And the answer is……..every year since 1982 they come out of the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to march in the annual Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, NY. Actually, they are people dressed as mermaids, lobsters, octopi, sharks, jelly fish, and other denizens of the sea. There are a sprinkling of pirates, sailors and Marie Antoinettes (why Marie Antoinette, I haven’t a clue but they were colorful) others came dressed as people from the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s and some I think were from other planets! Costume imagination ran wild with outfits ranging from the hilarious to the absurd to the scandalously risqué’!
I met my friend and fellow photographer Sharron and we took the N train to the last stop Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn. The Coney Island Stop. Now I know you will be surprised being that I’m a native New Yawka that this was my first time ever in the infamous Coney Island but so be it at least I got there.
We walked along the boardwalk to West 21st and Surf Avenue to register at the press booth. Both amateur and pro photographers get a little plastic bracelet that gives them access to the staging area to take “behind scenes” photos of the participants as they prepare for the big event. My God, I have never seen so many photographers in one place at one time; I swear there were more photographers than participants. The participants were very obliging and patiently posed for all of the hundreds of photos taken of them that day. I was in my glory.
For the first 2 1/2 hours I took portraits shots of the participants with their exotically painted faces in colors from deep blue to dark blood-red and accented with beads, bangles, spangles, feathers, sequins and multicolored sparkles. They wore elaborate head-gear ornamented with shells, star fish, pearls, flowers, and small sea creatures and some carried brightly colored parasols as an accompaniment to their costumes. It was like Mardi Gras at the beach.
Finally at 2:00pm the parade started and having the little bracelets on our wrists enabled us to photograph on the road instead of behind the barriers, but we still had to keep our distance and not get in the way of the marchers or block the view of the spectators behind the barriers. Well, ideally that is what you are supposed to do. The parade starts off with a showing of antique cars from the 1920’s to the 1970’s with the drivers revving the engines and pretending to peel out right there on Surf Avenue to the delight of the spectators. Music and laughter could be heard for miles as the floats snaked along Surf Avenue making their way to the boardwalk where the motorized floats are now pushed and pulled by the participants and finally ending at Stillwell Avenue to cheers and cries from the crowd.
The public and participants continued the festivities later that evening at the Mermaid Ball at the New York Aquarium. Sharron and I though pointed our hot, tired and thirsty bodies homeward toward the subway and thankfully got a seat on the train and talked of the days events as we relaxed and rested on our way home, she to Manhattan and I to Queens.
Below is a small sampling of the festivities enjoyed at the Mermaid Parade and you can view the complete gallery of photos at www.photobycate.com. You’ll feel like you’ve been there.
Enjoy and Stay in Focus,