Notting Hill Carnival 2008

London, UK

Colorful costume

Woman wearing feathered costume, Notting Hill Carnival

London, United Kingdom

“I think I can smell marijuana,” said J. suddenly. “I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.”

“Quite,” I said. “This really doesn’t seem like that kind of crowd.”

Overall, the funny cigarettes seemed to be fairly few and far between, perhaps because of a police presence that must have soaked up at least half the capital’s manpower and ran the gamut from regular police in ‘stabbies’ through London Transport cops in high-visibility jackets, all the way to a large detachment of dismounted bicycle police, whose teardrop-shaped helmets made them look like a tour group from another planet. For the most part, they seemed content to stand around as visible symbols of law and order, but we did see a few carnival goers taken aside and either cautioned or searched. (One young man excitedly shouted “Wrong leg! Wrong leg!” as the police patted him down: I’m not entirely sure what that was about).

Numerous as the police were, they were nothing compared to the ocean of people who filled all the streets around Notting Hill. Looking down Ladbroke Grove from the top of the hill, all we could see was a solid mass of bodies all the way to the Tube station, punctuated here and there by floats or the elaborate decorated frames carried by the dancers.

The dancers are the most obviously photogenic part of the parade, but there are plenty of other sights to attract the photographer’s eye. J., a large Southern gentleman in a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses, with a flaming orange beard and ponytail, attracted his share of attention; I suspect that the woman who kept taking his picture may have thought that he had dressed up specially for the occasion.

As the afternoon wore on, some of the participants started to show signs of fatigue (or, in some cases, extreme inebriation). One young girl that I photographed looked as if even the effort of turning around to show off her costume or display her Jamaican flag was more than she could manage. And then there was a small group of Christians, plodding slowly uphill behind a handcart laden with improving slogans, their faces set and dispirited while one man, shoulders slumped, mumbled into a microphone. Amidst all the gaiety, they really did seem to be “<a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>of all men most miserable</a>”.