Just before the official start of this year's carnival season, documentary photographer Charlie Shoemaker stumbled upon South Africa's annual "new New Year" festival on January 2. Lively, colorful participants with painted faces march through the streets of Cape Town, singing, dancing and playing instruments. A month-long competition follows the parade, with a panel of judges from around the globe.
While details of the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival’s origins are a bit hazy, the celebration itself is vibrant and full of life.
“It was beautiful,” Shoemaker said. “I was overwhelmed and almost distracted; it was so intense. I almost forgot to take photos.”
Worse, though, Shoemaker was almost not allowed inside the stadium to document the festival.
He had been working with a specific singing troop that had invited him to photograph its competitions. When it looked like he wouldn’t be able to get in, one of the troop members grabbed a uniform, and Shoemaker put it on.
“It was three or four sizes too big, but I left it on all day,” Shoemaker said. “People thought it was hilarious.”
This tradition draws together people who often only see each other at the carnival. It reminds them to “not worry – forget about their troubles,” Shoemaker said, and the preparations last all year.
Many people, including locals, have never heard of this parade, and Shoemaker wanted to show that there is more to Cape Town than beaches and crime.
“There’s really rich traditional things that happen,” he said. “I wanted my friends and family at home to see it.”
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN