Into the wild green yonder

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There are four holidays throughout the year I look forward to the most: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Tết, and St. Patrick’s Day.  My fondness for St. Pat’s derives from several factors, ranging from my appreciation for Guinness to having something to look forward to during the annoying month of February.  My best memories of this festively green holiday are from last year when my best friend Karen visited.  I can still vividly remember the warm Irish coffee we drank together while taking a boat tour on the green waters of the dyed river.


Karen on our boat tour last year.

St. Pat’s in Chicago is a street photography’s dream.  The masses of Chicagoans shuffling around to see the river turn green (well, greener) and the crowds roaming from pub to pub throughout the day provide a target-rich environment to capture and document a surreal reality.  It is a day in which everyone becomes “Irish,” many reveal their inner playful spirit, and some lose their inhibitions to spirits.  It is nearly damn impossible to not get at least one great photograph that day.  It almost feels like cheating; a turkey shoot of green proportions.

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Since St. Pat’s fell on a Tuesday this year, the city scheduled the traditional river dying and parade on the preceding Saturday, the 14th.  My buddy Adam (of ABarbanell Photography) and I had planned to shoot the river dying weeks before.  After a bitterly cold winter and an emotionally harsh February, I was looking forward to grabbing a camera and throwing myself into a sea of people dressed in green.  And so that early Saturday morning, I grabbed my X100 and a Canon with an 85mm lens and dashed off into town.  I am a street photographer.  This is what I do.

Adam and I met up during the river dying, and after getting a few frames of people taking pictures of people (we are considering collaborating on a book on that subject), we set off to find breakfast before the parade.  As we sat at the front window of a Qdoba eating breakfast burritos, we could not help but to keep on shooting.  As festive (and probably already inebriated) people walk past the window, Adam made an analogy of watching fish swimming in an aquarium.  That begs the question, though, especially since they were outside of the glass, of who are the fish: them or us?

Given how massive the crowds were, there was no way that we would have been able to see the actual parade.  No matter, though, as I myself consider a parade per se to be banal.  Rather, the most exciting part of most parades are the spectators.  Especially on such a happy and carefree day as St. Pat’s, people are more open than usual when a camera is pointed at them.  It is not everyday for me that taking one candid photograph leads to an impromptu group portrait session in the middle of a street intersection.  As Adam and I walked up and down Randolph Street north of Millennium Park, we felt like explorers traversing through a green wilderness.  And I enjoyed every thrilling moment of seeing such a world in the frame-lines of my X100’s viewfinder.  I am a street photographer.  This is what I do.

Fun and  happiness can be infectious, that is if you allow yourself to be infected.  I myself was quite infected with the zeal and enthusiasm of the people out and about on St. Pat’s.  I did not consume a single drop of alcohol all morning and afternoon, and yet, I felt as carefree and happy as everyone else around.  The more photographed, the more I wanted to get closer, both physically and emotionally.  After Adam left to return home around the early afternoon, I dived deep into the thick crowd congregating in Millennium Park.  It was not enough for me to photograph from outside and afar.  I like to get close to my subjects regardless of any risk.  That is my method.  I am a street photographer.  This is what I do.

After wandering around Michigan Avenue for a bit, I paid a visit to my friend Sara at her lakeside apartment nearby for a small St. Pat’s gathering with her boyfriend and other friends.  I was treated to some jello shots, which admittedly was perhaps the second time I have ever consumed such concoction.  I am still puzzled as to how one is suppose to take a jello shot; I personally prefer simple shots like straight up Irish whisky.  After an hour of joking around, sharing stories, and photographizing (including a traditional selfie per Sara’s request), I left to return home to drop off full memory cards and the Canon, recharge my X100’s batteries, and recharge myself for a bit.  I had planned to meet up with Adam and a few other friends later in the evening at a pub downtown.  Before that, though, I proceeded up north to Wrigleyville with the intent to have a pint with Sara and her entourage who had ventured out to some bar on Clark Street.

It was sheer utter chaos on Clark.  The best I can describe it would be some mashup of Mardi Gras, a post Michigan-Ohio State game riot, and the 1916 Easter Rebellion.  Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in meeting up with Sara and company.  Pressed for time, I left the area to return to downtown after twenty minutes or so.  In that time, however, I was able to capture a few frames of the chaos on Clark and even some shenanigans on the train.  I feel now that what I captured was not enough, however, and that I failed to depict what it was really like up there that early evening.  As such, I already intent to return to Wrigleyville next year and throw myself and my camera straight into the madness.  I am a street photographer.  This is what I do.

My own St. Pat’s hellraising paled in comparison to last year.  The convening group was smaller this year.  There was no drunken Irish step dancing, no jumping up and down like an idiot, no being physically picked up into the air.  I myself could not afford to get too out of control as I was anticipating having to literally chase down a horse-drawn carriage the following day.  (See here for the horse explanation.)  And I was perfectly okay with that.  Perhaps it was because of being out all day since sunrise, or that am just getting older at my age of 31.  Or perhaps I was just content to be in the company of a few good friends, with a glass of Laphroaig in one hand and my X100 in the other.  Of course, I still could not resist wandering around the tightly packed pub and socialise a bit with random strangers.  I live to capture what I see through my eyes.  I am a street photographer.  This is what I do.

I absolutely cannot wait until St. Pat’s next year.