CNN Photos

The band marches on

The flash of metal, the twirl of color, the synchronization of bodies in rhythm to music.

As a tuba player from junior high through college, photographer Walker Pickering was in step with his marching band and a part of the camaraderie the group developed. As a photographer for the last 10 years, he has trained his camera on high school and college marching bands and traveling drum corps to capture that feeling of togetherness.

Pickering, 33, from Austin, Texas, didn’t take photos of the grand designs the bands would form on the field. Instead, he wanted to show band members in and out of uniform, to look beyond the flourish.

“Contemporary marching units tend to wear highly geometric designs. When I marched in high school, we wore what I lovingly refer to as the Sgt. Pepper-style uniform,” he said. “But kids out of uniform is what I remember most. Lots of sweat and odd tans.”

Pickering’s images were taken in Texas and feature local high school and college marching bands. He also was able to capture touring drum corps passing through the Lone Star State.

He wasn’t interested in taking action shots during performances. He wanted to capture what happens when the band is off the stage, and how band members relate to one another.

He said drum corps, in particular, are extremely tight-knit, spending entire summers together traveling around the country. One of his favorite photos shows a drum corps member’s back. He’s wearing a black cloak and surrounded by his fellow corpsmen.

“Their arms are wrapped around each other, and it gives the illusion of the central figure being a contortionist,” Pickering explained. “There is a ton of interdependence that happens in an activity. Marching bands and drum corps are full of traditions.”

Pickering finds bands interesting because, he says, humans tend to cluster together. Performing music is itself a unifying activity, but marching bands tend to be highly competitive, much like athletics.

The dichotomy provides a fascinating framework for his pictures.

“As a student, I felt like band gave me a place where I could be part of something bigger without playing a team sport,” he said. “Turns out, marching band – especially when you get to the higher levels – requires significant athleticism.”

Pickering wants people who see his images to understand the people behind the music, the coordination, and the colors. He also wants band members to embrace being “band nerds” because they are learning a lot about life with their time in the band.

“Marching band and drum corps teaches discipline and helps kids understand what greater things can be achieved when working toward a common goal. I hope my photos give a little insight into that world.”

Larry Frum, Special to CNN