Sigma released a 24-35mm F2 DG HSM | Art wide angle zoom lens that I acquired from Sigma to use in everyday photojournalism. I decided to cover traditional Louisiana Mardi Gras in the town of Mamou, LA. This is a small town of some 3500 Cajuns in southwest Louisiana with a strong and rich history of Mardi Gras tradition.
The traditional Mardi Gras celebrations had its beginnings in the small towns of southwest Louisiana back in the late 1700s. The French Canadians were driven from Nova Scotia, from which they sailed down the Atlantic, and then west into the Gulf of Mexico. As they approached the mouth of the Mississippi River, they landed in Louisiana where they settled down. Most of the settlers were of the Catholic faith who observed the sacrificial season of lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for seven weeks until Easter Sunday.
So many resolutions were made for lent that the Cajuns devoted a day for revelry and fun prior to lent. And so, the day before ash Wednesday, “Fat Tuesday” or in French, “Mardi Gras” was born.
Mardi Gras, back then, began at sunrise when all the men of their respective towns met on horseback in the town square. There could be as many as one hundred men dressed in colorful costumes from head to toe and the local mayor who would be in charge of the “Run.”.
Like the military, the gang of men were sectioned off into groups of tens, where a captain was assigned to each group. The captain wore a purple and gold cape, the official colors of Mardi Gras.
Once the run started, the captain and the men would ride out of town and lead them into the countryside where most of farmers lived and worked. The head captain would stop at designated farms and ask permission to enter the property and ask for a donation.
This donation was usually in the form of a live chicken, which was released into the air.
The men on horseback (“runners”) would jump off their horses and chase the chicken on foot. Sometimes fights would ensue, but the goal was to get the chicken. The caught chicken was then handed over to the captain of the runner who caught the chicken and a tally was kept. This procedure would repeat 20-25 times during the course of the day and when it was over, the men would head back to town where the women were preparing pots and pots of gumbo.
They were waiting for all the chickens for the gumbos for a huge “Chicken Gumbo” for everyone’s last supper before the beginning of lent. The runner who caught the most chickens that day was given gifts and awards from the town merchants. These gifts could range from a year’s supply of corn, wheat, or dried food products, provided by the local hardware/grocery store. Sometimes clothing was awarded, as well or toys for the children. So this crazy tradition still goes on today and it is a sight to behold.
At the turn of the 20th century, the women also wanted to participate in the local “Mardi Gras Runs.” Instead of integrating with the men, who were receptive to their participation, the women decided to have their own “Run” on the Saturday before Mardi Gras. So today the women initiate the festivities by meeting at sunrise in their “Tee-Mamou” Wagon.
The “Tee-Mamou” women’s run is much more colorful, as the women design much color and texture into their costumes.
Like the men, they also chase and catch live chickens.
After the chicken is caught, merriment follows with dancing in the streets and people’s yards.
The prime attraction will always be the costumes, as they tell a story from within as each year goes by. The women’s attire are so much more vibrant compared to the more subtlety of the men’s.
Most of the time I am shooting in tight spaces and moving with the flow of the group. You can’t photograph from a stationary position because the runners are always on the go.
Sigma’s 24-35mm f2.0 Art is a great lens that won’t produce extreme, distorted wide shots and this zoom lens will make you disciplined on your shot selections. The best thing about this lens is its fast aperture; it’s the fastest zoom lens on the market today. A perfect example was when I decided to photograph the interior of Paul’s Lounge, a bar and dance joint in Mamou, an institution that has some of the best Cajun music on Mardi Gras weekend.
I’m shooting at ISO 2000 inside- ISO 2000 is my limit before reticulation and extreme grain patterns start to arrive on the image. Usually with an F2.8 lens, my shutter speed would be 1/60th sec. Now that’s borderline where I have to be very still and I have to catch the person dancing movements almost at an idling position or I will get blur.
However, with a Sigma 24-35mm f/2.0 lens, I can shoot at 1/125th second at F2 and I’m almost able to freeze most of the action. Now you are probably wondering about the sharpness of the lens. If it is not an OEM, it cannot be as sharp. Well, those days are long gone. This lens is definitely as sharp as any other OEM and maybe even sharper when shot wide open. I pushed it to its limit, shooting a high ISO at wide open (f/2.0) and the sharpness is most definitely evident. This heavy zoom lens is packed with FLD and 7 SLD glass elements- it takes a little getting used to, but after two or three days it felt comfortable attached to my Canon 5D MkII. I believe these Sigma lenses will have permanent homes in many photographers’ camera bags!