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Floatopia!

This is probably not the most wholesome series of images so I apologize in advance if they offend anyone. One of the things I love to do is document partying youth culture. (The fact that I may do so with a six pack of Tecate at my side is beside the point.) So when I heard about Floatopia, I knew I had to be there.

What’s Floatopia you ask? Well, when drinking on the beach is outlawed, the drinkers take to the water in an inflatable armada of tubes, rafts, kiddy pools, boats and anything that will float - if only for a little while. Let the binge-drinking begin!

My style of shooting is very in your face. I don’t like long lenses. I like to be in the middle of the action.

It’s always more challenging photographing women in public. They’re naturally more suspicious. They’ll ask why I’m shooting photos. I’ll ask why are they drinking. It sort of disarms them. I think by being up front, it reduces the creep factor. When one girl asked if I was a creep I jokingly answered, “Yes, I am that creepy photographer guy.” She laughed and told me that I wasn’t a creep. I took her picture.

The reality is that I don’t care if I’m photographing guys or girls. I’m just looking for that moment that tells a story.

There’s also a certain sense of fearlessness that you have to bring to photographing in this style. If you’re shy and afraid of people, forget it. Actually, I’m both, but I’m more interested in getting the shot so I put that aside.

For this event, there were a lot of photographers out shooting images. It was almost like opening day for duck season. These guys (and they were all middle-aged guys) were all standing on the beach with their long lenses. Every photo I’ve seen posted online look the same. Backs of heads from the sidelines.

I’m more of a gonzo photojournalist. I believe in being right in the middle of things as an active participant. I’m in the water with a beer in one hand, camera in the other. I want to be right where life is happening. I only shoot with a wide angle lens because that forces me to get right up on the subjects. I want to break into their personal space so I can take the viewer where they haven’t been before.

Now, I understand that some may think that this is inappropriate and debauched. I won’t disagree. But if you have kids in college, this is what they were doing for Spring break. At least now you know.

This is actually part of my in-progress book project on youth/party culture. Yeah, it’s a tough job, but someone has to document these fleeting moments for posterity. One day, these youths will be able to proudly share these images with their children and say, “Mommy was there.”

John

4 Responses to “Floatopia!”

  1. Maurice Says:

    Great work, I love this series. You should make a book or show of these at some point.

    I’m curious how much you interact with the subjects in this type of shoot. Do you introduce yourself, or just walk through the party and shoot? For example, with the second to last picture of the girl in the tube, did you just walk by and shoot, or say “hey can I take your picture?”

    This seems like a very pure form of photojournalism if you can just walk through shooting the action without having to bother with model releases or caption info. It’s always hard not to kill the vibe if you have to do that stuff.

  2. John Says:

    For shoots like this, I usually interact with my subjects to some degree. I can’t create the intimacy I want without their permission. If I don’t ask, the more the “creep” factor which is something I try to avoid. If there’s a great moment that would be lost by asking, I’ll shoot first, ask later. People have to be comfortable with me so I try my best to blend in and be a part of the party - not some guy who just wants to grab a t&a photo.

    For the second to last shot, I asked to take her picture and then probably told her to ignore me. For the last shot, I saw the moment and grabbed it. If someone had objected, oh well, better to have the shot than not since, when it’s over, I either have the photo or I don’t.

  3. cheryl Says:

    I agree with Maurice! Definitely time for a book deal…

  4. Erin Says:

    Amazing images! What a story. I have to ask; how did you keep your camera from getting bay water and beer on it?

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