With Notting Hill Carnival imminent, Peter Dench talks to the founder of a Carnival platform leading the parade, Carnival Slayers.

The start of Carnival Slayers

‘Back in 2017, I was getting a little frustrated at some of the content I was seeing that came from Trinidad carnival which happens annually around the same time as Brazil carnival. I wasn’t seeing enough diversity, women of different sizes, I wasn’t seeing enough men. I was seeing the same faces and people, it was always about the socialites, the popular girls and Instagram models,’ explains Naiomi Wilson, company director of the brand, Carnival Slayers.

Instead of complaining to her friends, Naiomi took action and searched for a name. Channelling her inner Beyoncé and Rhianna who lyricise about liberation, confidence, empowerment, Carnival Slayers was born. Naiomi bought the domain names, created a logo and began to graft.

‘It was a good time to have an Instagram. I was posting all the things that you would not typically see with regards to carnival culture. My first post was actually a man in costume. My second post was about being body confident and comfortable in your own skin. We hadn’t been seeing these affirmations, these messages at that time. I wanted to be the first person who did that, I wanted to put my stamp on the page and would do about nine to 11 posts per day.’

the carnival slayers at notting hill carnival

That first @carnivalslayers post of a man in a feathered headdress on March 15 2017 received 38 likes. After three weeks the page had a thousand followers. In September 10K. Today it has nearly 140K. ‘As soon as we hit 10K we were flying from there and had people who wanted to invest in the platform, advertise their products and services.’

While @carnivalslayers does post images of popular girls and Instagram models, at their core is a passion to be an advocate for men and women who are comfortable with who they are. ‘These beautiful beings bring their light to any festivity and they are believers. No matter which carnival band they’re in, their sexual orientation, marital status, popularity status, gender, skin tone, shape or size, carnival is their first love.

It’s their time to individually express their beauty. They know without any acknowledgment from anyone that they Slaaaaay!! For that reason alone, all lenses should be on such masterpieces as they shake up every street that their energy pulsates through.’

How to photograph Notting Hill Carnival

The 2020 and 2021 Notting Hill Carnival was cancelled due to the pandemic. This weekend the joy of carnival will bounce back and throb along the streets of West London providing a kaleidoscopic honey pot for photographers. Here are Naiomi’s tips:

  • Get close up. People love to see the detail in the costume from the headpieces down to the waist, the finer details. It’s better engagement.
  • Have an open mind, you’re going to see all sorts. People singing, eating their favourite Jamaican patty, people who are in a moment.
  • We’re coming out of a pandemic, there’s going to be emotion, people crying that are so happy to be at carnival. Sometimes I feel photographers will walk around for ages looking for something very specific, sometimes the least interesting thing to begin with can turn into something interesting.
  • Stay hydrated, make sure you use the toilet as much as possible before you hit the road and wear comfortable shoes!
carnival slayers photoshoot close up of pink carnival feathers

Naomi’s mother was born in Carriacou, a Caribbean island belonging to Grenada where her father is from, an original carnival man that wore costumes when he came to the United Kingdom in the 1970s. @carnivalslayers is positive and inclusive but also driven by an awareness of history and heritage.

‘The slaves would make a mockery of their masters and get dressed up and paint themselves in different colours, paint themselves in black which represents Jab Jab [a way to honour the challenges that African ancestors went through as former slaves] which is a culture from Grenada. It’s been incorporated into carnival, the carnival journey is all about freedom and celebration of independence away from slavery.’

Customise your Carnival

The social media platforms for @carnivalslayers is where Naomi focuses marketing and advertising for brands, costume designers etc. There’s a sister business, Slay Your Xperience offering various services including dressing up in your carnival costume for a bespoke video or photoshoot.

‘We basically tailor a package and create lasting memories. The reason that came about is during the pandemic, after people realised they’d had no carnival for such a long time, they started looking in their archive for photos and videos and realised that when they went to carnival they didn’t take that many pictures as they thought.

With carnival, you’re enjoying yourself so much with the music and food, the energy, catching up with people, you forget to take multiple photos. I thought this was something to tap into.’ You can also hire a 360 degree Photo Booth or dancers to bring a flavour of carnival into corporate and private events.

This week is busy for the Carnival Slayers team. There’s a documentary in production about Notting Hill Carnival focusing on how people have prepared for it following the pandemic and they will be filming the bands coming onto the stage at the Notting Hill judging point on Westbourne Grove. Will Naiomi be overseeing operations? ‘No, I’ll be jumping up and down in my feathers!’ Make sure you have your camera at the ready.

See more from Carnival Slayers here.

Images courtesy of Naiomi Harris, Carnival Slayers

Need some guidance on photographing events? Check out our how-to guide here.

Charlie Phillips On Photography and Untold Stories

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