Blaine Harrington tells us he’s seen this performance before, but indoors. “It’s better outdoors,” is his judgment, “with the deep blue sky as a clean background.” And, truly, that’s what got our attention: how the colorful costumes and streamers play against the rich blue of the sky.
That, and the big question: what’s going on here?
This is one of those pictures that doesn’t tell a story: it prompts one. You’re grabbed by the graphic, but you’ve got to know more.
Blaine made the image in late August last year in Xcaret Park, an eco-archaeological combination of theme park and historical site in Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. These acrobatic performers are the Papantla Flyers, and they’re enacting a ceremony said to date back 1,500 years. Five Flyers climb the 90-foot pole using the vertical guide rope on the left of the pole and a series of woodblock steps. Four of the men, who are said to represent the four directions and the four elements, attach ropes to their harnesses and leap backwards off the platform, then spin slowly around the pole as the unwinding ropes control their gradual descent. At the top of the platform, the fifth member of the troupe dances and plays a flute and a drum. One myth has the ritual being created to ask the gods to end a period of drought.
Blaine made the most of his photo opportunity in a series of images taken with his D700 and AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED at 1/200 second, f/8 and ISO 400, choosing manual exposure and Matrix metering. His SB-900 highlighted the Flyers against the dark background. “I had the 24-70mm at its wide end,” Blaine says, “because I needed all of it to get the width of them spinning around without anyone flying out of the frame.”