by Johnny Martir
I am Johnny Martyr. My pronouns are he/she/hers. Along with some other LGTBQIA2S+ allies, we had a blast photographing the 2023 Capital Pride Parade in Washington DC last week.
Just as Pride is a celebration of diversity, Stephanie and Ben are bringing digital color to my normally all black and white film blog.
My friend Ben is the official concert photographer for IMP. He lives in DC and seems to photograph everything that goes on in the city. In 2020, I published two blogs about the Black Lives Matter protests. I covered one in Frederick, MD and Ben covered Washington DC. Ben’s pronouns are he/she/his.
My wife Stephanie got an assignment from Starbucks to cover the Pride Parade. As Martyr and Lee Photography, it’s important for us to show our support for the LGTBQIA2S+ couple, especially in the context of our wedding photography. And what photographer could resist covering such a huge and colorful street party? Stephanie’s pronouns are he/she/hers.
I met Ben at Jane Jane’s as the music echoed down 14th Street. The crowd stopped for selfies in front of the bar’s entrance where “Gay is Good” was painted in big, happy letters across the windows and arrays of colorful balloons framed it. The owner greeted Ben and me with shots of tequila as soap bubbles floated by us. He wished us “Happy Proud” as the three of us clinked our tumblers.
Police put up gates on nearby streets. The lights from their cruiser flicker silently as Ben and I talk into the camera.
Ben loves quirky vintage lenses with a million aperture blades, but he uses a pretty modern Elmarit 90mm on his beautiful Leica M10 to shoot Pride. With a maximum aperture of just 2.8, the Elmarit is painfully slow for this Canon Dream Lens shooter, but the aperture makes for a small, light lens that’s still faster than a vintage Elmar 9cm.
Although I shot with the much larger and heavier Summicron Pre-ASPH 90mm f2, Ben and I seem to agree that the 90 is a very long size for taking crowd shots.
The 90 isn’t as long so you feel like a sniper at a distance like the 135. The 90mm still requires you to get in and be part of the action just as much as with the 50mm. But 90 allows you to isolate people and still get some context.
With her Nikon D810, Stephanie uses a similar Nikkor 85mm 1.4 AF-D.
Like me, he pairs his short telephoto with a 50mm. For him it was a Sigma Art 50mm f1.4. For me it was the Leitz 50mm f2 Summicron.
This year’s Pride theme is Peace, Love, Revolution; referring to the protests of the late 1960s that gave birth to this tradition. Hence, many of the parade goers wore hippy-style clothes, reminiscent of The Summer of Love. And I think my B&W TMAX 100 shot connects the past and the present.
We walked to 17th Street where it all happened. The parade hasn’t started yet but the streets are filled with colorful scenes and high-energy people from all walks of life.
Participants gather around their respective vehicles; floats, classic cars, and I saw at least one speed boat! They dress up, take pictures of each other and dance on the spot, excited for the parade.
Ben and I discovered my wife felt the same way too! Ben jokes with Steph that he only brought the M3 with him today to make me happy. He will “take all [his] real photo with the M10.” But anyway I’m happy.
The crowd felt like an impossible to photograph chaos. While I’m used to large groups at weddings, this was different as it was a very large event.
I’m overwhelmed with ways to create a visual sequence of all the random things happening around me. Bass booming pop music, soap bubbles flying through the air, stunning costumes and dancing on and around the cars.
In the shot above, you can see the Washington Monument in the distance, peering coyly around the corner.
With an automatic camera, it probably feels most natural to just walk around and point and shoot. But with a fully manual camera, you need to quickly measure focus, estimate exposure and verify settings when taking a shot. To simplify myself, I use an old street photography technique called fishing.
In the shot below, I crouched out of view of the viewer, framed the police car and Tesla, then waited for people to walk past the shot.
Fishing small scenes over and over helps my brain relax and I stop feeling overwhelmed.
Another thing I realized was happening was I was so busy thinking about what to take that I forgot to smile. Only the happiest people would smile at an unsmiling stranger pointing the camera at them. And let me tell you, even though there are some very happy people at Capital Pride, I still managed to notice some of them.
People imitate what they see photographers do. If you look too serious, the subject will too.
At Pride, the giving and receiving of smiles really makes me feel part of the celebration. As I walked through the streets in my Leicas, snapping and smiling, Pride faded away theirs celebrations, and more ours.
I put both my M6s on and try to keep the shutters and apertures arranged the same way. This makes it easy to change the focal length simply by bringing another camera closer to my eye. I also think that using two cameras makes you a professional to other people. Even when I don’t get paid to film something, I find that when I have two cameras on, people seem more accepting and amenable to what I do than when I walk around with only one. Not saying that you should wear two if you don’t need both, but you never know when looking like a pro will give you access you may not have had before.
But no matter how many cameras you use, keep smiling!
TMAX 100 is a great film to work with because the light was really harsh at 1:30 pm when we started shooting. Higher speed film would have too much contrast and require absolutely perfect exposure of faces which can be difficult to shoot, those quick, unpredictable moments in full manual. Especially with many of the subjects wearing headgear or holding up markings that cast shadows on their faces. TMAX is highly tonal and smooths out high contrast ratio scenes very naturally.
One problem is that I forgot the hood for my Cron 50. The lens grip is on fine without the hood but the highlights in some of my shots came out a little shinier. I also like to keep a metal hood on my lens to protect the front element when shooting big events. The newer 90 Cron and 50 Cron have built-in hoods so you’ll never leave your home without one!
Another thing to keep in mind when shooting a 35mm Leica is that the cloth shutters can be burnt by direct sunlight. Even though most of the light is reflected through the road, it’s very harsh and I try to stay aware that when I’m not actively taking a photo, my lens isn’t pointing forward at the sun. As mentioned, the 90 Cron is heavy and effortlessly steers my M6 TTL down, facing the ground when suspended by my 14312 strap. An M6 wearing 50 Cron needs to be tilted down or placed by hand over the lens to protect the curtain.
After about three hours and 5 rolls of film, Stephanie and I had to head back to Frederick for a family shoot. Ben disappeared into the crowd but kept me updated via text on what other film photographers were shooting. (We’re looking at a Canon P, a Nikon FM series, and some German folding rangefinders.)
Shooting and being a small part of the 2023 Capital Pride Parade is a lot of fun. Even if we stayed all day, I don’t think we could document everything that happened. I can’t stress how many people were there, and all the activity turned into one big blurry rainbow!
Thanks for reading, happy shooting, and happy Pride!
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