As my photography missions go this was always going to be a big one for me. Every year in the third week of August the beautiful medieval town of Ostuni holds a parade in honour of Saint Oronzo. Similar festivals are common in Italy but the difference with this one is that St Oronzo gets an escort of knights on horseback. As a lover of horses and pretty much all things Italian this is a heady combination and one I really wanted to capture on film.
I was hoping for something beautiful, colourful, impressive and poignant. What I witnessed surpassed all my expectations. The beauty and power of the horses, the skill and courage of the riders, the admiration of the crowds of spectators, the festival lights, the people watching from their balconies, the heat and the evident devotion to the Saint was an assault on the senses way beyond my skill to record here in writing in a way that would do it justice. I did however make a pretty good stab at it with my camera. The shot below I think is one of my best images ever. Light levels were low so high ISO and wide apertures were in order. Despite this limitation I managed to get myself in the right spot with just enough depth of field and fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action and maintain detail across the frame. Then the horse reared! Mama Mia! It was incredible, the only horse I saw do this all evening and you can see from the reaction of the crowd what it was like to be close to. My drills were sharp and I got the shot; which is more than can be said for my performance in the morning (read on below!)
In the morning of the parade the knights attend a service in Ostuni’s breathtakingly beautiful cathedral. I wanted to cover this before the parade itself so set off early and managed to catchup with the knights as they assembled. What I hadn’t been prepared for was a service led by a real live cardinal of such beauty and soulfulness that it left me barely able to use my camera. In the small piazza in front of the Cathedral local dignitaries gathered before the arrival of the Cardinal. The atmosphere was relaxed and somehow comfortable. The Cardinal arrived by car with a police escort and the knights followed him into the cathedral which by this time was standing room only. What followed was in may ways very familiar to me as I sing in our local church choir most Sundays. Even the scale of the event did little to break the sense of belonging and comfort. The Cathedral choir sang faultlessly and the whole event was a joy to witness. However, so wrapped up was I into what was going on that a my drills were none too sharp. At one point the Cardinal passed through the light flooding in from the Cathedral’s West door and I missed the shot, partly through my mind wandering and partly through fear of taking the shot (are you even allowed to photograph a man who could be the next Pope?).
This was such a wonderful experience on so many levels and I hope my pictures help get it across.