Photo Series from a Lawless 4th of July at Muckleshoot
On the Fourth of July, Breanne and I went down to the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, one of the few places where fireworks are legal to buy, sell, and shoot. Coming from Seattle and growing up in California where all fireworks are completely banned due to their fire starting potential, this promised a very fun time. On the reservation, there is a massive fireworks "mall", the size and scope of which reminded me of a county fair. There is also an open space to launch fireworks if you have no other destination in mind. We arrived to heavy traffic and hundreds of visitors looking for nothing more than to shoot fireworks on the holiday where we celebrate our country's independence by blowing up a piece of it.
I initially wanted to partake in such festivities, but instead found it much more interesting to photograph the popup mall. With my a7 and the 24-70mm, I took a lap around the massive grounds shooting aimlessly as I tried to make sense of the scene. Nothing interesting came of that initial walk around, until I found myself at the designated launch area. Of course, the area wasn't hard to find since it sounded like a war zone with small fireworks being perpetual gunfire and larger ones sounding like bombs. When I saw the place, my first impression was shock — it even looked like a war zone. Spent fireworks covered the land and small fires constantly broke out. Sometimes I couldn't tell if people were trying to put them out or make them larger. No police, no firefighters, and no medics were present. It was complete lawlessness.
Naturally this makes for excellent photos. I stuck around for a good amount of time photographing people shooting a never ending supply of fireworks. While shooting I started to look for ways to incorporate a few major elements I'd noticed. I looked to include smoky and/or explosive backgrounds to give a dramatic effect, and I frequently shot low to include the mess of trash in the photos. I also found that I was often aiming my lens toward people, mainly kids, who might have a timid expression in the midst of such a loud and explosive environment. A photo capturing all of that would make for an interesting juxtaposition and capture a lot of what I saw and how I felt when I first got there.
After quite some time on the field, I went for another walk around the grounds after having "warmed up". My goal was to photograph people buying a ridiculous amount of fireworks, as I'd seen them being sold by the pallet load for up to a thousand dollars. I wanted to include elements of patriotism as well, looking for the obvious flags, eagles, and bright colors. I took only a handful of photos that round, but I had plans to go back and forth between the mall and field a few more times so that I could consistently see new people. On my second visit to the field, however, things were a little different.
I arrived to a lot more people and families out shooting fireworks, almost double what there had been previously. I figured that would be a beneficial to me since there would be constant action, but that constant action proved to be dangerous. People were igniting larger fireworks right behind other unaware groups, which would send people scattering in fear. A mortar was mistakenly launched towards a crowd and exploded dangerously low overhead. Then I watched a very young girl attempt to launch a bottle rocket handheld, decide it was a bad idea as the fuse was near its end, and drop the rocket on the ground which immediately flew up and missed someone's face by inches. Having seen all that in just the first minute of being in the crowds, I decided it was unsafe for Breanne and I to be there and we called it a day before someone got hurt.
The next morning, I came across a news report detailing two people losing hands and being airlifted to the hospital that afternoon. A commenter wrote that the insane Muckleshoot Fireworks Mall is something everyone has to experience once.