This year, I’m spending Carnival at home. Other priorities will keep me from the mayhem on the streets of Rio, New Orleans, Venice, Lafayette, Port-of-Spain, or wherever else I might have been planning to go; so instead I’ll be posting some shots from the ghosts of Carnivals past as I tend to random bits of business on the computer. At the moment I ‘m managing three or four websites, three Facebook pages, an Instagram feed, and whatever else I’m forgetting to take care of today. And they used to promise that the progress of technology would increase our leisure time…
Carnival waits for no one, least of all a photographer. In the Insta-world we now live in, there will be billions of photos taken this weekend, from Sydney to Mamou, from Rio to Burano, from Venice to Salvador de Bahia. I’ll take comfort in knowing that the rest of the world is out there, documenting every second of it all with their cell-phones. And, in the knowledge that , like the sun and moon and the tides and the seasons, the centuries-old tradition of Carnival will keep its regularly-scheduled appearances going for, well, at least as long as I live.
The following text is from a recent Instagram caption for this photo, in which I, in a roundabout way, explain how I got the shot above. Or, at least how I got inside to get the shot. A technical discussion would be much less interesting.
Don’t Stop the Carnival #1: The Magic Ball. Five years ago I was in Rio de Janeiro with @Lance_Rosenfield, Tony Smallwood (@BrokenSquare), and @DavidAlanHarvey for Carnival. David had invited me to come along while he was on assignment, and together we convinced Lance and Tony to join us. Suddenly we were four grown men on a buddy trip down to Rio. Those guys have plenty of stories of their own to tell from our adventures and misadventures, but the one concerning the picture above goes like so:
One event that I absolutely knew I wanted to photograph was the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace Hotel, one of the world’s most exclusive and most outrageous Carnival balls. Harvey had shown me some photos from the event the year before, and I was frothing at the mouth to check it out. Only problem was, that exclusivity thing. Harvey had secured his own pass as a National Geographic photographer with a huge amount of red tape and ass-kissing, and the security outside the Palace was ridiculous. Tickets were $1000. Dress was black tie, or an outrageous costume. Presidents, celebrities, business tycoons and society mavens were there in force. I had brought down a tuxedo just in case I could figure out a way in, but as I saw the huge limos and crowds and police and bouncers and velvet ropes outside the hotel, I lost hope.
Tony and I walked around the entire building, looking for a kitchen entrance where maybe we could bribe a dishwasher or something to get in, but every door was locked tight. We walked home in the rain. I was discouraged and tired, but Tony wasn’t having it. “You gotta try, bro. You’ve come all the way down here, what have you got to lose?” So I went back to the apartment I was sharing with Lance, suited up, grabbed my small black shoulder bag, and headed back to the Palace. I had an idea.
At a sidewalk kiosk, I picked up a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. It was now 3:30 AM. As I got closer to the hotel, I stalled across the street long enough to light a cigarette, and then sauntered towards the hotel in my tuxedo, looking for all the world like a reveler who had just stepped out for a smoke by the beach. As I got to the steps of the hotel, I put out my cigarette on the sidewalk, nodded to the concierge standing out front, and walked right in. Just like that.
I followed the sound of music to the ballroom on the second floor and the first people I saw there were David Harvey and Roberta Tavares, sipping champagne. David had already shot the hell out of the ball and was in kick-back mode. “Where the hell have you been, Bickford?” he said. “Party’s still going strong, go on in there and get you some pictures.” I stayed and shot till well after dawn, by which time I had befriended a bevy of beautiful transvestites who wanted me to come with them to a breakfast party. I politely declined, crawled back to the hotel, and slept til four in the afternoon. Tonight they’re doing it again at the Copacabana, as this is the final Saturday of Carnival. I wish them all the best of fun. I’ll be asleep shortly, in a quiet country hamlet on the Norteamericano coast. #Carnival #RiodeJaneiro #CopacabanaPalace #MagicBall #Carnaval