cap it off, a row of Bykes (Dykes, Bikes… Bykes, get it?) parked outside a restaurant on 14th Street at the end of the parade route.