Leeds West Indian Carnival is the oldest and one of the biggest West Indian carnival events in Britain today. Started in 1967 by Arthur France, and a group of Caribbean strengths in Leeds, it is now in it’s 50th year, and what an event it is!
We arrived, what we thought would be late, but as normal everything about the carnival runs on a rather chilled out Caribbean timing and what we wondered if it was the end of the parade was actually just getting into position. In fact this gave me two chances to shoot!
It is busy, and can be a challenge to shoot, as it is often hard to get to the front of the crowd without pushing other people out of the way, and it often involves shooting into the sun. I have in the past attempted using a long lens, but getting close in with a wide angle creates much better images. It is a wonder, the number of troupes and floats.
The whole event is quite mind-blowing in its intensity – it is very loud and takes up all of your senses – the sun, barbecue smoke (the food is amazing, I had some awesome barbecue ribs when I had finished), people, noise from the music.
The atmosphere is intense.
Of course the event is not without it’s problems. There was a stabbing in the street, reputedly a domestic violence incident, most likely fuelled by sun and alcohol, and though a blind eye is turned to some levels there are numerous arrests for drugs.
There also seemed a significantly higher level of backlash about noise and disruption this year. Reputedly some nearby residents called the council who told them the police had refused to take action to support the shutting down of private or semi-private sound systems. This is a tough call – I don’t doubt that attempting to shut down some of the parties would have caused significant unrest – if nothing else because a number of people would be straggling, and the police presence needed to maintain that would be large which would then become a vicious circle. Of course that is not really acceptable, but it is common sense. This then led to allegations that “because they are black they get away with it” – again a tricky call because there are very real cultural sensitivity issues in shutting down an event which is the celebrations of freedom and culture of a group which sees significant oppression. I do sympathise with people living close who are ill, have small children and possibly stuck where they live, but it is a shame that this disquiet has occurred – short of containing the even within the park and banning any fringe events (which would end what the event is about) there may not be a solution which makes everyone happy…