The Mardi Gras Indians make a great spectacle, and though you can take their picture, you can’t take their pride. That part remains theirs no matter what. It’s non-transferable and untranslatable. It doesn’t leave the gang. That pride is derived from the history of the practice—over 125 years old—and from the patience and skill it takes to sew each crown, bead each apron, and create each ceremonial hatchet. The pride lives in the music they sing and play, younger generations improvising within the framework of melodies and choruses they learned from their elders. The pride comes from the bonds formed between members of each gang and how they have finally gained not just immunity from police persecution but notoriety far and wide as unique symbols of New Orleans.
Photographer Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee has been following the Indians for two years now, and has just released a giant spread of photos from 2013 in advance of this year's season. Hodgson-Rigsbee's eye for color and use of remote flashes capture the costumes in crisp detail.
Though they are known as Mardi Gras Indians, Fat Tuesday is just the starting point of a busy social season for the tribes. Today is St. Joseph’s Day, a traditional break in the Lenten fast, the Indians will mask and dance until midnight, making arranged stops and a few improvised ones. Chiefs will challenge each other and compare outfits. Hodgson-Rigsbee's photos also capture West Fest (a celebration on the west bank of the Mississippi River) and the annual processions and performances at the Jazz & Heritage Festival.
All images copyright Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee.