This is Insane

The Brass Neck Experience

For the first time ever, I went to Birmingham on St Patrick’s Day to photograph the parade. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a few years but never got the opportunity. Until this year. It is apparently the third biggest St Patrick’s Day event in the world outside Ireland.

I arrived about 9 am when the very first of the paraders were beginning to congregate. I walked the course looking for some good spots, not sure how the crowds would impact my ability to move about. There were barriers along most of the route and as it turns out, there were also lots of security and police about, ensuring no one got over or through the barrier unless they wanted them to.

So when it came to 12 noon and the parade started, I positioned myself at the front, getting some shots as they all set off.

Now I was interested in photographing the floats and those walking in the parade, but I was also very interested in the crowds, many of whom were very colourfully and creatively dressed up. On the spur of the moment I decided I would try and walk in front of the parade, photographing the crowd until I was forced behind the barrier. The crowds were a bit sparse at the beginning so there were no barriers anyway, but it wasn’t long before that changed to several people deep and pretty secure barriers.

I had given a bit of thought to this and for the first time on a photo outing, worn a high vis tabard. I must admit, I wore it more to look official than for safety reasons. But I am glad I did.

The parade route is maybe a mile long in total or a bit more and for the whole route, I walked about 50-100 metres in front of everyone. I got some great photos of the crowd and everyone was having a good time, especially me.

I fully expected that I would be stopped and sent behind the barrier, but strangely I wasn’t. I was the only one in front, with a large contingent of police and security a little way behind me on the road and lots along the route. Many of those I asked to photograph wanted to know what newspaper I worked for. Obviously I wasn’t and told them so, but they were all delighted to have their photo taken anyway and some were shouting me over to have theirs done.

I clearly remember at one point, where the crowds were largest and I was on my own in the middle of the road, thinking the words “this is insane”. Why was I not being stopped from walking in front? I decided at that point that if I was to get away with it, and get the best shots, I had to act the part. So from that point on, I was brazen about what I was doing and acted the part of official photographer, even though I wasn’t.

It worked a treat. Not one person challenged me. They all just presumed I was supposed to be there and my actions at that point were designed to make them think that.

Near the end, I stood to one side and photographed the floats and parade walkers as they passed by and I got some great shots of them also.

The whole thing taught me a lesson. If you want to convince someone of who you want to be, act like it, without fear or flinching. I was pretty sure I wasn’t doing anything illegal or would get arrested, so it was low risk. So I went for it and it paid off.

Since then, I have ordered a high vis tabard with the word Photographer on the back, just to give it a bit more credibility. It is now a permanent fixture in my car and will go with me on similar outings.

I had a great day, partly because I had some brass neck and took a chance. But I will do it again and I expect similar results. I’m sure it won’t always work, but sometimes it will and that will be worth the (small) risk.

You can see my photos from St Patrick’s Day on my website


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