Solemn and important ceremonies at the Alamo often include a bagpiper to lend an air of dignity to the proceedings. I’m not sure why the sound of a bagpipe has such an effect on people but it certainly the focuses attention of a crowd. This gentleman played at the dawn ceremony a few years ago.
The ceremony takes place before dawn every year marking the battle which wiped out the Alamo garrison. For Texans there could hardly be a more solemn event. On that morning every year flowers are placed in front of the mission and prayers offered in English and Spanish. Direct descendants of those who participated in the battle are honored guests in the wreath laying ceremony.
While San Antonio and Texas sleeps a small group gathers to remember a pivotal event in Texas history.
I saw jazz saxophonist Will Donato a few years ago at a local festival. It was a single night event set up next to a roundabout in Old Town Helotes, Texas. The equipment was fairly rudimentary with a portable stage, some rather harsh LED lighting and a wireless sound system. Certainly these were not great conditions for available light photography.
There was one thing working in my favor; I could get close to the stage without guards or roadies in the way. As the night progressed I got closer and closer until my camera was on the front edge of the stage. The musicians tolerated my presence and even commented that they hoped I was getting good pictures. Which I’m sure actually meant something like ‘please go away and take that camera with you’. I persevered.
Lights were hung above the stage in the front and back. At first it looked like I could take advantage of the stage lighting if the musicians were individually lit. That was not to be. Once night fell they cranked all the lights across the stage. Worst of all it was difficult to find shooting angles without lights intruding in the frame. The hot bright circles overwhelmed everything else in the frame. I told myself the music was the thing, even if I didn’t shoot anything.
Getting in close to the stage was a big advantage in avoiding lights in the frame. Some of the time I was able to use equipment and musicians to mask the direct lights. With careful framing it was possible eliminate lights or push them to the edges. This left me with high contrast directional light on the performers and very dark backgrounds. It reminded me of jazz photos from the 50s where photographers popped flash bulbs close to the musicians. Only the performers were lit, everything outside of flash range being completely black. Excellent, I was channeling early William Claxton, at least in my mind.
Most of the RAW files shot that night have remained unprocessed until recently. My post processing skills were not up to the task of working with the extreme lighting conditions. Now I am able to produce decent finished images from some of the frames. Over time I’ve learned a great deal from the images shot that night. They have helped me understand the dynamics of working in an uncontrolled performance environment. In the end that is the real value of my night’s work.
The tower is the signature structure of the 1968 World’s Fair, international exposition. The HemisFair exposition was a celebration of civilizations in the Americas. San Antonio takes great pride in being a crossroads of cultures and business for the Americas, North and South. Today HemisFair Park continues to host important cultural facilities such as the Instituto Cultural de Mexico and Institute of Texan Cultures. Construction of HemisFair Park displaced neighborhoods dating back to the eighteenth century. Today the park is being redeveloped to recover some of the heritage lost by the destruction of those neighborhoods. The Tower of the Americas looks down on a vibrant downtown area that is visited by millions of tourists and locals every year.
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