At this point, you’ve probably already read all about it: Washington, DC’s U Street area became a massive block party forty years later after Barack Obama was announced the next president of the United States. You’ve probably forgotten about it by now - unless you were lucky enough to be there, or at one of the similar spontaneous celebrations that took place in cities across the country. I was one of those lucky folks: I went down to U Street with a couple friends after leaving my office at 8:30 (I was working on an election-related report and had to be up and working again at 6:30 the next morning!) and scarfing down a quick dinner. What ensued was, and I say this with little hyperbole, one of the most inspiring few hours of my life. And I say this with the benefit of two weeks’ hindsight and as a skeptic not totally convinced that Obama will really live up to his mantra of “change.”
What was so inspiring? That a politician could, in a very real way, inspire so many people. That an election result could lead to a spontaneous outpouring of joy as much as, say, a professional sports team winning a national championship. Most of all, that so many people of all walks of life could celebrate together, really together, un-self-consciously and with no regard for their differences. The intersection of 14th and U Streets was Ground Zero of the city’s worst race riots in 1968, but on this night, total strangers were high-fiving each other, chatting animatedly, dancing together, hugging one another, and just generally sharing in a feeling of positive solidarity that seemed to transcend all barriers of race, class, age, gender, etc etc.
I’ve never seen anything like it: for me the word “solidarity” has always been in the context of opposition: solidarity among oppressed peoples fighting for their rights and livelihoods; jail solidarity among arrested demonstrators; that sort of thing. This night saw an unprecedented (in my experience) solidarity that defined itself positively instead of in opposition. Apparently the scene at the White House was different, with an equally joyous crowd that was chanting taunts at the outgoing president; but on U Street, I literally never heard Bush’s name mentioned all night (and I was there from 10pm until 3am). This was a night for Obama and for a real shared feeling that things could really get better. I’ll never forget it.
Luckily, even if I do manage to forget it, I have the photos to remind me.
Photographically, the night was obviously a treasure trove. Happy people always make for good photographs, to say nothing of crowds of thousands of them. With my 17-55/2.8 busted, I used my 12-24/4 exclusively, which was a more appropriate lens for the job anyway. Pretty much every shot I took was wide-angle, getting close up to people and capturing a bit of the environment as well. I used my SB-600 on almost every shot, mostly off-camera using CLS infrared triggering (which looked like this - that’s me in the blue jacket). I used manual exposure but set the flash to TTL - the action was just too fast for me to be fiddling with manual flash outputs. I was a little nervous about this because I have little experience with TTL off-camera flash, but whatever the little chips are doing in Nikon’s flash exposure system, they did a hell of a job and I got great flash exposures very consistently. The only issue I had was a period when the CLS system wasn’t reliably triggering the flash - not sure what the deal was but the problem went away after maybe 15 minutes of going on the fritz. User error perhaps, but I still haven’t figured out what went wrong. Makes me want to get a cheap off-camera flash cord.
Anyway, no new photos, but I just wanted to post one final thing about that night and showcase a few more of my favorite shots. (And make room for my next post, about an absolutely fantastic show I shot last night.) Full set of the U Street photos, again, is here.