I’ve been photographing this little building on and off for over a decade. I guess that I just like the shape and its isolation from the rest of the street. The pizza joint on the ground floor holds special memories for me. Well, for a lot of us. It was one of the first places to open after Hurricane Katrina. When I finally returned to the city after the floodwaters receded to begin the clean up of my house, there was almost no restaurants open on my side of town. Unless you brought food in with you, or waited for The Salvation Army’s rolling lunch trucks, there was very little that you could do for food. But, you could go to The French Quarter which was left relatively unscathed by the storm. A couple of places opened up as quickly as they could. This was one of those places. The Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. For the days when I was working hard on my house and I need a break I would head there. They were very, very good neighbors. If you had a New Orleans ID, they gave you a very deep discount. So, a lot of us ate there. I take one memory in particular away from that time. The streets were mostly only being patrolled by The National Guard. That was a good thing. But, there weren’t that many of them. And, their role was reduced. If they caught a bad guy, all the could was hold him until the police arrived. There were even less of them. So, we armed ourselves. I worked on my house with a gun on my hip. Just about everybody else did too. So, when I walked into the pizza place one day, I noticed one thing. We were all armed to the teeth. Pity the bad guy who thought that he’d rob the place.
Anyway. In the ten years or so since I’ve been photographing this place, one thing has been happening. It’s being demoed by neglect. Although you can’t see it from the front, the roof has entirely collapsed. And, that’s too bad. I don’t know the history of this building. But, I know the shaped and style of the building. I’d be making a pretty good and informed guess if I said it was built in the very early 1800s. In a city that is very, very old that may mean very little. But still…
The picture. I made a bunch of keepers a couple of nights ago. I photographed the closed for the day French Market and turned around to see how this building was doing. The light was cool, so I made some pictures. Post production helped even more.
A little housekeeping. This month – July — has been my worst since I started producing this blog. Very little readership. I have no idea why. Things come and go. People don’t sit at their computers as much during summer. My work sucks. My work has become boring. You gotten bored with me. Whatever. I walk a very fine line. As somebody who runs a business — a couple of them, actually — I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. Things like this are seasonal. But, as an artist who likes to show my work, it matters a lot. So…. I might take a hiatus. I may take some time to figure out my direction. Of course, that creates problems of its own. It removes something from a daily routine. You know how that goes.
I suppose that The French Quarter and Frenchman Street have become two of “my places.” I seem to be able to recharge when I wander around there. And, with good reason. Even during our so-called off-season, there are plenty of people wandering around. There is always good music. And, there is plenty of good food to eat. Oh yeah. There are coffee houses just about everywhere. If I time it right, wait for good light or even just normal just lighting, the pictures just sort of come to me. I don’t have to force them. They are just there.
This picture. I was just walking across the street and watching people share the cross walk. I shot at a low shutter speed and a pretty much wide open f-stop. The night took care of the rest. That’s it. Very little post production…. mostly just to clean up the edges.
Hmmmm. I think I stumbled upon a secret the other night when we were wandering around The French Quarter. I’ve always wondered where king cake babies were made and stored when they weren’t in use. Now I know. But first… a king cake baby. King cakes are pastries that are made specifically for Mardi Gras. Although, like any money-making business, the production of them seems to have been spread out over the year. But… traditionally, they are just for Mardi Gras. There are a lot of favorite recipes for making the actual cake and filling. But, the one thing that they all share is a very sugary frosting that has some combination of gold, green and purple coloring baked into it. Mardi Gras colors. Some is powdery. Some has sparkles. Some is creamy. There is one other addition. A plastic baby is baked into the cake. There are all sorts of traditions that go along with actually receiving the baby with or in your piece of cake. Some folks say that the recipient of the baby buys the next cake. Some people collect them. Others, like my dog, spit them out on the floor. Yes. My dogs get king cake. I know it’s not all that good for them, or me, but it’s tradition.
Anyway. We were walking down Decatur Street when I spied these big evil plastic dolls. I did what any normal, right-thinking person would do. I made a bunch of pictures. Then, I proceeded to make the dolls look even weirder in post production. The first thing that struck me when I saw these things was how much they resemble big king cake babies. Of course, these babies don’t look very happy. In fact, there might be some question of who is going to eat who first.
After I started thinking about it, I realized a pretty steady diet of photographing broken stuff was getting a little depressing. Not being one to wallow in that, I made a change. I realized that we hadn’t been to The French Quarter in quite a while. So, even though it was Saturday night, that’s where we went. There is nothing like dinner and a walk in The Quarter during mid-summer. After all, where can you eat and then take a free sauna… while you are walking. No spa has that. You can’t buy that experience. I also wanted to photograph people, so we headed to Bourbon Street where every night is Mardi Gras. I wasn’t disappointed. There was one big crowd. They were screaming for beads. I had a funny exchange with some woman who was asking for beads. It went like this. Woman: “Why are you taking my picture?” Me: “You are in my picture.” Woman: “Oh.” And, then we both started laughing.
While we were walking around, I thought that The Quarter was pretty busy, especially for mid-summer when we are “out of season” because of the heat and humidity. But, after a while, I thought about it. I never park in a lot. I sort of have a route that I follow through the streets when I look for parking. Normally, that takes about 10 or 15 minutes. No big deal. Last night it took like three minutes. That’s not a good sign. It could have been luck. But, not on a saturday night. Sure. Tourists either take public transportation or have their cars stored by their hotel, but you can see those lots when you walk around. None were full. Or, even close to it. And, the taxis were relentless… meaning they weren’t getting enough fares.
Anyway. This is supposed to be what I do. Make pictures of people. But, you wouldn’t know it from the last 3,549,715 posts on Storyteller. Yeah. I made this picture with a 16mm lens. So. How close was I?
I thought I would clean up my desktop a little bit. I don’t feel like writing much. Two people passed yesterday who mattered to me even though I’d only met each of them once. The first, was the grande dame of New Orleans. Lindy Hale Boggs. If you don’t know about her, go to http-::www.foxnews.com:politics:2013:07:27:former-rep-lindy-boggs-louisiana-dies-at-7-1802029764: She, as David Simpkins — an old friend of mine would say, “was one of the good ‘uns.” He’d probably say the same thing about J.J. Cale. If you don’t know his music, have a look at this. http-::www.youtube.com:watch?v=l8uk7vlk0sE That clip is from one of his good friend Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festivals. That beaming female guitar player is his wife.
The pictures? More-or-less they are out takes from many of the scenes I’ve shown you over the last months. Enjoy them
Credit where it is… due. David Simpkins in a fine musician who lives in Radford, VA. The title of this post — Dis, Dat and Da Udder is New Orleans Yat speak. Or Brooklynese. Whatever you like. I was reminded of this in an email and Facebook conversation with my old friend Gale Sutton, a wonderful New Mexican photographer, who managed to call The Quarter (as in French Quarter), The Quarters. How Yat of her. She sent me a list of Yatish words.
Today, we are sad. Tomorrow we’ll dance. How New Orleans of me.
I thought that I should show you the place were I made yesterday’s sink picture. Here it is. It may have been the only gas station in Central City. At least in the heart of the area. There are plenty along the northern border, but nothing as you get into the place, itself. I have no idea when it closed. There are no gas prices on those semi-modern pumps. But, the style of the station means that it was originally built in the late 1920s or 30s. The brick facade is newer than that. But, that semi-Oriental roof was popular in New Orleans in about the time I mentioned.
Oh. The place is locked up tight. How did I get in? See the house on the left? Walk through the lot between that house and this station and the back door to the station is wide open. So much for security.
The picture? Oh that’s easy. See it. Stop. Get out of the car… with a camera in hand. (That’s essential.) Stand in front of the place. Push the button. Change the exposure slightly. Push the button again. Take a couple of back up exposures. (After all, the building might have moved.) Walk back to the car, hopeful that it hasn’t been stolen in the two minutes you were out. Yeah. It’s that kind of neighborhood.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but because of the sink’s brightness, this picture is about the sink. Okay. Where it is located is not a mystery. It’s in a mechanic’s workshop of an abandoned gas station in Central City. I snuck in to make a picture. Well, not really. I just walked in through an open backdoor. Like many abandoned things, the front is closed up nice and tight. But, the back entrances always seem to be left wide open. I think it’s just a bluff. And, it’s a lot less expensive to not seal everything up tightly. Casual passersby won’t try to break in. Only the more dedicated people like me will actually find a way in to make their mischief.
The real mystery to me is why the sink still remains. Usually, when buildings are abandoned, they are also trashed by folks who steal and sell scrap. Sometimes, they don’t even wait that long. When I owned my first house, pre-Katrina, I had an ancient iron fence and gate. You know, one of those 1800s wrought iron things. My neighbors suggested that I take a picture of it because it would be stolen. It was. Three times. It always ended up in one antique store across Lake Ponchartrain. I think that they had a standing deal with the thief who kept taking it. There is some kind of law in the state that says if you find your stolen building item in a store, the owners have to return it to you. No questions asked… or answered. That’s why I kept getting it back. How did I know to go to that store? I can’t remember exactly. But, it seemed like it was common knowledge.
The picture? Nothing to it. Sneak and point your camera. Post production? Yeah. Lots of it. I wanted the picture to make you feel something like I felt.
Ah. This is a quintessential Central City story. It might be a New Orleans story, but I’ve yet to have it happen to me anywhere else. This is a Hoffman Triangle building. It’s also a classic New Orleans building. There is one entrance on the corner that is sort of diagonal to the corner, meaning it was once some kind of shop, likely a “food store.” That’s a little neighborhood mom and pop grocery store. Most of them are gone today, the victim of big chains and box stores. But, in their day, they dotted the landscape of almost every New Orleans neighborhood. At least, every blue color working class neighborhood. The owners knew everybody in their ‘hood. They stocked groceries that they knew met their customers needs, not because of some super date mining software, but because they actually knew their customers. Typically, the store owner lived in the back or the top of the building. Talk about having an easy commute.
Anyway. Back to the picture and the story behind it.
The building looks abandoned. Right? Wrong. Well it might be. I have my theories about that. But, I was making pictures of the neighborhood, when my eye was drawn to this building. And, as I usually do, I started working from a little distance and then worked closer and closer until I was photographing the tear in the screen door that you see in this picture. I heard voices. Uh oh. I didn’t think much of it, but I started walking away when out comes this big dude with his hair styled in dreads down to the middle of his back. He asked the obvious question. Why was I taking pictures? He didn’t seem angry or all that threatening, so I advance slightly with a smile on my face. When I told him that the pictures were just for me and that I really didn’t want to make any trouble for him, he sort of relaxed and said, “that’s cool,” with a smile on his face. Then I turned the table on him. I asked if I could make his picture. He just about ran away. Between the, the boarded windows and the covered electric meters, my theory formed. I’ll leave that to you.
The picture? Well, it’s the couch that caught my eye. I flashed back to 1969 and the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album. The three of them were photographed sitting on a couch in front of a run down house in Los Angeles. I’m sure that those of you who are old enough, remember that. And, those who are too young to remember 1969, they are a band. They may have changed the world. They still are working today. In fact, after the years of stumbling around, they seem to have been reborn and have been super productive in the last two years. They’re all pushing 70. Let that be a lesson to y’all.
I’ve had a couple of comments about this little series of Central City pictures. The pictures aren’t very pretty. Or, they are too pretty. Well. Which is it? Here’s what I say. Central City isn’t a very pretty place. Aside from what is left of The Lower Ninth Ward, it is the only unreclaimed and unrestored area in the city. And yet, it is the only remaining high ground in the city that hasn’t been gentrified. About 70% of the structures are uninhabitable. The murder rate is the highest in the city. The people are underemployed. And, the area is underserved. How are the pictures supposed to be pretty? Then, there is the too pretty thing. Well, yeah. I try to follow my own rules for making a somewhat good photograph. I work at the ends of day. That changes everything, right there. The little bit of golden light, the long shadows and the brighter colors do tend to make the picture look a little “pretty.”
So. If you want my pictures to reveal the real sense of place and not be “too pretty”, how about this one? It’s one of about 20,000 abandoned buildings in Central City. The number is a guess. Don’t hold me to it. It’s been a number of things over its lifespan. Now, it’s falling apart. At the very least, it needs a paint job. Who knows what the interior structure looks like? I made the picture on a brighter day than this image suggests. I added most of the grimy and gritty feeling in post production. That, in itself, speaks to how most people see Central City. But…
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