Memorial Day Volunteers - Doug Johnson

Memorial Day Volunteers

Never Forgotten

This Photo of the Week (POTW) was selected because I was forced to abandon last week's "mind the edges" advice and still lucked into an image I like. It's a little cluttered but amazingly the bits and pieces fell into place. Elliott Erwitt, one of my favorite street photographers, said "If you're curious enough and if you get up in the morning and go out and take pictures, you're likely to be more lucky than if you just stay at home."


For the last few years, hundreds of volunteers organized by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund have planted 37,000 U.S. flags on a hill in the Boston Common to honor each of the Massachusetts residents who died in all of the wars since the revolution. It's quite a scene -- thousands of people taking family portraits around a field of waving flags. My goal was to capture people interacting with this beautiful and poignant memorial without intruding.


I took some long/telephoto shots with groups on the far side of the flags and some close/wide-angle shots standing behind small groups but neither were anything to blog home about. After a few hours my feet got tired so I sat down and slowly realized that shooting up from under the flags was visually much more interesting and showed a more intimate relationship between the flags and people. I really wanted to step over the string 'fence' and sit IN the flags but that was out of the question so I was stuck -- until the first bit of luck appeared.


I had noticed these two women earlier because they were wearing flag outfits, a large yellow backpack covered with buttons and ribbons and carrying a huge flag, though I hadn't realized they were volunteers until they walked into the field to replace some flags damaged by the wind. Every time they came near the perimeter, I fell down on the ground, stuck my camera into the flags, pointed it up towards them and grabbed a dozen shots before they moved on. My second bit of good luck!


As you can tell, "minding the edges" was out of the question in this situation. I couldn't be careful of the peripheral distractions as I had no idea what was in the frame, let alone along the edges or corners. Some of the resulting images were all flags. Some were all sky or trees. Most had flags covering the volunteer's faces. Out of the 150-or-so shots, five were keepers and this one is my favorite. I like photographing people doing things they care about (the volunteers lost a good friend in Iraq). I like how the flags frame the volunteers and how the volunteer's sunglasses reflect the flags.


So, though I will continue to mind the edges, sometimes you just have to go out and take pictures and hope for some good luck!


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