Dear Steve,This is a shortened summary of the trip to the Alafia Mountain Man
Rendezvous, as I was only a day visitor to the event. Still, the happenings
were interesting enough to comment on. Early Saturday morning I pulled myself
up off the sick bed and headed through the Super Bowl crowded streets of
Tampa. I was traveling south from Plant City to the wilderness area that
still makes up a large portion of the state's interior.
I made a pit stop at a jiffy market only to be approached by people in period
dress who had stopped for one last trip to flush toilets and other modern
conveniences. Surprisingly, they were looking for me. At least they announced
that I was one of the main reasons they were headed to the event. They wanted
period pictures and I was the man for the job.
I followed them down to the gate entrance. I made my apologies at
registration for not having been on hand for more of the event. The lady who
greeted me said my wagon had been missed, and there were many people who were
concerned as to my where abouts. What a lovely thought to be considered so
fondly, or at least for my work to be so well accepted. I drove right up to
the stockade and unloaded my basic equipment. Considering I usually am
carrying everything from home except the kitchen sink, just having the
camera, a focusing cloth, tripod and box of plates provided a wonderful
feeling of movement.
I had the people I met at the convenient store pose against the rough texture
of the log stockade fence. The lighting was bright and a little glarey
throughout the day, but not as harsh as direct sunlight. Nearby forest fires
from the drought stricken weather had filled the air with smoke.
Inside I found my friend Suzanna, and set my camera and tripod at her lodge.
She graciously fixed me cup of java over the fire. Then I was off to seek out
the rendezvouers who I knew would be wanting their "images struck." Over and
over again, people said they were concerned about me as they had not yet seen
the wagon, and they were counting on having their annual portraits made. I
assured them that the only reason I had not been there earlier was due to a
cold/sinus/flu-type illness and the wagon in its new and refurbished glory
would be on hand for the next Alafia Mountain Man event.
Trudging through the various camps I hollered out my vendor's song. "Preserve
your image ere the flesh doth fade! Life is fleeting! Life is transitory! The
grave will capture us all, but not without a picture from the master
photographer, Fritz Kirsch!" Acting as a hawkster surprises some, and
fascinates others, but it does get attention and announces to everyone I am
At the Alafia event, there must be five hundred tee pees, wall tents and
marquis structures. Some are dressed out with camp stoves, collapsible
tables, beds and hutches. The lodges are far more complete to home comforts
than are found at Civil War reenactments. The center of the encampment is
where one finds the majority of traders usually in very large wall tents or
marquis tents. They sell everything the pioneer citizen would have wanted
from iron cookware to fur pelts, feathers, and beads. I found one trader who
was willing to barter a photograph of himself and his friends for a
marvelously constructed leather pouch with cow horn sides. It was a deal I
couldn't pass up since it would be a great way to carry my store of plates
and address book with customer information.
The encampment is perhaps a half mile wide and two or three city blocks deep,
if one can transfer the idea of city to such a primitive encampment. There
are perhaps fifteen hundred people in period dress covering the time period
from the middle 1700s to the 1840s. My photography sneaks in just under the
time line restriction, as photography had been invented in 1839. Of course,
the style of work I do is better suited to a slightly later period.The hosts
of this event, however, allow me to practice my art because it gives people a
chance to show off the rendezvouers' hobby to all their non participating
friends who have no idea about their particular brand of lunacy.
My last stop of the day was the annual picture to be taken at the Road Kill
Café. I had a buffalo burger there and then the stuffed wild animals were put
on the counter. Everyone looked like the dangerous desperadoes they wished to
depict themselves as. I pulled the slide on the plate and made my final
exposures of the day. Shortly there after my friend, Suzanna helped me carry
my gear to the van and I returned to Safety Harbor. It is sad to leave these
people who still take seriously the dream of an America where there was an
endless frontier. This was in odd contrast to the huge traffic jam I traveled
through caused by Gasparilla Day and the Super Bowl weekend.