Well, well, well…
Remember when I got sort of turned around and went the wrong way? You’ll also remember that I wasn’t lost. I just got turned around. Guys, dudes, men, even boys never get lost. We always know where we are. Of course we do. We are generally on the planet. We think. Beyond that…
At least I found my way to my original destination by taking the longest possible route to it. I just followed the river. And, the road. The river is shaped like a crescent. That’s why one of New Orleans’ nicknames is “The Crescent City.” Following the river is not traveling the shortest distance between two points. But, it’s interesting.
It wasn’t so bad. I was able to make these pictures. I really wasn’t expecting this. This is the classic example of pictures finding me. Yes. They are made from the diver’s seat. I was trying to get somewhere on time. Remember? The driver’s seat did provide a nice hook for these three pictures. The yellow line. The broken yellow line. And, me drifting across the yellow line, hoping not to get killed while I took the picture.
The thing about New Orleans that many people don’t realize is that we and the surrounding parishes are really industrial-based. Or, at least we were. Today, our biggest industry is tourism. So… Y’all come on down, ya hear. We need your cash.
Seriously, when work runs out, the economy of the surrounding cities dries up. Those big cranes? They are located at a ship building site in a little town called Avondale. The company last built two very modern United States Navy ships, moved the rest of their operations to their other site in Mississippi and closed this one. There were rumors that this site was going to be sold to a Korean shipbuilder. Rumors. It’s been well over a year. So far nothing has happened. Despite the fact that Avondale is really only 15 minutes from the heart of New Orleans, it’s a different world. Need a house? I can find you a nice fairly modern 3 or 4 bedroom house in good shape for about US $30,000 or less. Meanwhile, in New Orleans that same house might cost US $300,000 or more.
One more thing about those two ships. Both of them broke down on their shakedown cruises to San Diego. Big internal motor parts failed. One ship broke in the Panama Canal. Apparently, Panamanians don’t like that. They both had to be towed to San Diego. Maybe people from Louisiana aren’t good at building boats. I don’t know. Just saying’.
The pictures. All made around dusk. All made from the driver’s seat. Very little help in post production except to add a little dusky glow. I really like the crane picture. From this angle it looks like some old Martian invasion movie. Maybe, they all came from Planet Claire. Let’s just see if anybody catches that line.
Sort of a quiet Tuesday. There is a lot of work to do today. I probably should just get on with it. Keeping up on various social media sites takes a lot of time. Probably too much time for the return.
The pictures were made at the Black Men of Labor second line. The top image is sort of an experiment in framing. I’ve been playing with this a lot. The main subject — the sharpest man — is pushed way to the right, leaving the background out of focus, but containing a lot of information. This picture might be caught in the middle. The focus might really should have been on the man’s sleeve where there is a stylized musical note.
There was one really odd thing about this parade, aside from being walked on a Saturday. There was a very fast loss of general energy. Normally, these guys are dancing and bopping around from stop to stop. They started with a little dance, but within maybe 100 yards of the starting point the parade sort of slowed down and the energy drifted away. Or… maybe it was my energy. Could have been. I feed off of the paraders.
On the way to some place else.
I was pretty much racing around last weekend. So much to photograph. So much to do.
Oddly, a lot of it didn’t get done. It wasn’t my fault. It’s a New Orleans thing. People didn’t show up. Events get canceled. Plans fall through. That’s all a part of life. But, here in NOLA it’s magnified. It think it started on weighing on me in not such good ways. The last line of this post is very telling.
As I was passing through the CBD — Central Business District — the sun lighted a building that was directly ahead of me. It was glowing at me. What else could I do? I did my “shoot through the windshield” thing. Funny thing, I like big city urban pictures. I just don’t make them enough. Oh. That’s a whole other thought.
The other subjects that I photographed? You’ll see a couple. I couldn’t get my head in the game last weekend. Most of the pictures are pretty marginal to me. Oh well. That happens.
Sometimes I’m asked to make a portrait. Hopefully, the asker knows what I do. And, what I don’t do. While I reasonably comfortable working in a studio and can light just about anything, that’s not what I do. There are guys who are really good at it. Some can turn a white background and the subject into art simply by their own creative lighting. That’s not me. I make what used to be called environmental portraits. I try to tell the viewer something about the subject’s life by including a lot of background information. I also don’t believe that the subject has to be looking into the lens to make a good portrait.
I know a lot of the various social aid and pleasure club members simply by being on the streets. I might not know all their names, but I know their faces. If nothing else, we nod and smile at each other. If there is more time we introduce ourselves and shake hands. I know this guy… a little. He asked if I could take his picture. I did. I gave him a business card. When he contacts me, I’ll give him a picture. I don’t make portraits for a living. It’s not part of my revenue stream. Giving him a picture helps to make my street red a little better. It helps to make a new friend. Most of the guys who photograph second lines on a regular basis do the same thing. By the way, we are forming our own social & pleasure club. The Backsteppers. That’s what we do. Isn’t it?
This parade is a big one. It is organized by The Black Men of Labor. Every sort of job is represented. There are lawyers. Doctors. Construction workers. Chefs. Police officers. It is also a Saturday parade. Very rare. In fact, for now, the only one. They moved it out of respect for the two other clubs and krews who are walking today, on Sunday. They still hold their Sunday place on the schedule. That’s the thing about New Orleans. We work things out. Maybe better than other cities.
This picture. He’s staring over my shoulder almost like he’s not trying to pose. But, he is. He’s holding his symbolic fan across his chest. That’s some fan, yes? The background is what makes the picture. Take a look at it. It’s chaos. A jumble of happy people. It’s information about the man.
Second line parades. I can’t seem to avoid them. Not that I try.
There are a couple of kinds of second line parades.
There are jazz funerals. The people who take part are usually paying their respects to the person who just passed and left the earth. Even for somebody like me who is there mostly to document it, I do it out of respect. I don’t have to know the person. I’m just one more guy sending out good thoughts and prayers. As many of you know, for me, the work is the prayer.
Then there is neighborhood second lines. Those are the ones that are held during the “parade season” in places like Central City, The 9th Ward and the 7th Ward. They are usually organized by a social and aid clubs in that neighborhood. The bands are usually composed of musicians from there. But, participants aren’t limited to the neighborhood. Members of other social clubs, indian tribes and krews come to show their respect. People like me come just to watch or document them.
Finally, there are French Quarter second lines. Once in a blue moon, a huge neighborhood parade might pass through the quarter, but for the most part these parades are organized around an event. Sometimes it’s a wedding like the one in my pictures. Sometimes, for a charity event or even a corporate affair. These folks really just want to participate in something that says New Orleans to them. They are having fun. They are celebrating. The parades are exciting to our visitors who just happen to be standing on the street when one passes by.
Oh, you knew this was coming. The French Quarter second lines are very different from the jazz funerals and neighborhood parades. The people who are performing — the musicians — are paid to do this. It’s only sometimes that the musicians in the neighborhood parades are paid. They play because they are asked. They play because they are honoring their neighborhood. Yes, they often play in multiple parades over the season that might not be in their neighborhood. They mix and match bands. They all know they walking music. The play out of respect. Because they just want to make music.
There is one other difference. These French Quarter parades are very short. Usually, they are composed of a small brass band and the people for whom the parade is held. There are no social club members leading it. By definition, this might not even be a second line because that term refers to the people who are not part of the formal parade who choose to follow behind while they are singing and dancing. But, this is New Orleans. Definitions? Whaaaaa?
Nothing wrong with any of that. It’s just that they are different. I always tell people who ask me about New Orleans, to remember that the Quarter isn’t New Orleans. It’s a neighborhood in New Orleans. Get out of the Quarter and see the rest of the city. And, if you are lucky enough to be here on a Sunday during parade season by all means go see the parade.
These pictures. Once again. Photographer’s luck. I was walking around the Quarter looking for Halloween pictures. I saw the police motorcycle’s blue and red flashing lights and followed my ears and my instincts. I decided to let the motion and movement of the parade carry the pictures. We were also there to eat a little dinner. My companions commented that it was sort of cool to watch me. I went from sort of just strolling along seeing what I could see, to hitting my parade strut in about a second. It never occurred to me. I just do it. I guess.
The need for speed. That came from a movie. Do you remember what movie and who said it? I’m not telling.
My headlines are not very creative. You know I borrow a lot of song lyrics. I’m really just a magpie. I borrow from everywhere. I spin it around and around in my head and stuff comes out. Hopefully, it’s mostly good. Sometimes, not.
This is another accidental picture. A friend of mine takes issue with accidental pictures. Of course, he was writing about the guys who take snapshots and have no intent, no vision, no fun. He knows, as a true street photographer, that a lot of pictures are accidental. No way around it. What isn’t accidental is the level of preparation and work that it takes to make a good photograph. I could go through every step, but it’s probably best to say it’s been in the making for the last 40 years. Mostly, it’s not technical. It’s really mostly practice. So why is this picture accidental?
I hadn’t planned on being at this place, at this time. I hadn’t planned on the great golden light, but that’s what pulled me to be on the bridge. I hadn’t planed for a train cross the bridge at the same time that I was passing by. All of that coming together at the same time is pretty accidental. A better word might be coincidental. Railroad companies don’t care about the light. Most people don’t care about the trains. Or, the light. I like all of that stuff. Location, trains and light. Especially, the light.
I’ve been practicing this kind of photographing for years. I know how to do it. I know how to catch the train on what is really a narrow bridge. I know the proper techniques. In that way, the picture is not the result of an accident or luck. It’s the result of many years of practice. On the other hand, you might consider it lucky that I wasn’t in a car accident. So, there’s that.
This place. This is the Huey P. Long bridge. It was built in 1935. It was originally very narrow, but it was updated and made wider a couple of years ago which probably made taking this picture possible. It is also responsible for ending cross river freight ferries and railroad barges. Prior to 1935 if you were crossing the river by train, it stopped at the river, was disassembled, loaded onto a barge and shipped across the river where it was reassembled. Very time-consuming. Cars, trucks and buses went through the same cross river shipping process. Of course, they weren’t linked together so there was no dissembling. Today, there are three bridges that cross the river. There are still ferries, but they aren’t exclusively necessary.
Photographer’s luck. I was on my way to one place, spaced out, took the wrong direction and ended up on this highway. I knew were I was going. I really wasn’t lost. I just went the wrong way. I just had a momentary brain freeze. Eventually, I worked my way back to where I wanted to be in the first place. I was a little bit late. But I made it there in the time frame that I wanted.
But… this is a great illustration of being in the right place at the right time. If I had gone the right way, I’d have never made this picture. I would never had this light. And, I would never crossed this bridge at the right time of day.
That said, you’re going to have to open this picture up. The small version of it just isn’t very powerful. Larger? That’s another thing. You can see those little pin points of red tail lights. In many ways that makes this picture.
You know me. Point. Shoot. Through the windshield. Without actually looking through the viewfinder or even LCD. Just me. No other driver. I’ve tried it the other way. Somebody else drives. I sit in the passenger seat. I actually focus and compose. That doesn’t work. The lines aren’t right. The angles aren’t right.
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