Carnival Time

Today is the first day of Carnival, but I’m almost resigned to not going. My legs really won’t take it any more and I’m only just getting over a few hours slow walking last Wednesday, though I was out taking pictures again yesterday. This year I got as far as planning my route, complicated by rail closures today on two lines that I would normally use, but I’m not going to make it. The nearest I’m likely to get is a can of Red Stripe.

It took me 25 years to get to Notting Hill Carnival for the first time in 1990, partly because for the first few years it was a relatively small and poorly publicised event but later because of the demonisation it suffered in our largely racist press.

By 1990 I was becoming increasingly interested in documenting London as a multicultural city and knew I had to photograph carnival, so set out still with some trepidation and anxious warnings from friends. I loved the noise and the atmosphere and the colour, so of course I photographed it in black and white!

I continued to go back for the next 20 or so years, usually going for both days, and it became one of the highlights of my photographic year. I think there was perhaps a year or two when I was out of the country at August Bank holiday, and in 2005 I was suffering from a knee problem. I packed my photographic bag – always a small one for carnival – and dragged myself the 500 yards to the station, climbed up the bridge to get to the right platform and collapsed to the ground in pain. It was only then I realised that there was no way I was going to make it, rested for a few minutes and then hobbled my way slowly home.

I did allow myself to photograph in colour some years, but I found it a distraction and I think my best pictures are black and white. Some years too I took a panoramic camera too, loaded with colour film, and I felt its wide sweep enabled me to capture more of the atmosphere of the carnival procession. One of those images ended up being printed huge with a doorway people could walk through as an entrance to a museum exhibition; I was delighted to see it used but felt it didn’t improve the picture.

Rather to my surprise I find it’s 7 years since I last went to carnival, and on My London Diary I then wrote:

But either I’m getting too old for it, or perhaps carnival is changing, and this year I found it a little difficult. So I went on the Sunday, stayed around three hours and didn’t really want to return for the big day. So I didn’t.

But I am thinking about Notting Hill today, and about North Kensington in particular. Although I haven’t been to carnival I have made quite a few visits there over the past couple of years, and I’ve set an alarm and like carnival I will stop at 3pm for a period of silence to remember Grenfell.

You can see more pictures from several years at Carnival on My London Diary, but my favourite selection of the black and white work is a set of 20 pictures from the show English Carnival with three friends at the Juggler in Hoxton in 2008 from which the black and white images above come.

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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