michael webster – brooklyn carnival

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Michael Webster

Brooklyn Carnival

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Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Parade takes place every Labor Day weekend. With a crowd of over two million people it is the largest parade in New York City and possibly North America. These photos are not from that parade. They are from preceding events — the Junior Carnival and the J’ouvert Parade.

J’ouvert, pronounced “joo-vay” in Brooklyn, means “opening of the day” or “dawn” in French. It began in Trinidad as a mockery of the French masquerade ball. In opposition to the costumed finery and refined dances of their oppressors, slaves covered themselves in mud, paint or oil and danced to a significantly different beat. Although mostly just a giant party here in Brooklyn, J’ouvert retains something of that political nature to this day.

I stumbled across both of these events while walking around Brooklyn in the early morning and have attended them many times over the years. I believe that, taken together, they provide a revealing portrait of the Caribbean community.


Michael Webster is a photographer living in Brooklyn.

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Michael Webster


100 Responses to “michael webster – brooklyn carnival”

  • mmm.. can’t really decide if i like this or not.

    Some of it is with no doubt powerful stuff, but in other places it is so extreme an underexposition that keeps you from getting any meaning whatsoever.

    My two cents, anyway.


    i am enjoying my morning coffee here in Rio, totally smiling, and i swear that i enjoy this kind of repartee….i am simply trying to understand your real motive for writing as a UFO….i do of course wish you would reveal yourself and your work..i always find it a bit odd that some would choose to hide in a medium where everything is so out front..however, even this is fine and we have several here who maintain an identity not fully revealed here..i am just not getting your point…your surface point yes, your real point no….surely you can find some examples of a “brooding” nature here (surely Webster, Bickford not brooding), but if i did have time beyond my coffee ,i would go dig them up (dogs in cars immediately comes to mind, preston gannaway also , thodoris nicosia and on and on)..

    also please remember that what i publish on Burn is a small representation of the work that is being done today by young photographers….i do not shoot these essays…i just publish what seems to me to be a representation of what is going on today….i have no aesthetic agenda outside my own work….. we publish that which either comes to us or we see in various ways….i am always looking looking looking for a new eye..if YOU have one, show us please

    anyone would guess from your repeated comments that we have passed on something you shot that was bright and funny and light and hopeful..am i close? actually i would LOVE LOVE an essay like that..matches my personality way more than does brooding…and if YOU have it and you believe in it , send it again….or if this is not the case, then go shoot an essay that matches your beliefs…

    if you are a photographer, then your only real “comment” is your work…lay it on the table…everyone you have mentioned has work to show….so, please show us…there is nothing that would brighten my day more…

    cheers, david

  • I kind of like BURNBLOGFAN… I’ve got a feeling he’s been surreptitiously moving round Burn, a seasoned viewer.

  • PAUL..

    oh yes..said so….and why you assume “he”?

  • Michael… no 500 photographers from me.. I said colours (saturated) was what I expect hearing carnival.. I don’t know what coverage you get over there where you live, over here it’s colours colours colours, if it’s coverage about foreign places it’s mostly costumes and/or naked female bodyparts, if it’s video it’s mostly dancing, laughing and looks like fun.. so for the most part your essay, and also a big part of Chris Bickford’s, fit the brief..

    Once saw a most interesting docu following the building of the carts, chariots? (don’t know how they’re called) of the carnival of Viareggio, done during the year preceeding the carnival.. was great to see the dedication and all the work that went into it, to discover why one theme was chosen over another..

    Personally, I have absolutely nothing against colour, or how and where or with what you process your files.. I don’t care much about technics, as long as the result works.. that’s all..

  • David…

    I was walking the dog with one of my sons and the same thought occurred to me also…. why “he”? I really do enjoy the way BURNBLOGFAN writes… gives praise, even a little adulation and the next turn throws a devilish subtle poke and just catches one by surprise. All of course with a great sense of wit. Perfect combustion for the Burn pyre..

  • @M Kircher — yeah, that Bregulla essay is one I’d missed — I like the tone, it’s just brighter. Maybe I’ve OD’d on misery as shown in so many essays, you know, those of the Russian homeless or marginalized or whatever, heart-wrenching, yes, deserve our attention, yes… i don’t mean to sound cold, i’m

    @Paul — now you’re flattering me :-) yes, i’m a HE… and i’ve been lurking since before day 1…
    and as for your query,
    as to my UFO status — I’m just shy, is all, and worry that on the web every stupid thing i say, these comments included, will pop up for just-about-ever. I admire those that can let it hang out; hell, i’m even reticent about updating my facebook page where my “friends” are… silly me…

    I don’t think my pictures would pique your curiousity, I’m not an essayist, i’m a commercial photographer and aficionado and collected artist (minor, but one piece in a bona-fide museum which, by the way, was more gratifying than the sum of my paid-for-hire photos over the years)… but i digress

    back to brooding — there have gotta be some lighter images for you to publish/share now and again… i do believe that most of the stuff you show is pretty serious, fairly dark, tortured, grainy… maybe if i spend an hour and troll back through the archive i’ll be corrected… and i guess i owe it to you to do so before throwing a wrench out as i’ve done… jeeez, now i feel bad… (semi-smiling)…

    gotta run, real life calls…
    thanks for entertaining my musings, hope you’re “killing it” in Rio.


  • BBF

    you are welcomed here anytime…and at my loft in nyc as well…you should be proud of being collected and of your commercial work as well….often writers/commentators/photogs here show up at my place, we look at pictures, talk about life, and they drink all my beer and go home!! …hope you do too…. :) trying trying here in Rio but i always feel like i have not quite done it..yet….love to make myself miserable in one way, but very happy in another….go figure.

    cheers, david


    it has been a particular pleasure to have you up on Burn..your essay has stimulated a worthy discussion…as you know , i still see these cut down to the killer 15, but that is for another day…for now enjoy….i await now your next essay…thank you for all of your input here on Burn…

    cheers, david

  • Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to view and consider my essay, particularly to those of you who left comments. And of course special thanks to David and the burn team for producing Carnival Week and publishing my little observations about it.

    I have never been to any famous Carnival such as Rio or New Orleans. These two Brooklyn affairs that I’ve shared with you are just about all I know of the real thing. So maybe I’m projecting, but I suspect that when you know one real Carnival, you pretty much know 95 percent of what there is to know about them all. Visually, the colors and the costumes and the people are fantastic. When you’re there in person, the music and the noise and the energy of the marchers on top of those visual elements are intoxicating. But there’s so much more. So much about community. So much about growth and continuity. So much about sexuality. From the costumed toddlers, children, and young people on the cusp of puberty in the Junior Carnival through the raunchy young and middle aged marchers in J’Ouvert and the older participants and observers, Carnival is a portrait of a community growing up in public. Too much of that, I think, gets lost in all the colors and festive poses, but it’s that strong community aspect that makes it so powerful. That’s what makes it so interesting. And beautiful.

    For contrast, I’ll leave you with this photo from a Carnival celebration in Rurality where any sense of community has been shattered and Carnival is nothing more than a beer promotion and not a particularly good one at that. For those of us who get to enjoy the real thing, either as participants, observers, or even by looking at photographs and feeling something a bit beyond the colors, real Carnival is truly something to cherish.

    Thanks again, David, et. al…

  • One day, Mike… I will go see a warm carnival myself. Enjoyed your work, as always.

  • i think that if I was MW I would have shot and presented this piece like this; still trying to work out if thats a good or a bad thing! ;)
    this piece doesn’t really have a lot of power- its mild and easy on the eyes but given the subject I think it works.
    Have enjoyed reading the discussion too!

  • Michael Webster,

    I enjoyed reading your gracious responses above, and respect your intestinal fortitude. Maybe we were all – in our own way – suffering a little post-Carnival hangover, and decided to change up the typical content based comments, and discuss technicalities instead.

    Your comments hidden under the current dialogue concerning the influences of the Hudson Valley painters, and Goya, got me to thinking. First, it is an impressive and ambitious thing to re-work painterly approaches and genres into a current photographic style. I think of the Hudson painters primarily for their landscapes – and yes, the early morning light, the atmospherics, etc. – even though portraiture was a feature as well. Really cool to re-work it for street photography. I wish I could see here in essay comments more of the essayists’ influences; comments such as your’s helps my understanding of the work.

    Second, about Goya and his influence: I forget if it was Goya or Delacroix, but their working with black paint, as effective as it was, was a turning point. Of one (?) it was said that their blacks created a hole in the canvas, that in modern photographic parlance they didn’t expose for the shadows. From that point, painters stepped away from the dark, and toward the bright. Maybe it was then in the history of art that slavishness to dynamic range was born. Even Whistler in his nocturnes, and his studies in grey, replaced black with shaded colour. N.C.Wyeth, and son, I think, influenced somewhat from the Hudson’s, stepped away from blacks. And the debate will continue!


    Certainly you and I see eye to eye on many things (I agree that some of Laura’s work in Egypt falls under our complaints – leaving out her night work – and was surprised others didn’t catch THAT!), but I really have to take issue with you when you compare Huffington to people I like, even if you mean it favourably. She wrote a horrendous book on my idol Picasso a few decades back, and I’m unable to forgive her on that score! :)))

    Your “divided soul”, delineated razor-sharp, is what I think is of general interest to us…

  • There is a wall sized painting that hangs in New Harmony, Indiana (used to anyway) of a young priest walking through dappled light from a canopy of large trees. Most of the painting is quite classical in style, but the dappled light on the ground is more like something Jackson Pollack might have done. Pure white and splattered as though thrown violently at the canvas. I love that painting and spent many hours enjoying it through the years, literally over omelets and numerous cups of coffee. As a photographer I’ve devoted a lot of effort to achieving a like effect. I’ve spent many hours in a nearby cemetery where there is a similar stand of trees trying every which way to capture that kind of dappled light on the ground. Likewise in the digital darkroom. Nowadays when I shoot, I rarely, if ever, think of that painting consciously, but looking for and seeing that kind of light has become instinctual. You can see a bit of that in numerous shots in this essay, particularly #’s 1, 21 and 22.

    I probably should have written a more revealing artist statement. I didn’t want to include one at all and argued to keep it brief. But it’s difficult in general to visually communicate a literary-type story and I think especially difficult when attempting it with something so colorful and at the same time mundane as a street parade. It’s not all that difficult to come out of one with pretty pictures and I suspect we are mostly accustomed to leaving it at that. But with these parades I’ve come to sense something much deeper. That sense of community, of growing up in public through the different events. That’s what I’m actually photographing, though of course I try to make the images interesting as standalones. This all is what I love so much about photography. Divining and telling a story, influences manifesting themselves, dealing with the technical aspects of light, motion, and composition in a variety of those circumstances, figuring out how to develop and present the results, discussing it all with others who care. Fun stuff all around. At least when it’s not so goddammed frustrating.

    Anyhoo, guess I should note for those suggesting more photos of before and after the parade that most of those J’Ouvert photos were taken before or after the parade. Akaky, I especially appreciate your kind words because I know you often deal with the parade through harshly lighted canyons problem. Dominik, hi, all is well. Owe you an email. Bob, always a pleasure. Jeff, thanks again. FrostFrog, I look forward to seeing your Eskimo dance pictures. You know I’m a fan of your whale hunt work. And Paul, regarding the other thread and advice capturing and developing raw photos — I pretty much explained my approach to that in the first paragraph of this note and the parts about the Hudson River School and Goya above. Basically, figure out what you like and go from there.

    Okay, I’ll stop now before I start waxing nostalgic about the Jeu de Paume…

  • But with these parades I’ve come to sense something much deeper…….. You may have as an individual but photographic wise the focus here is still about the parade as a event and reveals little about the community beyond that. There seems a real lack of photographer subject interaction beyond the physicality of the the participants and the visual aspirations of the photographer.

  • @ jeff hladun — sorry arianna ripped pablo — don’t think i said i liked her, just that i believe it’s possible DAH will have the good fortune to have a deep-pocked angel fly in, a la aol and huffington. he’s creating a solid archive of valuable info and images, this may have appeal to someone down the line trying to establish a credible foothold in the photo world.


  • should be, of course, “deep pocketed” angel, not one with skin problems…

  • burnblogfan must be great to make statements ie “good fortune to have a deep-pocked angel fly in, a la aol and huffington” without any repercussions
    …after all you are just another anonymous heckler

  • My instant reaction (and my apologies for comparing to Burnians like this), but I felt this had more heart than Chris’s festival essay. Felt much more passion and emotional tie-in between the photographer and the photographic content here. As I said on Chris’s essay, tho, I will return and comment once I’ve got some sleep and had a chance to reflect.

  • Michael,

    Go on, tell us about the Jeu de Paume; I’ve got my own story about it. Love to hear the wind-up comments of essayists, and I’m suspicious to those that never bother.

    If I’m reading you right with regard to the dappled light, this slideshow (not mine) represents to me your pursuit:


    The images are done with a 4×5 Weegee-style Speed Graphic, using an Aero Ektar lens. The out-of-focus information is caused by a combination of the fast lens’ bokeh, and by tilting the lens and film planes asymetrically to one another. The camera system is favoured by David Burnett.

  • @Imants

    Not sure why my statement rankles at all, Imants — it’s meant only as a positive — what the heck are you upset about? Chill, my bro.


  • Jeff, regarding the dappled light photos, yes, the third and fourth one capture something of what I was talking about, though those are not anything near so radical as what I have in mind. Regarding the Jeu de Paume, my best museum memories date to there. It had a corner with a comfortable bench facing a Van Gogh wheat field/crows painting, a Rousseau jungle scene and a Gauguin from Tahiti. I spent some significant time there.

    Thinking more about the comments on my essay, I’m curious if people have really seen this so many times before? Not just the style but the content. Of course I’m constantly awed by the near encyclopedic knowledge of photo history that many here possess and would never presume that something I came up with had never been done before, but that said, most people outside of a few small islands in the Caribbean have never heard of J’Ouvert. It looks nothing like the famous carnivals in New Orleans or Rio. In many ways it is a mockery of them. I’ve seen very little published work about it and nothing at all from Brooklyn. Still, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I am just unaware. But I think I would actually be surprised, if only mildly so, to learn it were common for photographers to mix that kind of imagery with a children’s carnival in an attempt to show an entire life cycle of how a community presents itself in public.

    So I wonder if seeing what we expect to see can blind us to what is actually there to see? I know that happens to me on occasion.

  • burnblogfan part of being positive is being open and honest those are not your traits as you slink and hide .

  • Mw…

    There is no need to have “encyclopaedic knowledge of photo history” to recognise a carnival! It may have important differences for an expert Carnival expert or fan… but just as for some, Garry Winogrand´s and Lee Friedlander´s street work may look quite similar however to the expert fan and photographer the similarities will be far and few.

  • imants — why can’t i say that i’m optimistic about DAH’s future and the future of burn without revealing my identity? i’m not criticizing anyone or calling names, i’m not slinking and hiding beyond not wanting to publish my name, i’m not picking a fight with you, but you are with me.

    you wrote: “…after all you are just another anonymous heckler” i’m not heckling anyone, imants.

  • Michael it seems that you have failed to convey visually your concept to the viewing audience. Attacking the audience with statements like this “So I wonder if seeing what we expect to see can blind us to what is actually there to see?” will not alter the situation, it is a matter of going back, reassessing and reworking the series of images.

  • “Chill, my bro.” contradicts “I’m just shy, is all, and worry that on the web every stupid thing i say,”………. seeing you are not accountable for what you write this places you well and truly in the full of it department

  • thanks, imants, nice chatting with you.

  • see the slinking away part.
    Commercial photographers are not shy creatures the profession doesn’t allw for it

  • burnblogfan…

    I´ll give you a good reason to change your identity and that is simply that you and all of us are David Alan Harvey’s guests round here… and that is something we all must never forget.

  • imants — what’s the point in arguing with you? i said something above in a good light, a positive statement of support and you decided to pick a fight. should i hang around and go toe to toe with you to see what else you decide to sling my way? i made my comments to david, he responded, i gave a statement of support, you decided that you should insult me. have a ball, keep it coming, whatever…

  • I trust most people here recognize the difference beteen a question and an attack. Personally, I don’t think I would have recognized J’ouvert as any relation to Mardi gras and I had definitely never seen anything like it. The kids in costume, sure. Just curious what others have seen?

  • burnblogfan all I am doing is attacking a non entity something that isn’t accountable for his/her whatever it is actions. For all we know you could be a bricklayer having some fun on the net. Being anonomous and making statements is hardly a positive attitude. If we all took your stand there would be no burn, no images, no accountable discussions. You seem to have placed yourself above everyone here he posts with links to real life

  • You seem to have placed yourself above everyone here who post with links to real life

  • burnblogfan you cannot be attacked as a person ……………..remember you are not an individual just a name with no links to treality other than the wwwdot type


    While not wanting to step into the fray here, can I ask the both of you to cool it? This seems a little overblown, and is certainly a distraction from MW’s work, which is what we should rightly be discussing in this thread. Both of you seem (to me) to be a little disrespectful to him in getting into it here.

    IMANTS – I don’t think burnblogfan meant it as an insult, and DAH took it graciously and in good humour earlier in this thread. I think it was meant as something of a compliment, however nuanced in phrasing.

    BURNBLOGFAN – I think Imants has a point. As internet communities go, this one is tiny (and perhaps the better for it, at least, it grows slowly but strongly, firmly, and that’s good). We’re all friends here, in the sense that Burnians generally know where/how to find other Burnians. Either through having discussed and swapped details and personal info, or through linking to e.g. our websites. I feel a bit slack on this point, as I am currently attempting (and failing quite spectacularly at) building my own website. But, as a commercial ‘tog, I’m guessing that you have one. Would it really hurt to post a link to it, and let people see your work? We’re all here to help each other. Aint no one gonna rag on your work just for being “commercial” (and the older I get, the less I know what that means…).

    Anyway, is there any chance we could all swallow an olive branch? Or smoke a chill pill? Or at least share an L? ;-) Peace, guys. One luv.

  • Your sentiment is admirable, FI, and one reason I’ve been reading Burn since before it was burn, when it was Road Trips. I’ll continue to read and lurk and grab the bit of inspiration I find here now and then. But as a commenter, I’m outtahere.

    I’ve not been anything but cool, and have responded to Imants prodding with nothing but restraint.

    so consider me chilled… but… what is an “L?”

    bbf out

  • Awww c’mon, bbf, stick around. I promise, it’s not all that bad. And Imants is just jumpy cos Imants wants to browse your work is all. I’m not saying we never disagree – as a regular reader you’ll know how hollow that rings, but there’s little maliciousness at play here, and I do think Imants’ request to see some of your work a pretty valid one (although I understand if you feel nervous about sharing, but at least just say that, if it’s the case). We’re all liable to get defensive about perceived attacks on Burn, because it is such a good and tightly knit community, and it just feels like something of a misunderstanding, but one that could be worked out. And I’m sure you’d have a unique personality and skill set to offer to the crowd if you stuck around. Like any family, we have our fallings out (and I know this to be true more than most, I suspect) but, for the most part, it’s done out of love. Love for BURN and all that it represents. So please, do stick around and keep commenting. And, when you feel up to it, share your work with us.

    And if you and Imants do feel the need to keep beefing, maybe at least move it to a dialogue thread instead?

    An “L” – so called for the pattern of the papers prior to rolling. (DAH & ‘crew’ – delete this if unsavoury for this site…please…no offence, I understand, hence my sly comment previously) An “L” is a doobie, a dutchie, a spliff, a draw, a joint, a rolled up smoke of herb.

  • Burnblogfan…

    I would agree with Framers Intent… you should stay and come out of the cupboard, but anyway that´s up to you isn’t it…
    However I’ve got the feeling the expression “Cut your nose to spite your face”, suits you to a T.

  • Since you all decided to have your little flame war under my essay, guess I’ll throw in my opinion as well.

    Burnblogfan, although I think it’s fair to question the accuracy of the content of your post about burn publishing proclivities, I see nothing wrong with your having made those observations, nor the manner in which you made them, and can see how you thought they were relevant to my essay. As far as I’m concerned (which is not far, I am not on staff), you are welcome to your anonymousness as long as you don’t use it to post personal attacks, which you haven’t and you don’t seem like the type who would. To me you seem thoughtful and well-educated about photography. I appreciate your consideration of my work, and I hope you stick around and continue commenting.

    If Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-… That’s all, folks, thanks again. It’s been fun.


    i did not know what an “L” was…or rather i had never heard that term..hmmmmmm…..and after a quick scan of comments i see no attacks..so did i miss a good bar room brawl or something? damn….

  • Hmmm… I haven’t heard about that “L” thing either..
    Hmmm.. And I thought I knew everything, 420 regarding;)

  • The younger Spanish generation also refer to a joint as an “L” or as they pronounce it… “Ele”.

  • DAH and PANOS – *blushes* I hail from “the wrong side of the tracks” although, it being over ‘ere in Poor Ol’ Blighty guv’nor, that prob’ly means I’m still posh compared to you’s Yanks. Anyone need a chimney sweep? ;-P

    It wasn’t so much a bar room brawl, more the start of handbags at dawn, but it was dragging away from Michael’s good work and discussing that too much, I felt. And it did seem to be just a misunderstanding over nothing.

    Panos i I was always under the (perhaps quite mistaken) impression that the 420 was all about blunts? That’s probably why you didn’t know the L term. Yup. ;-)

  • PAUL – just saw yours. We cross-posted!

  • Harvey’s Style!

    Nice work, nice lights! Instinctive and spontaneous!
    Obviously burning!

  • mw…

    Have the comments and views posted here changed your perspective and how you will document this Brooklyn Carnival in the future?

  • Paul, sorry it’s taken so long for me to get back to you on this. But to answer your question, no, the comments here didn’t at all change my perspective on how I’d shoot the Brooklyn Carnival. I’m very open to criticism and appreciate it very much, but in this case, by the time it was published I’d already been working on it for many years and was committed to my approach. I did pretty much the exact same essay in 2011, and consider it to be the definitive take.


    And thanks again to everyone for their consideration and comments.

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