Renaissance Pleasure Faire: A Photographic Opportunity

Even with all of the color everywhere, take an extra camera body with you, because you can capture some great B&W images. If color film is all you have, think about the shots you can convert to B&W later, using Photoshop. (This image was shot on Tri-X B&W film.)

“Come all ye lads and lasses, for it is almost time for the 43rd Annual Renaissance Pleasure Faires across the country–faires that will be feasts for your eye, your stomach, and your funny bone. Jesters will clown, fair maids will dance, and royalty will parade before your presence. It is time once again to go back over 400 years to the 16th century Elizabethan Renaissance to party with royalty.”

For the first-time visitor, a renaissance fair is an experience to be remembered, but for the serious photographer, it can be an unbelievable opportunity to photograph hundreds of costumed participants. Every type of character–from the highest nobility to village peasants–is in attendance for you to mingle with and photograph up close.

Many times, over several hundred artisans not only present their fine wares for purchase, but many of them also practice their crafts for all to see and, of course, photograph. You can usually find blacksmiths, candle makers, gold and silversmiths, basket weavers, and leather workers. You can learn how paper is made by doing it yourself, or watch as a blacksmith works on a piece of armor. For those looking for unusual items, the craft booths offer weavings, handmade flutes, bota bags, masks of all sorts and expressions, plus many less exotic choices such as jewelry, pewter, and ceramic goods. Although the prices of many items can be high, this is one place in which craftsmanship is the order of the day.

Besides the many arts and crafts, you’ll find a whole host of spectator events sure to use up your film. Equestrian events happen every day. In each, both man and beast wear full costumes of the times. The most attended events are the full-contact jousting battles. Wearing full amour that can weigh 100 lbs or more, the combatants fight with the long lance just as their predecessors did in days of old. They race toward each other on horseback, each with his lance aimed at the other in an attempt to knock him off his mount. That done, the two continue their fight on the ground with swords and shields until one of them is bested. Happily, the main difference is that today they don’t fight to the death.

Other activities that might catch your interest are the many stage shows in which Elizabethan plays are acted, jugglers perform, and even animals entertain. You may find yourself on stage as a part of the fun. Meanwhile, fortunetellers and tarot card readers ply their skills in the gypsy village, or you can sit in the presence of the royal court as they conduct their daily business affairs. You might join a huge tug-of-war contest with the villagers, or witness special contests such as the Pirates’ Costume Competition.

Jousting Tournaments are major events to see and photograph. (These aren’t the Hollywood kind where everyone swings–to make it look good–but then misses.)

When the frenzy of activity makes you hungry, you can find just about anything you could imagine to eat at one tent or another (such as Old World Piroshki, Yorkshire curd tarts, beggar’s pudding, haggas and snips, chatneys, falafel, baklava, and Cornish cockles and mussels). If all of these dishes sound foreign, that’s because they are, being from places like Arabia, Turkey, Russia, the Far East, and Old World Europe. However, if you prefer old-fashioned American food, you can indulge in one of the biggest turkey legs you have ever seen and plenty of drink to wash it down.

A Renaissance Faire provides many good subjects for photographs. Take plenty of film or memory cards and several lenses, zooms being preferable. If you have more than one camera body, take at least two, so you can have a quick pick of lenses always at hand–or use one for color and load the second with B&W. (The many different costumes make excellent subjects for graphic high contrast B&W images.)

Fairs of slightly different designs are scheduled over the summer season all over the country. For more up-to-date information about the events, go to their web site at www.renfair.com

by Paul W. Faust

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