Friday 15 May 2015

Beltane Fire Festival 2015

For the last couple of months I've been pretty busy with some non-paying work as one of the Beltane Fire Society photographers covering the Edinburgh Beltane Fire Festival and the preparation and rehearsals leading up to it. It's been exhausting, frustrating, more expensive than I can afford at the moment, and massively rewarding. The photography has taken me well out of my take-your-time-landscapes-and-inanimate-objects comfort zone and into the scary realms of shooting people in the dark at a live event amongst a crowd of thousands whilst trying not to get burned alive. Plus I got to know some great people, I had a lot of fun, and even got some OK pictures. Awesome!

In 2014 I went to the fire festival as an audience member (I wrote about it a year ago) and mostly enjoyed it, although the weather was pretty awful with gales and cold, cold rain which made us more than ready to leave as things started to wind down after midnight. But thinking about it in the following months I decided to find out if they could use an extra photographer. The society has a public meeting a few months before the festival to recruit volunteers, so I went along and put my name down and was lucky enough to be given the chance to join Photo Point - the society photographers. It's a bit of a commitment, especially for someone travelling through to Edinburgh from Glasgow. Photo Point meet at least twice a week for the two months leading up to the festival, up to three or four times per week in the last couple of weeks: to plan, practice techniques, get fire training, shoot performance group rehearsals and occasional studio shoots for performers, take part in walk-throughs, shoot a busk and a couple of Family Beltane events. And as all volunteers are costumed and wear face paint, we also had an evening of cloak-making.

Here I am modelling Photo Point's "Mulberry Raccoon" facepaint, just before heading up to the festival.

I shot a bit of video of Fire Point, the fire dancers, rehearsing in The Meadows in Edinburgh one evening.

The festival finishes at around 1am, but Photo Point get to stay up late and process their photos overnight for a 9am deadline so that people like the BBC have pictures for their websites.

Anyway...some photos:

Some of the stewards. Keeping crowds, performers and photographers safe.

An enthusiastic crowd starts to build on Calton Hill. The festival starts when it gets dark enough.

The May Queen wakes from her winter sleep.

The Horned God, a manifestation of the old year.

The May Queen and her White Warriors come down from the National Monument to see what's new in the world.

The Reds, spirits of chaos and spontaneity and lust and mischief, are out tonight!

Torch Bearers around the Horned God and the Blue guardians.

The May Queen and the Whites are on their way.

Behind you! 

Reds are coming to cause trouble.

Although the Blues will do what they can to hold them back.

Fire dancers entertain the May Queen.

Flaming Hula Hoops. Have you talked to Health and Safety about that?

Random Points of Kindness entertain.

Blues guarding.

Beastie Drummers; the musical side of the Reds.

The Reds capture the Horned God, who dies. They strip him of the weight of last year before he's reborn as the Green Man of spring.

No Point - ninja clowns with fiery awesomeness.

Reds go a bit wild...

...and get a bit acrobatic, also.