Mt. Carmel Feast through five photographers’ lenses
Last week the newspaper featured 24 pages of photos from the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. In years past, one photographer would primarily cover the Feast Week.
This year, we decided to showcase the viewpoints of five different photographers. Photographers Jennifer Bailey and Candice Atwell each went two nights to the Feast. Staff reporter Sean Friel went one night. Photographer Betsey Karl covered the Feast Day on July 16. Joseph Berenato wrote about the Grand Procession of Saints and took many pics from the day. Fun fact: Atwell was a freelance photographer with the paper for more than a decade more than a decade ago. And now she is back and we are thrilled.
During the week, Sports Editor Dan Russoman suggested that the photographers should be interviewed about their experience.
So that’s what I did. Each shutterbug was asked the same two questions.
What did you enjoy about taking pictures during the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel?
Bailey: I enjoyed being able to capture the joy on people’s faces as they soaked up the energy of the night. It was so fun talking to people I photographed and hearing some of their stories of Feast days in the past and the nights I was there.
Atwell: Talking to people, especially those working the food stands. They take so much pride in volunteering for the week. It’s such hard work in really hot conditions and they’re always just happy and enjoying themselves. Also that they welcome me in so much. They offer me food/drinks and even pushed me to learn how to shuck clams. So it’s the people.
Friel: There was an element of tradition rooted deep in the festival, which was clearly visible during the week-long event. For some, that tradition may be getting food from a certain stand, and for others it could be enjoying the carnival rides. Just being able to see that tradition in real time with my camera was a very cool experience for me. Throughout my time at the festival, it was wild to see the streets packed with people, almost to the point where you couldn’t move. The whole community came out to support the event, which is something that is rare in my hometown.
Berenato: I always like seeing young people take part in the procession, as well as multigenerational families. I love that the importance of the tradition is being passed down. I also always enjoy photographing and talking to people who attend for the first time, and can usually tell when they’re planning to make it an annual trip.
Karl: For me, I adore shooting the procession. From start to finish—lining up the saints, talking to the people involved, to the procession itself. Hearing the bands play, watching the interplay of people—donating money to their favorite saint, to the smiles and joy that is evident on this day. Pilgrims—devout in their beliefs as well as those seeking perhaps not a cure, but a respite from their physical ailments, and of course, the locals, are joined together on this day. It’s a day when you hear so many wonderful stories—from those who tell me how they have been coming for 60 or 70 years or more years because their parents or grandparents brought them as babies, to Annette Garchinsky who shared with me her grandfather’s procession committee ribbon. She estimated that her grandfather John Ingemi, wore it at least 100 years ago. Annette was wearing it on Saturday as she walked with friends and family and their saint. It is a real joy to see so many people participate in the procession and to see the people lining the streets. And after the procession, from the removing of the donations from the saints, to watching the careful placement of each saint back into their rightful places in church—The care in which the saints are carried and placed is inspiring bordering on holy.
What does the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel mean to you?
Bailey: The Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to me is the epitome of tradition, heritage and family. The moment you step onto Third Street you are greeted with Italian flags and familiar faces. The smell of the food and sound of the bands transport me back to my youth and the memories flood back. The traditions of simple times like lighting candles with my mom or enjoying a sandwich from one of the stands brings childhood back.
Atwell: It’s community and memories. I grew up in Hammonton and as a kid the Feast Week was prime summertime socializing. You were bound to see the kids from school that you hadn’t seen for a month. Now it’s still the same. I end up running into and catching up with so many people that I either grew up with or just know from living and working there for a large part of my life and I love that.
Friel: The week-long event means so much more to me now than before, as I had never been to one of the Feasts before. The town gets so invested into the event, it almost feels like it’s Christmas, and every family is celebrating. Considering that the festival has been a tradition in town for 147 years, meeting people who have passed the tradition of supporting the festival down from generation to generation was my favorite aspect. Unpacking the history behind each family, and understanding what drives the tradition made the Feast experience even more enjoyable for me. It makes me want to start my own family tradition of coming to the Mt. Carmel Festival each year.
Berenato: The 16th of July, for me, is all about heritage, tradition and faith. The procession in particular is something in which my family has taken part since they came to the U.S. in the 1890s as a way to give thanks for bountiful harvests and abundant opportunities, and I’m proud to be able to carry on that tradition.
Karl: The Feast, Feast Week, is about people. That is never more evident than on July 16th during the procession, when we are all reminded of the why of the festival. On the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we are all family. We are all joyful, we are all reverent in our adoration of that day. That I get to document the day is meaningful. As a photographer, it is my favorite day. Thank you for giving me this experience.
Thank you to our photographers for bringing the Feast to life on the pages of The Gazette. And thank you for sharing your thoughts about the event. It really is an amazing week in Hammonton.
Gina Rullo is the editor-in-chief of The Hammonton Gazette. In 2022, she was named an “Editor Extraordinaire” by Editor & Publisher Magazine and in 2021 won two awards for investigative journalism.