It seems every town has its claim to fame. Nashville is Music City. Denver is the Mile High City. Las Vegas is Sin City. Chicago is the Windy City. New Orleans is the Big Easy and New York City is the Big Apple to name a few of the more famous designations. All of these identities have their own unique history. This post is about exactly that, a unique history that can only be characterized as a Southern Thing.
It all started over 150 years ago. Columbia, Tennessee was a mule trading center. It was known by farmers as a place to get a “quality well broke mule.” Farmers would display their mules by parading their mules down West 7th Street to the courthouse. Since there was not a lot of room around the courthouse, people would line the streets to watch the parade of mules trotting down the street. Over time, floats were added to the parade of mules. This led to the first mule parade which was held on the first Monday in April, the day of the mule sales. This annual event became known as Mule Day. The first official Mule Day was in 1934. This event consisted of the mule parade and mule shows afterwards. Attendance at this time was estimated to be 12,000 to 15,000 people. Mule Day grew over the years. However, there was a 24 year interruption. In the early 70’s, the Maury County Bridle and Saddle Club was looking for a fundraiser. They kicked off the first Mule Day after 24 years in 1974. The show became more elaborate. Along with the traditional mule shows and competitions, there were Queen contests and square dancing. The reboot of Mule Day became what Mule Day is today and it has christen Columbia, Tennessee with the name Mule Town. I read this information from the Western Mule Magazine. Visit their site to read more interesting facts behind Mule Day.
Fast forward to today. Mule Day is a weeklong event that attracts over 200,000 people every year. People from all over the country and even people out of the country descend on Columbia, Tennessee every Spring. I have lived in this area for years, but have never attended any Mule Day events. I always make plans to do so, but something seems to get in the way each time. Well, this time I actually had an opportunity to see what Mule Day was all about. It was the day of the parade. I decided to put on my documentary hat and capture some moments from the parade. My weapon of choice was my trusty Olympus OM1 loaded with my favorite street film, Kodak TRI-X 400. I carried along my 50mm f1.8 and my 28mm f3.5 lenses.
When I am out shooting events like this, I am usually the odd man out meaning I’m the only person using a film camera. On occasion, I have ran into a person with an old analog camera around their neck, but those encounters are few. With that said, I like the photographer I become when I am shooting film. My approach is more tactical and I am more selective on what I shoot. This translates into more keepers. It also translates into pictures that have a nostalgic and timeless look. A look that is very appropriate for an event that dates back over 150 years.
Ok, let’s get to the photos! I will start out with shots of the crowd that gathered along the streets of downtown Columbia in anticipation of the parade. As I walked the streets, I begin to see the magnitude of this event. Click on any photo to to see a larger image. You can then navigate to the other images within the lightbox.
Those who follow me know I have a passion for street photography. We can read about different places and cultures, but a photograph has the power to literally put things into perspective. I love taking a peep into the lives and cultures of others and I love capturing those moments for others to see. This was also true for Mule Day. I talked to several people from law enforcement and vendors to kids and parents. Every person I spoke to appeared to be having a great time. I believe I handed out all the business cards that I carried with me that day. Let’s take a more intimate look at some of the crowd.
In a festive atmosphere like Mule Day, cameras are everywhere. Most people don’t mind you taking their picture. I actually had people ask me to take their picture. I guess I looked like an “official” event photographer or something. It’s easy to capture people up close and personal in an environment like this. If you can’t catch a candid moment, the subject or subjects usually just give you a big smile.
Nothing is off limits when I have my camera in hand. If it catches my eye, I capture it. These subjects may or may not be part of the main event and these subjects may or may not involve people.
This event was a great exercise for documentary and street photography. Sports and playing the piano are not the only things you have to practice in order to improve your craft. Photography works the same. Surprisingly, you don’t hear a lot of people talk about their practice regiment for photography, but you do hear a lot of people talk about buying the latest cameras. When I started taking photography more seriously, I quickly learned that better photographs came from understanding subject matter, composition and lighting, not the latest cameras. While lighting is not the most important thing for documentary and street photography, anticipation and composition is. Mule Day was another great exercise for working on these attributes. It was also a great exercise in working on the speedy change out of film rolls,LoL! Without further ado, here are the photographs from the main event.
I thought it was appropriate to make the last photograph the pooper scopper. 🙂 If you have not experienced Mule Day, you need to. It’s one of the many jewels of Maury County and Columbia, Tennessee. I’ve only experienced the parade, but there are a host of events and things to do and eat throughout the week. I had a great time documenting the parade. I met a lot of nice people. Fun times! Got a Mule Day story or a similar event? I would love to hear about it. Thanks for reading!