carnival

The Handmade Parade

When I visited my sister in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire at the end of June it was the weekend of the town's annual carnival.

In the mid-19th century, Hebden Bridge was a prosperous manufacturing town whose textile mills were connected to distant suppliers and customers by canal and rail. The canal and the railway line are still there, but the town itself quickly slumped into industrial decline until artists and hippies started to move in in the 1970s. Today, Hebden is flourishing modestly again, despite a couple of devastating recent floods. There are few empty shop premises, new housing is being built, and there is a lively cultural scene.

The town is home to a mixed community of rural working class families and first and second generation 'alternative' in-comers of all kinds. This variety, and the happy tolerance with which they all seem to rub along, reminded me of Brussels where I live. The parade itself shares a lot with Brussels' bi-annual Zinneke Parade. Both are conscious celebrations of the diversity of the communities from which both performers and spectators are drawn.

My best photographs of the parade were all made at the end, as it entered the park for the finale. I sat on a patch of grass and shot upwards as the different groups passed just a metre or two in front of me, enabling me to simplify what was generally quite a busy scene. Converting some of the images into black and white simplified them even further and created a few compositions that I really like.

An inspiring group of young Belgians

I spent the day of the Zinneke Parade with around 20 pupils from the Institut Sainte-Marie, a secondary-level art school in Saint Gilles. Gently encouraged by their teacher Roxane Carlier, the young people had thrown themselves into this entirely voluntary project with enthusiasm, designing and producing their own costumes.

I didn't know that the group would be so young, and they certainly hadn't expected to be accompanied by a photographer. A few were immediately keen to pose for the camera, but many were reticent at the start. But they soon got used to me, especially when we left the dressing-room and got out onto the streets of central Brussels.

I was impressed and moved by their energy and good humour, and especially by the confidence with which they interacted with the crowds of spectators. I enjoyed their company a lot, and was very happy to hear from Roxane that they had appreciated the photographs that I sent her.