When I’m idle and find myself at an event without official credentials, I sometimes get lucky to get limited access. This mini photo-essay wasn’t an intended pursuit, nor did I devote a high level of gusto to shoot it. This was the semi-final round of competition. I considered focusing on the kings but guys weren’t as relaxed in the presence of a camera, and had less frenzy around their preparation process. At this festival, masqueraders are conditioned to put on a happy front for a camera. That usually offers a stale image and increases the challenge to capture the various emotions contestants experience backstage. What becomes of idle time and a spontaneous spirit is unpredictable. (It’s unlikely I’ll further develop this unpublished work-in-progress without incentive.)
Leslie Ann Boisselle (above) as The Jewelled Nymph of the Caribbean. The cultural tapestry of Trinidad and Tobago inspires many of the narratives illustrated in the famed Carnival. Themes portrayed by bands typically aim to celebrate and reference the country’s diverse ethnic heritage and indigenous traditions.
Parading a massive Carnival queen costume requires stamina and strength to manage the towering float that can cost a band producer U$4,000 — U$20,000 to manufacture. Contestants are in it largely for the glory of personal accomplishment, because winning the National Carnival Commission’s top prize does not guarantee full reimbursement of expenses. Tamara Alleyne-Gittens (above) as A Splash of Scandal.
It takes a village of handlers to convert a contender into the Queen. Designers, fabricators, assemblers, moral supporters and makeup stylists, then add a crew of choreographed escorts who might make a contender’s presentation crowd-pleasing.
Three dozen 20-foot fiberglass rods can weigh almost a ton, at least they can register as such to the eye. Once inside a magnificent queen costume, many contestants require brace and acceleration support to negotiate stage ramps and to delay exhaustion. Susanne Low (above) as Orisha Goddess of the Sea.
Joan Mohammed (above) as The Lady of The Night in Las Vegas approaches the Queen’s Park Savannah stage in the semi-final round. Three minutes after donning her full costume, and before she could circle the entire stage once, she was overcome by brutal winds that swept her costume into a spin, and pushed her face forward to the stage floor. Mohammed endured a bruised knee. She received brisk applause as she was carried from the arena on a stretcher (below).
Mohammed was disqualified, she did not advance to the final round of battle to be Queen of Carnival.
© SEAN DRAKES
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