Mardi Gras Moments: Irrational Geographic

IT Editor Janelle Nanos has been blogging about her behind-the-scenes Mardi Gras Moments for the past few weeks, and she and a few other Traveler

staffers went down to New Orleans to document the celebration.

While wandering the streets of New Orleans with the Societé de Sainte Anne parade, we National Geographic folk stumbled upon Danielle King, a photographer who was costumed as… a National Geographic photographer. Wearing a thick blonde mustache and a pith hat and vest, she carried around our iconic yellow border (cut from the pages of an actual magazine). Her project was called “Irrational Geographic,” and she attempted to photograph both the wildlife, and the wild life, of the Mardi Gras experience. She snapped my portrait and I passed her my card, and lo and behold, a gallery of images arrived in my inbox a few days later. I loved them so much I just had to share them here, and asked King to explain the project in her own words.

Her e-mail after the jump.


Email from Danielle King:

I lived in New Orleans for twelve years (undergraduate, medical school, and residency) and was so transformed and inspired by my years there that I am now and will always be a New Orleanian. I had to leave in 2006 to get some fellowship training in medical education, and have been in Manhattan these last two and a half years.  I missed the last two Carnivals, and there was no way I was going to miss another.  I grabbed up my bestest bud in Manhattan (a Canadian transplant and simultaneous NOLA and Mardi Gras virgin), and we headed south to enjoy the great festival.
 
My friend, Tavinder, is an avid amateur photographer. Shortly after I met her, she began a 365-day photography project. Watching it unfold rekindled my own love of photography. When she wrapped the project up, she handed me her digital SLR and returned to film (an old Polaroid, an old Canon, and a very old Pentacon Six). We have been spending these, my last six months in Manhattan, seeing the “must-sees” and then “unseens” and taking pictures. She took a lot of Polaroids of people posing for me with the border, and the high-tech/low-tech versions are fun to compare. We are working on linking them up.
 
What you have mentioned in your blog is true: devotees of New Orleans and of Mardi Gras specifically have a costume closet. I am no exception (even in my Manhattan micro-apartment, though they never see use here). I knew that we would be immediately immersed in bead greed, my friends’ band gigs, low-rent eateries, the works. I also knew that we would spend Mardi Gras morning and day in the Marigny and Bywater since seeing the St. Anne is of high value to me and my NOLA krewe.

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My friend had absolutely no idea the extremeness of the costume environment she was walking into. I told Tav that we needed fun, interesting, uncommon, high dedication costumes that included an element of crowd interaction. Interactive costumes are simply the best. I married together our shared love of photography, the ridiculous number of cameras we own between us (eight), and the notion of a costume dedicated to photographing the crowds. And thus was born the idea of the safari “wild life” photographer outfit. The instantly, universally recognizable border seemed the best prompt to get the wildlife to strike a pose. I spent the night before cutting through every page in the latest issue to get the frame made.  
 
It is a perfect Mardi Gras day outfit: many (and very secure) pockets to store things (like keys and money and ID), pith helmets to protect us from both sun and flying beads, easy off/on for potty breaks, and everyone wants to be on the cover of the magazine so interactivity is high! Indeed, when I asked a man if he wanted to pose like he was on the cover of National Geographic, his response was, “Since I was, like, two.”  And, I got great pictures out of it.  
 
I think, as I read over this last paragraph, that it represents the fullness of planning that Marigny dwellers put into their Mardi Gras costumes. I combed the internet for pith helmets, moustaches, safari photography vests (which are clearly sized for men since the extra small I was wearing might have fit Ignatius J. Reilly!).  Compared to others’ costumes, though, my efforts were minimal.
 
I am so glad you enjoyed a quintessential New Orleans experience, and I am gratified to see it so well represented for its magical quality to a broad audience.  I tire of people describing New Orleans in terms of touristy areas, political corruption, boobs for beads, and hurricane aftermath.  New Orleans and her people are just so much more.

Check out all of the Mardi Gras Moments in this series, and get an insider’s perspective with our interactive Mardi Gras Map.

Photos: Above gallery, Danielle King; Below, Krista Rossow, Traveler Associate Photo Editor
 

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