New Orleans Color

Remember the yellow picture? It’s posted on my Laskowitzpictures page on Facebook. A lot of readers have commented on it. Well. Many people think New Orleans really doesn’t change all that much. They think we are steeped in tradition.  In many ways we are. And, we probably would have remained remain that way. But, Hurricane Katrina changed things. A lot of things. Many people left. New people arrived. People started businesses. Some failed. Some prospered. Even though The Joint opened a few years before the storm, it became very successful after the storm. It grew so big that the owners found a much bigger building and moved. It is still located in The Bywater, which is also experiencing huge changes and growth. It’s those hipsters again.

Anyway. The bright yellow wall was painted bright blue. The funky, painted garden chairs became red and black kitchen chairs.

Everything changes. Even the little things. Even in New Orleans.


On Marais Street

So. I met this guy a few weeks ago when I was poking around what is now called “The New Bywater.” New Bywater, indeed. It’s a an area of the Upper Ninth Ward. At one time it was downriver from a neighborhood called St. Roch. Well. It still is. The neighborhood didn’t move. It was just renamed. By realtors. While St. Roch was mostly built and developed by Germans, this area was developed by Italians. In fact, the building that Scot — that’s his name — is standing near, is actually Italianate in design. But, you wouldn’t know it. Not today.

So who is this guy? Well, he’s the king of this particular block of Marais Street. That’s not what he calls himself. He’s actually a pretty smart and well read guy. We talked for a while on a variety of topics.  He also was a reporter for the Times-Picyune for ten years. He knows the area very well. Unlike a lot of guys I photograph in neighborhoods like these, he didn’t ask for anything except for a few pictures. I sent them today via email. He is living in the only functional and habitable house on the street. He looks after the others for their owners. Yes. This neighborhood was heavily flooded during Hurricane Katrina. The difference between this area and The Lower Ninth Ward is simple. The  buildings in the Lower Ninth Ward were mostly swept away by powerful water. In this neighborhood, the houses took on 12 or 15 feet of water, but the water flow wasn’t strong enough to move the buildings. So, they sit in various stages of remediation. Or not. Some are just abandoned. They can be bought for very little money if you can find the legal owner. As you get closer to the main street in the area — St. Claude — many of the houses have been rebuilt by a new population. Hipsters.

The picture. The photographic technique is simple. The approach is also simple. Smile. Talk to the subject. And, ask if I could take his picture. Oh yeah. Make sure that I kept my promise. Send him some pictures.

Rain on my windshield as I passed by the levee.
Unpaved streets lead to nothing.
More bleakness and reminders of broken lives.

These three pictures are the last of my Lower Ninth Ward visit. I have a few more images from that day, but it’s getting to be time to move on. Not to worry. I’ll go back again. And again. And… again. I’m not sure what more I can add to this post. I think, once our traveling settles down, in about three weeks, I’ll start working harder in Central City and out here. In the Lower Ninth Ward. These are stories that need to be told. Need to be documented. Need to be photographed. There. For those of you who keep saying a book, a book, a book… maybe there is one.

The pictures are pretty documentary. Find the subject. Make the exposure. Make the picture. In post production, I try to find the color palette and other modifications to bring the proper feel to the pictures. That’s about it.

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The new levee designed to protect the Lower Ninth Ward

This picture may just seem like a bunch of lines and sky. But, it’s far more important than that. For those of you who watched Hurricane Katrina destroy The Lower Ninth Ward as well as about 80% of New Orleans, you know that it was not the hurricane itself that did the job. It was the failure of the levees. There were over 50 breaches, including two major breaches along the Industrial Canal which turned The Lower Ninth Ward into a wasteland of water, mud, broken homes, twisted trees and overturned cars and trucks. Yes. There were also many people who died there, making most of The Lower Ninth Ward sacred ground. It is also important to know that the levees did not overtop. They were breached mostly due to poor design and shoddy maintenance. In fact, the levee protecting The Lower Ninth Ward had a hole blown through it that was a quarter of a mile wide. Even a barge managed to float through that giant hole. Many local people call this The Federal Flood because of those failures.

The levee you are looking at is the new Industrial Canal levee. It is armored. It is sunk deeper into the ground. And, it held fast for the last hurricane, which was last summer’s Isaac. With luck, we won’t see a storm with Katrina’s strength and potential for significant damage for many years to come. With even more luck, this levee and all the new levees around the city will hold.

The picture. It’s sort of hard to made such a simple picture, so I worked the picture a little more than normal in post production. Hopefully, it worked. Sorta. Funny about that simplicity thing. The older I get, the more I try to work towards simplicity. But, it isn’t easy.

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Rain falls on the yet to be fully rebuilt Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Things are going to get a little busy around my normal posting time, so here goes. Sunday. Oh yeah. That’s gonna get a little weird too. I’ll deal with that later.

Anyway. A few weeks ago, I took a couple of out-of-town friends on a tour of The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. They were pretty amazed that not more property had been repaired and restored. They also were pretty unimpressed with the Make It Right Homes. Brad Pitt’s project. I have to say, that after a few years, those Disney-like homes look pretty worn and tattered. So. I decided to go back and work. I usually go back and wander around every month or so. But, I’ve been a little busy and I haven’t gotten back as often as I should. I went back on a good day for what I was feeling. Dark. Stormy. Bleak. I don’t care how many homes have been built by Make It Right, or the few that have been built by home owners who managed to cobble together enough money to rebuild, it still looks and feels very sad. It’s coming to eight years.

This picture. Hmmmm… Music was the key. I played a somewhat new Neil Young song called Ramada Inn. It’s long. I still managed to play it about five or six times. The lyrics have nothing to do with this place. They are about a couple who have been married “for forever” and alcohol is getting in the way. But, the melody just set the tone for this work. Dark. Brooding.

Upstairs at Rum Boogie located on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

You know that I like color. Bright, bold color. So when I climbed the circular stairs to the second floor of a music club called Rum Boogie, I was ecstatic. Not only was there an opening where I could look down and photograph the stage, but there are large windows where I could photograph the street and the action outside. I made a lot of pictures looking outside, but I like this one. A lot. I like the compression of all of the neon lights. I like their brightness. And, I like all the red and orange. As for the area where I could photograph the stage? It wasn’t all that great. The general composition of musicians on stage looked odd to my eye. After all, I mostly saw the tops of their heads and their instruments. I guess I really like to work as close to the stage, on the stage or side stage. That puts me in the middle of things and since I like to engage the subject, those locations work for me. I also like to work with shorter, wider lenses which help set the scene. Some times, I get lucky enough to sort of give a musician instructions with my eyes. You know. Sort of like, “look this way” or “raise or lower your head.” They generally do what I suggest. They want to get rid of me.

Red and Blue. Hot and Cold.
Red and Blue. Hot and Cold.

Well. Red and Blue. Hot and cold. If only the colors matched the heat. Oh well. The blue picture is hot. That is Eleanor Tsaig, the lead singer of an Israeli blues band called Ori Naftaly. She is one helluva blues belter in the mode of Janis Joplin. We met them in Memphis. The red picture is cool. That’s the singer Redd Velvet whose singing is cool and very seductive. We met her in Memphis too. Unlike the Ori Naftaly Band, she’s a local. She lives in Memphis. She didn’t have to travel 10,000 miles to perform. In case you are wondering, as I did, Ori Naftaly is the name of the band’s founder and lead guitarist.

The pictures. In case you haven’t figured it out. I’m different. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes a little. Many photographers would have blasted away with a strobe in the two situations that you see. But, that would hurt the ambience. In many pictures, ambience is everything. It’s the red, the blue, that make the pictures. If I used a strobe, there would be nice, clean white light. But, no ambient light. Or, you could filter the light. You could add colored gels to it. But, what would be the point? The whole room is a colored gel.


The “cute little bass player.”

Confusion. We’ve been down a little, so I’ve taken the opportunity to work through the last seven weeks worth of work. I was looking for potential portfolio images as well as the quirky images on which I’ve built a career. As I edited, I realized that I made a lot of pictures. Over the course of the last seven weeks I probably made 12,000 exposures. Guess what? When you shoot a lot you raise the bar. Not only are there a lot of pictures from which to choose, but you sort of work on instinct. For me, that means my work improves. I suppose my working method becomes smoother and I think about what I’m doing less. Just like hitting or catching a baseball, the less you think, the better you get. That’s why you practice. Hopefully.

So, about the “cute little bass player.” First, I’m not alone in that. Men and women all said that. She’s 15. She plays the bass very, very well. She plays in a band that we saw in Memphis. They are from Texas. They were in a youth showcase. When they took the stage, most people really didn’t pay attention. After about  half of their opening song, everybody in the bar was riveted. They played a twenty-minute set, getting better and better with every song. Not only did she anchor the music, but she sang and danced. The entire band  pretty much blew us away. As long as they stay focused, they have a long a great future ahead of them

The picture. It did take some work. The bar was pretty dark, even with the stage lighting. So. In order to make the image, I used a little higher ISO than I would have liked. But, it seems to have worked out just fine. With some post production help. What I’m a going to publish on Friday, I don’t know. I worked on five or six pictures that I really like. There is no flow to this little mini-collection. I guess I’ll follow my muse.

Yellow House
Big Yellow House

In New Orleans we like color. I love color. You know that. This is a bit much. I was tooling around one day in Lower Ninth Ward, on the river side. This part of the area was not completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the breach of the levees as it was across Claiborne Avenue on what we would call the lake side. Buildings and houses were flooded here by very deep water. But, they weren’t ripped off their foundations. The weren’t broken in two. And, they weren’t torn apart.

However, it did take the residents a long time to either remediate and rebuild their property, or sell their damage houses.

When people finally did get moving on their houses, strange things started happening. Since many people were not insured for replacement value of their homes, they had to work with what money they managed to cobble together. The rebuilt cheaply and they bought what they could at discount prices. At a time when there were no discount prices. Often you see it in the exteriors of the buildings. Bright paint. It’s not so fashionable, so it doesn’t cost as much as more trendy colors. And, check it out. This yellow house, which at one time may have been a grocery store, bakery or some other local shop, is not the only bright building in the picture. Right next door on our left is a bright blue house. Look in the background to the right. Red houses. It looks like this neighborhood got a special deal on primary colored paint. It doesn’t really matter. These folks rebuilt and moved back home. They are tough people. Very tough people.

The picture. It just had to find the house and make the picture. And, expose it properly to bring out the saturation.