Rarities. I usually don’t make pictures like these. New Orleans was fog bound over the past weekend. After photographing another second line parade, we headed to The French Quarter to see what it looked like in the fog. Some had lifted, but a lot of it was lingering, at least in the middle and long distance. It really didn’t do much to enhance the streets and make them mysterious, but it created an amazing white background on the shores of the mighty Mississippi River. So, I went to work and tried to do something a little different and more graphic for me. Even though you can’t often tell it from the pictures I publish here, I really do like clean and simple lines. If you saw my business cards, you know.
Not much post-production. Mostly I worked to keep the fog very white and to keep all the lines in both pictures very clean. Where I could, I worked to give the color — especially the reds in both pictures — a little pop.
Another Sunday. Another second line parade. I wasn’t going to go. I thought I was needed at home. I thought it was too cold. And, too foggy. But, I was nagged into it. How was I nagged into it? I was asked. That’s a riff on a line from the old M.A.S.H. television show. Henry Blake, “How did he find out?” Radar, “He got it out of me.” Henry Blake, “How did he do that?” Radar, “He asked.”
There you have it. I’m pretty easy. Apparently.
This parade is one of many that are held on just about every Sunday once the weather cools off in October and through the months we like to call winter. This one was held in Central City. It was run by The New Generation Social Aid & Pleasure Club along with the Nkrumah Better Boys. The theme for this year is: “Last Chance to Dance.” I’m not sure what that’s about since there will be another parade next Sunday. In case you’re wondering, these parades usually start at noon or 12:30 so that many of the folks who participate can attend church services.
The picture. F8 and be there. I haven’t written that in a long while. I just means to put yourself in front of the action and take the picture.
There was more to it this time. I was testing a brand new camera. A Sony A7. It is mirror less, just like my little NEXs. But, it has a full frame sensor, and a lot of other upgrades that make it an excellent professional working camera. It’ll take some getting used to, but it felt natural and comfortable in my hands. The focusing speed is very, very impressive and even with a somewhat lesser lens, the images are sharp as a tack. Why is this camera important? The full frame sensor. It’s the size of an old 35mm piece of film as opposed to what most DSLR cameras use, which is an APS sized sensor (smaller) or the size of the sensor that most compact cameras use, including the newer Nikon J series, which has a sensor the size of your pinkie fingernail. Why is this important? The bigger the size, the more light the sensor can capture and the better the quality of your picture. Simple. Or, something like that. Combine that with a small bodied mirror less camera and you have something very special. Yeah. I know. That was all pretty nerdish.
Long term readers of Storyteller know this place. It’s on the far downriver side of Holy Cross. You’ve been inside. This was the place with green wooden walls and the old American flag on the wall. Remember? I’m a creature of habit so I decided to cruise by and see if anything changed. It did. The flag was torn off the wall and tossed in a pile on the floor. You can’t do that to an American Flag, So I, er, liberated it. You didn’t read that here.
For those of you who are new to this blog, here’s a quick bit of background. We had a big hurricane. Katrina. You know that. But, sometimes people who aren’t from New Orleans sort of forget. That’s natural. Bad things happen on a daily basis sometimes. Many of you watched in amazement as the city flooded. CNN was good for covering that. It’s likely that you saw the Lower Ninth Ward pretty much be wiped off the map. You probably didn’t see the neighborhood closer to the Mississippi River in any of that coverage. It flooded. But the water didn’t rush in as it did next to the Industrial Canal. Homes were destroyed. Lives were changed. But the area was recoverable. That area is on the river side of St. Claude Avenue. It is called Holy Cross. It is named after a Catholic church and school. It’s a very different kind of New Orleans. As you get closer to the river and the levee, the neighborhood almost has a country feel. And, a lot of it has been restored. New people have repopulated the area. There is a pretty nice vibe in the neighborhood. But, as you travel more downriver, things aren’t so good. There are still a lot of abandoned and boarded up buildings and houses.
This is one of them. A few months ago I stopped here and went inside. That’s what I’m referring to when I talk about the American flag. At the time, it was hung on the wall. This time, the low winter light got the better of me. I worked from the outside, in. This is the result. Oh, the rainbow? Photographer’s trick. If you stop down your f-stop as small as you can and shoot directly into bright light, like the sun, this is what you get.
Those brick buildings that look so nice? Jackson Barracks. It as a Louisiana National Guard installation that sits squarely on the border of Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes. It took on a lot of water during the storm. I think around fifteen feet. But, it is a necessary base, so a lot of money was poured into it after the water was drained out of it. I’m not sure why. It’s active. But, not very busy. But, the old military collections have been restored as of a few months ago. That’s fun to look at. You can see a tank. A cannon. A Huey helicopter. And other stuff.
Just in case. In case it doesn’t happen. There is talk of assembling a huge second line to honor Mandela. But, it’s complicated. The dreamers want to walk through the entire city. That’s sounds right. He encompassed everybody. But, there is a lot of distance to cover through many wards. That takes permits. Police. EMT units. Street closures. So, we’ll see. They’ll do what they can. I’ll help where I can. Sure. It would be very cool.
This picture was made last Sunday. The parade was a little hard to find. We arrived about 20-25 minutes early, which in normal cases means we would have arrived almost an hour before the parade was scheduled to depart. But, oh no. These folks left 15 minutes early. That’s unheard of. This is New Orleans after all. Nothing starts early.
So. First, we had to find them. Then, I had to get ahead of them so I could make pictures. That wasn’t easy. They changed their route in mid-walk. They doubled back. They took side streets that were not part of the planned route. I could see the crowds who were waiting for them. But, we’d get there too late. Never too early. Finally, we caught them in mid-turn where they had to slow down.
Obviously, I was somewhat successful. After all, I made this picture with a 16mm lens. That’s how close I got. The post production is minimal. No “Sunday Experimentation.” I’ll have something pretty cool to show you once I work my magic on it… for Sunday.
Oh yeah. This all happened in Treme. The neighborhood. Not the cable show.
I’m a little early today. Forgive me. Sometimes even when you expect it, news comes with jarring certainty. Things and lives just end. You know what I’m going to write… a little. Tonight’s news is all about Nelson Mandela. So, I’ll depart from my usual New Orleans work.
I journeyed to South Africa about ten years ago with a couple of friends. I was so sick that I almost couldn’t work. In fact, I went to the emergency room in a hospital located in Pretoria where I was given a prescription for Tylenol. Things were still a little rough back then. I had to show my passport to even get into the parking lot. But, that’s a whole other story. We also went to Pilanesberg, a game reserve, where my friends and travel partners presented an academic paper. I stated in the cabin that night.I was too sick to go. So I rested. The folks who ran the reserve told me to lock the doors carefully because the monkeys could get into the cabin and steal stuff if doors weren’t locked. That’s all I needed to hear. It would have been just my luck to have a monkey steal my cameras and take better pictures than me. After all, it wouldn’t be too hard for them to do.
The real story was traveling around the country and visiting Constitution Hill. It is the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. In its other life it was a fort, then The Old Fort Prison and finally just Number Four. Its history is long and checkered, but at one time — in 1906 — Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned there. During the apartheid government, only white prisoners were held at The Old Fort, except for Nelson Mandela, who was given a bed in the hospital wing while he awaited trial in 1962.
I never had the honor of photographing Mandela. My loss. But, I did see his hospital room — cell — when we were there. That’s it in the top picture. The bottom picture — African Skies — is my way of expressing the joy of his ultimate freedom and my own humbleness at being on the planet during the same time that he lived. There are lots of symbols in that picture. For instance. Trees. A symbol of rebirth.
If he had passed in New Orleans, we’d hold a huge second line parade and jazz funeral for him. Maybe we will. Too soon to know. The main song would be a spiritual…
“Nelson Mandela got a Golden Crown.”
After a couple of winter-like days, we’ve warmed up a bit. Well, a lot. Today, the high temperature was around 82 degrees. With that, we’ve had a lot of low winter light along with a lot of fast-moving clouds. So. I did the only thing that I could do. I took advantage of it and worked for about six hours one day. That kind of day doesn’t happen often and it does tire me out. I don’t get tired physically. I get very tired emotionally and psychically. It takes a huge amount of energy to keep seeing, reacting and processing bits of mental information. But, not on this day. I just kept going and going and going. You should also know that if I am shooting an assignment or commission I don’t tire. That’s a whole different set of processes. At least, for me.
So. This picture. I started down river in Old Algiers where I thought I’d take one last look at the burned out Le Beau Mansion. The chimneys and burned wood is still there. But, it is now a crime scene. Normally tape and plastic streamers don’t stop me if I want a picture. But, I know that the watchman lives directly across the street. I’m sure he’s sitting at his window with his hand on the phone. I worked my way upriver slowly. I worked a lot in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower Ninth Ward. This area was not wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. But, it was seriously damaged. It is coming back pretty well. But, it’s taken over eight years. I made this picture from the levee along The Mississippi River in Holy Cross. In the background you can see most of New Orleans. Toward the left you can see a bridge. That’s The Crescent City Connection. That’s how I get to Point Algiers when I shoot sunset and dusk with the Central Business District in the background. The rest of the picture is composed of clouds. The clouds are why I really came.
Yes. You’ve seen both of these locations in the past. But, these pictures are new. I promise. In my house the phrase “I promise” means a lot. I suppose there is a reason that the oldest section of New Orleans is called The French Quarter, or in French, Vieux Carre. It was originally… wait for it… French. But, much of the architecture is not. Back in the day, the Quarter burned many times. The resulting architecture is actually Spanish except for here or there. And, of course, a lot of American and Federal architecture. But, that came later.
But these two places, Pirate Alley and the one apartment building on Royal Street that I keep returning to, look so French that sometimes if I let my mind wander, I think I’m in Paris. So, I return there on my walks through the Quarter. Of course, the poodle knows these routes too. So he leads me. He’s French. He knows. I just follow him and push buttons. That’s just a riff on an old Jerry Seinfeld joke.
What’s different about them? Why take them again? Well. The apartment building has Christmas lights on it. One weak little string. I don’t know if the resident is afraid of burning down the building, or he doesn’t care or what. But, it struck me as, well, I don’t know. Maybe ironic? Maybe a little sad. I’m just guessing. He, or she, may be a quirky millionaire for all I know. But, he does have a garden hose draped down from the floor above the balcony. What’s that about?
Pirate Alley is a little different from my last version of it. There’s a person huddled against the cold, talking on her cellphone. It is not as graphic as my last offering. This version is a little more “street.” You can see a little more of the place. It also isn’t quite as colorful, with the dominating red light.
They say that the best pictures come when you really know a place. You move from the predictable to something a little more special. I suppose that’s what I’m trying to do. Eventually I’ll get it.
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