A Photographer’s Perspective of Boston’s 2018 Pride Festival

I’d first like to thank Marissa Sullivan, Sylvain Bruno, and Ann Murphy for the media pass. It provided an exclusive perspective 100 feet above the festival, and a convenient and cool place to pee. More on that later.

Pride is a unique festival. When the Red Sox or the Patriots win a championship there’s a parade in the same area, with just as many people. There’s a powerful energy in the crowd, but they’re joined in the common understanding that they support the best team in the country at the moment, and everyone else has lost. The home team is the good guy and the entire city comes together to rub it in the world’s face. With Pride, there’s no good or bad guys. There’s no chanting against straight people, or even against more conservative and ignorant thinking. It’s just a celebration for a group of minorities to come together, with thousands of other people who are cool with that. It’s like a rainbow threw-up all over the sports rally, and it was so joyously fun that everyone forgot there was another side to fight against.

I picked up my media pass at around 10:30AM and met Marissa, who would be joining me for some rooftop photography. She had secured a time for us to get onto the roof in the City Center building, which overlooks the parade as it enters City Hall Plaza, and the major post-parade events. We agreed to meet at 1:20 near the CVS, and I let her know that I tend to be punctual.

For the next hour I wandered around the Copley Plaza to observe and shoot folks getting ready. People said “Happy Pride” with a smile in the same way that they may say “Merry Christmas” at Christmas time. It happens every year, but it warms my heart each time as I’m reminded of just how friendly this day is. I don’t represent any of the letters in LGBTQ, but I feel like it is my holiday too, and I think that’s by design.

I found a good initial home to watch the parade go by, but I knew in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be long before I needed to meet Marissa on the rooftop. I could never stay in one place for too long, but it pained me to need to leave the heart of the parade for so long. I didn’t yet know that it would be well worth the detour.

As usual my lens of choice was the Canon 70-200mm zoom lens. It can be challenging in a crowd, but participants in floats and duck boats made great targets as they rose above the crowd’s head. Being the beginning of the parade, people were full of energy and gave all of their emotions to the photographers on the ground.

I don’t like being late, and knowing that someone is waiting for me is one of the most uncomfortable feelings. Ever since I was a kid my re-occuring dream theme was being late to something and being unable to move forward when it otherwise seemed so simple.

I needed to walk from Copley Plaza to Government Center. Typically that walk should take 20 minutes but I was prepared for it to take a lot longer due to the crowds. My walk was pleasant up until I hit the corner of Tremont and Beacon Street. This is where the parade turns for its final run before it spills into City Hall Plaza for the after-parade festivities. Foot traffic was at a stand-still and I was on the wrong side of the street. It was unclear that I could even cross the street given the railings. It was already passed 1:20PM, the agreed upon meeting time, and I was stuck. Even the power of my media pass couldn’t part the gay-friendly sea of people. With some persistence and gentle pushing I made it to the end of the parade, and was able to snake around to the meeting spot. Marissa was stuck in the same traffic and arrived about 30 seconds after I did.

This was the sidewalk I needed to travel through. At quick glance it looks like everyone here is pleasantly enjoying the parade and each other’s company. At closer look you can see 2 lanes of traffic at the far left. These people were not happy. They were just trying to get somewhere.

The lobby was guarded by a single security guard / desk clerk whose main job on this day was to turn around drunken revelers looking for a clean bathroom. After a short 10 minute wait we were escorted up to the roof via the elevator, and through the boiler room. While I’m sure it was an ordinary roof, it’s a place I don’t find myself in often. There was something that looked like an iron lung, and it seemed like there should be a foot chase at some point where we chase a perp as he jumps from building to building.

Taking photographs from a roof removes a lot of the normal challenges that get in the way of ground-level photography. I brought my 18-35mm wide lens mainly for this rooftop view. The only challenge here was the ever-present risk of dropping my camera

I switched back to my zoom lens to get some close-ups from above. The real challenge here was to keep the photo and frame straight. It’s too easy to shoot any thing from any angle since there’s nothing in the way, yet so many of the angles produced uncomfortably angled shots.

I was on the roof when Maura Healey and her team walked by. Except I didn’t see Maura walk like the rest of the team. Instead, she ran back and forth interacting with virtually ever member of the crowd. I don’t know if she kept up this energy throughout the entire parade. Regardless, she probably slept well that night. One her fans gave her a hug and didn’t let go for what seemed like a very long time. I imagine she whispered some encouraging words into Maura’s ear pushing her to continue her fight for equality for all.  Or maybe Maura was just so tired that the extended hug was initiated by her to help her catch her breath.

When the massive pride flag came by I was still sporting my zoom lens. We weren’t quite tall enough to get a perfect shot of the flag from above showing the flag holders without any piece of their bodies being cut-off in the frame. It’s a nice photo, but when I look at it I wish the building was 3 stories taller so I could have gotten everyone, and the flag, in the photo.

After our hour was up we escorted ourselves off of the roof and back into the lobby. They trusted us enough not to mess with the iron lung and other rooftop machinery. They must have expected us to look for a bathroom though as all of the doors were locked. Even the water fountain was turned off. There were no resources for us at all on this floor. They did let us use the 2nd floor bathrooms and we were grateful for that. I re-entered the festival at ground level.

I heard people groan about all the corporate sponsors, and the massive corporations that made their own floats, banners, and merchandise. I’m good with it though. Bank of America cares only about their bottom line, and the climate in Boston said it’s okay to support the LGBTQ community. The parade participates that are donning a corporate outfit are our neighbors that are happy to be part of the parade, and they may even be getting paid for it. A piece of the money that Bank of America paid to be part of the event is likely going back into the community, somehow, and a piece of that is likely benifiting the LGBTQ community. That fact alone prevents me from being too cynical about all the corporate aspects of the parade. Their outfits are the most reserved of the festival. While it’s nice the Bank of America will publically come out and say they support the LGBTQ community, they’re not quite ready to have their marchers don nipple clips and harnesses, even if they displayed the BoA logo.

The festivities at City Hall Plaza were difficult to capture as the crowds grew larger. I couldn’t get anywhere near the front of the stage and it wasn’t clear if my media pass gained me any additional access there. Dancers on the side of the stage provided an interesting photography opportunity though the end result didn’t produce any gems.

A couple offering free hugs called me over to the side of the stage. I pointed to myself and mouthed “me?” to confirm they really wanted my attention. They did.

They wanted their photo taken and I has happy to oblige. After taking a few shots I showed the woman in the stripped shirt a photo I just took of them on my camera. She was overly impressed and asked if I was a professional. It was extremely loud so everything that was said was screamed. Instead of answering her, I pointed to my media pass around my neck which implied “yes, I am a professional photographer”. I should have just said “no”, but I took the more smug approach.

She wanted future access to the photos I took and asked for my Instagram, which is just full of pictures of my children. I should have had a business card for her, which I hope to change in the near future. Instead, I put my website into the browser of her phone and told her that was the best way to get in touch with me. Will she check out this site 2 weeks later, and scrolls to the bottom of this post? Probably not. I did get one of those free hugs though.

The crowds in the plaza were getting too thick for comfort so I retreated back into the streets. It was around 4PM, 4 hours after the start of the parade, but the parade wasn’t over. The pride parade is very long.

After this final round I was ready to go home. I think I saw the end of the parade, but if someone told me there was just a 3 minute break, and 5 hours more of parade, I’d believe them.

I emptied my pockets when I returned home and took my 2nd annual photo of the contents of my pockets after the parade.

Second annual? What was the first, you ask?

Click here for a flashback to the contents of my pockets after the 2017 pride parade, and the story behind it.

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