Photographing the Busker Festival in Key West
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Saturday, March 26, 2016
By Kent Barker

During the 80's while I was living and working in Dallas, I ran across an interesting couple at an outdoor art show that used to take place in Fair Park. They were jewelers and traveled across the country from outdoor show to outdoor show, selling their wares. We met for dinner one night while they were in town and the conversation turned to my own interest in photographing odd subsets of humanity.  "If your looking for an eccentric group of individuals" they said, "go to Key West during the annual Busker Festival!"  I wasn't quite sure what a "Busker" was, but their description of the event peaked my interest. The next day I did a bit of research and discovered that there was indeed a loose association of 'Busker's' (who are essentially street artist's) and that they gathered annually for one week in Key West.

 

 

At this point, I put together a proposal and sold the idea of a 'Busker Festival Series' to American Way Magazine (where I was a contributing editor). Having the magazine on board, it was then relatively easy to get the organizers of the event to back me.  When the festival date finally rolled around and I arrived in Key West, they had a large room set aside for my "studio" and had also announced my presence to all of the participants... creating a continual flow of subjects throughout my stay!

 

As I began to photograph thse wacky individuals, I immediately realized that I'd hit a visual motherlode!  Buskers truly are an eccentric and diverse crew.  Some play instruments, some juggle, some do magic tricks and some blend all of these things and more into original and entertaining performances. The busker pictured above is French artist Arsene Dupin. Arsene saw himself as a disciple of the famous mime Marcel Marceau.  His character never spoke, but communicated a vast array of emotions in  highly entertaining performances.  Gleeful crowds gathered around him wherever he went.

 

 

The entertainers pictured above are Scott and Joan Henry Houghton, who called their act "Disorderly Conduct". The skits they performed blended a vaudvillian style humor with feats of remarkable physical skill & prowess. Joan really did carry Scott around on her shoulders...and that was only the beginning!  These two blew me away and we struck up a friendship that continues to this day. Joan & Scott now live in the Baltimore area and have a travelling dog show called Mutts Gone Nuts.

 

When performing, Jay Brekenridge (pictured below) referred to himself as the fabulous "Dr. O-Jay".  His 'one-of-a-kind' style blended a dizzying array of balancing and juggling tricks with a sharp wit and wry sense of humor.  Like so many of the performers I met that week, he had developed amazing physical skills...but was not content to rest on those laurels.  Instead, he used the tricks as a ground floor and then built a completely unique performance on top.  He truly was a street "artist"!

 

 

There are more images from this series! I will work on them over the next number of days and post the blalnce a week from now.  Thanks for looking!

 


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