Photographers' Blog

Carnival, from film to Paneikon

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was a staff photographer at the Isto É news magazine when I was assigned for the first time to cover the Carnival parade of samba schools. The year was 1986, and I was 24.


From then to now coverage of the event changed a lot, I changed a lot, and even Carnival changed a lot. By coincidence that was the first year that the parade was organized by LIESA, Rio’s Independent League of Samba Schools, which still organizes it today.

I felt as if I had received a present.

I went to the parade with the joy and excitement of someone going to a World Cup or Olympics. Back then 14 samba schools competed in one long night, while today there are 12 split across two nights. When the last school hit the runway I was on my 48th roll of film as if it were my first. Such was my joy at covering.

The headquarters of the magazine was in Sao Paulo, so as soon as the parade ended I headed to the airport, and then straight to hand in my film. I had a 3pm breakfast as the film was being developed, and the editor arrived to look over the 150 rolls from the three photographers who covered Carnival. I still recognize that as my first lesson on self-control in a big event.

I later covered three more Carnivals for Isto É, one of which stays in my memory, the one from 1988. It poured rain then, a true deluge in Rio that I knew would cause problems. As soon as the parade ended I handed my film to one of the other photographers who was going to Sao Paulo, and I sleeplessly headed to Petropolis, a mountain town outside of Rio. There I came across one of the region’s worst tragedies, with 134 victims buried by landslides.

Carnival in Germany, when everything is upside down

By Kai Pfaffenbach

We Germans (at least most of us) seem to be well organized, diligent, reliable, politically correct and ready to help, even with our money. But there is one thing we Germans are prejudiced for – our lack of humor.

It looks like for that reason “Carnival” was invented.

Okay, that’s not true. About 600 years ago, people started big celebrations for the last days before Ash Wednesday and the end of the Christian period of fasting. To get better control of those festivities authorities “organized” Carnival. Over the years it became more and more popular to wear funny costumes.

As people behind masks cannot be easily recognized, the “Political Carnival” was invented and in the city of Mainz (the capital of Germany’s state of Rhineland Palatinate) the Rose Monday parade was used to disparage politicians since 1843.

Carnival: Photographer or reveler?

I lived the Barranquilla Carnival for the fourth time this year, and although I found it even more elaborate than in the past there was still a lot of the chaos so typical of Colombia’s Caribbean towns. I felt apprehensive and fearful after having been robbed two years earlier in the entrance reserved for photographers. My flash was gone in an instant then, whisked from my bag in seconds. This year I arrived on a sunny day, hoping to find some new Carnival characters to photograph.

A reveller performs during Barranquilla carnival parade in Colombia March 6, 2011. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez
Covering Carnival here is not the same as in Rio’s Sambadrome, where photogenic scenes exist everywhere you look. Rio’s is well-organized with an established time schedule, beginning at night and finishing at sunrise. Their costumes are beautifully-made, with the dancers synchronized on monumental floats amid realistic scenery. In contrast Barranquilla holds its Carnival in the streets, with electric cables, advertising billboards, garbage and the ugly metal fence that separates the public from the parade spoiling the landscape. It’s creative mayhem where the dancers drink liquor, dance however they feel, and play with the public. Their suits often show the wear of many years of use, and the engines that move the floats spew the smoke of old age.

A model performs atop a float during a parade at the Barranquilla's carnival in Colombia March 5, 2011. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez

It’s a beautiful Carnival to cover because it demands concentration and persistence. We use all of our lenses and slow speeds to capture movement, while the shadows and natural light allow more creativity. We often end up almost dancing with the revelers, inhaling the fumes of the same gasoline that the harlequins use to breathe fire. It’s easy to become hypnotized by the music and the drumbeats, and hear them echo in our dreams hours later.

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