Not Your Usual New Orleans

Glowing Central Business District, or CBD as we call it.
Glowing Central Business District, or CBD as we call it.

It’s art. I suppose. I had an assignment to photograph and architect just down the street in One Shell Plaza. As I was walking back, everything was just sparkling on our first sunny day after the “Great Ice Storm of 2014.” Wonderful winter light. So, I took my time getting back to my car and made a few pictures. It was one of those days when a too high in the sky sun looked good. I’m not sure what more to say. It was nature’s day. Not mine.

Yes. A little bit of post production to clean and darken things a bit on this one.

But, then I go an idea. Here it is.

Experimental. CBD.
Experimental. CBD.

I usually make a horizontal and vertical image of the same scene. This is the horizontal version with a lot more post production. I kind of like this version best. What about you?

I think it has a certain something. It certainly has a lot more post production. Wow! When I previewed it, WordPress’ compression software sure did a number on the coy. I wish you could see the original.

Central City People

Second Lines are about giving in more ways than one.
Second Lines are about giving in more ways than one.

Central City is more than just broken buildings. Even without gentrification it is a vibrant community much as Treme was before the highway planners dropped I-10 in the middle of it and cut it in two, destroying one of the most beautiful avenues in the city and pretty much destroying the neighborhood. At least that what the people with whom I’ve talked say. And, that is pretty much backed up by history books and newspaper stories of the time. Yes. I do my research.

This is the beginning of a second line parade. The participants are coming out of a local watering hole where they got organized prior to hitting the streets. They pass through a human wall as they turn onto the streets. One of this neighborhood’s local traditions is to throw dollar bills into the crowd. That’s why you see them floating around in front of my lens. This is also example of my working style. The picture was made with a 16mm lens. So, I was pretty close. And, pretty lucky. I really wanted those bills to be in sharpest focus. I’m not quite quick enough to do that manually so I set the camera’s auto focus to focus on the mid range things in front of me rather than the faces. Even with that technology, it’s still a bit of a crap shoot. But, the camera did its job. Even that woman’s long green painted finger nails are just slightly soft. How cool is that?

One more thing, in order to make the subject — the cash – pop out, I opened the lens to f 4. That pretty much guaranteed that there would be a bit of softness front and back.

Back on the Case

Rebuilding. Sort of....
Rebuilding. Sort of….

Okay. So, I started back to work on my original long form project. I read something in some local neighborhood newspaper that scared me, so I got back to it. What did I read, you may be wondering? In a nutshell, that by the end of this year — 2014 — most of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard will be completely gentrified as will the main traffic corridor — Carrollton Avenue — the northern boundary as it applies to Central City. Well, not really the northern boundary. Actually, Central City stretches well above that. But, not many people realize that.


This place is interesting to me. First, the cinder block building is somebody’s home. I have no idea if they actually own or rent it, but they did what they needed to do to secure it. Then there’s that mound. Likely, that’s either the remains of what might have been in the house, like old dry wall or even old doors and flooring. Or, it could be a buried body. A big one. Kidding. It’s a rough and tumble neighborhood, but not that bad. I also like the roof. I just have to wonder where it leaks. Probably everywhere.

As for this gentrification in a year? Hmmmm…. This is New Orleans. Nothing moves very fast.

The Churches

Exterior of  the two churches that you saw last week.
Exterior of the two churches that you saw the last week.

Churches. This was last week. On a nice day. Today we are a bit cold, but not frozen to the point that our power is failing. In fact, as I know it, the only power failure that occurred today was in the Lower Ninth Ward. All the big media outlets made a huge deal out of it. And it was a big deal. It lasted for all of 4 minutes.


The approaching storm did shut everything down. I was supposed to return to these churches today to begin work on a longer project. But, oh no. Everything was closed. Likely, I’ll return on Thursday when things warm up a bit. Or maybe not. The old church is no longer heated. Even on the nice day when I was there, it was cold.


This is what New Orleans major buildings look like if they were built in the late 1800s by local craftsmen. In case you are wondering, there is absolutely no way of framing the picture to eliminate those electrical transformers. In most cities that sort of stuff is kept under ground. But, not in New Orleans. Underground either means underwater or in sinking former swamp land. If you think our huge potholes are bad, just think about sinking electricity.

Girl in the Window (Or Something Like That)

Looking in windows in the Lower Garden District
Looking in windows in the Lower Garden District

Often when I’m prowling around the neighborhood I just photograph what I see.  This very weird little doll caught my eye from across the street. I thought it was just weird enough that I really worked that window more than I usually do. I even went inside and talked to the owner of this little antique store. She claims that this doll was made in the 50s. The 1850s. I guess so. The face looks a little too finely featured to be that old. But, what do I know? I know very little about antiques.

If I am missing for a couple of days, no worries. It likely means we have no electric power. Yes. I paid the bill. What do you take me for? We are under a two-day winter storm warning. Just about everything in the state is closed. The mayor of New Orleans already declared a state of emergency. Friends report the food was flying off the shelves in many grocery stores and folks were gassing up like they do when we are in the path of a hurricane. Some are thinking about bugging out. I don’t know where they think that they’ll go. This storm — called Leon — stretches from Houston to the Atlantic Coast of North Carolina.

Leon? I didn’t even know there were names for winter storms.

Anyway, we’ll be fine. A fireplace in the kitchen in which to cook if need be. Hey! It’s an old house. Like that doll, it was made in the 1850s. Storm lanterns (normally used for hurricane power failures) and dogs to keep us warm. The poodle says, “Bring it on.” Or, “Woof, woof, woof.”

Empty Rooms

Yet, another abandoned building in New Orleans.
Yet, another abandoned building in New Orleans.

I’ve walked by this building numerous times. It’s got an interesting exterior shape. But, I’ve never looked through the windows. A couple of days ago I did. You are looking at what I saw.  I decided to leave the window grill in the picture. I could have used a slightly longer lens, photographed past the grill and made it look like I was actually inside. But, this is what I saw.  It’s honest and real. There’s also a little bit of reflection from some of the remaining glass. I think that adds a little bit to the picture. Yes. It’s a late afternoon picture, so the yellow glow is real.

In case, you’re wondering, I have no idea what this building housed. Looks kind of medical. But, I’m just guessing.

I Saw a Bright Light and Then…

St. Mary's Assumption Church
St. Mary’s Assumption Church

Well it could be some spiritual event. But, not this time. This time it was a combination of me finding the right light as it streamed in St. Mary’s Assumption Church and using the proper f-stop to create a glowing starburst.

Since we talked about the churches as I’ve photographed them so far, I thought I’d talk about making this picture. While there is the reaching hand from the statue, the real eye catcher is the starburst. You have a number of options when you want to turn some kind of streaming light into a starburst. You can do it in Photoshop or some other editing software. You can buy filters that will do the trick as you rotate them. This can actually give various multi-point starburst. But, I prefer to do it in camera. Here’s the trick. The further you stop down the sharper and smaller the starburst will be. So, at something like f 2.8, you’ll have no starburst. At something like f 16, you’ll have a very sharp starburst and maybe a lot of points of light. But, this is a heavenly starburst sent down to illuminate someone or something. So, this starburst was made at f 5.6. It’s soft and glowing. I could have taken it really far in post production, but I didn’t. Instead, I just darkened some over exposed areas that needed a little help. The rest is pretty much as I saw it.

Talking about “heavenly” did bring something to mind. Even if you know you are going to do a lot of manipulations in post production, it really does have a vision in mind when you make the original, base exposure. trying to figure out something after the fact is usually a time waster, at best. At worst, you run the risk of making some “mushy” with no real point of view.

Then, Around The Corner

St. Mary's Assumption Church
St. Mary’s Assumption Church
St. Mary's Assumption Church
St. Mary’s Assumption Church
St. Mary's assumption Church
St. Mary’s Assumption Church

After I toured St. Alphonsus, my guides suggested that I take a walk around the corner and have a look at one of the working churches. These folks seemed to know what they were talking about, so I did. I checked in at The Seelos Center and they gave my very exact instructions for getting into the church. They told me that I could  only leave the way that I entered because all sorts of alarms go off and the police will come before anyone arrives to let me out. Okaaaaaay.

But, first. In case you are wondering about this Seelos Center place, here’s a little backstory. Father Francis Xavier Seelos worked constantly with the poor, especially children. He did it in Pittsburgh. He did it in Baltimore. In New Orleans he was the pastor of St. Mary’s Assumption Church during a time of a Yellow Fever epidemic. He cared for anyone who caught it. In time he contracted it too and died at the age of 48 in 1867. He was beatified in 2000, has been vetted and is on the very, very shortlist for sainthood. See? More saints come from New Orleans than just a football team.

Now, about this church. This particular church is the oldest of the three in the “compound, having been built in 1860. It is the German church. It was declared a historic landmark in 1974. That’s what history books tell you. There’s more. There’s always more. All of these churches were built by hand. The builders, artisans and craftsmen built these churches in whatever spare time that they had after they were done working on building the city. They were lovingly constructed and decorated by people who volunteered their time for something in which they believed.

That’s how I see these churches. It doesn’t matter what I believe. It doesn’t matter what anyone believes. Not to me, anyway. These buildings are all artistic wonders. The detail, workmanship and craftsmanship that went into constructing these churches is — in a word — amazing. That’s what I saw when I began to photograph them. That’s what drew me to them at first glance. That’s what these pictures are about. That’s what I will continue to focus on.


A church that is coming apart.
A church that is coming apart.
St Alphonsus Parish
St Alphonsus Parish

I think I’m getting ready to take on a little project. Here’s what happened. A little traveling is in the future — like tomorrow — so I decided to take part of the day off and just explore. Just when I think that I’ve just about seen everything that New Orleans has to offer, the city proves me wrong. Very wrong. I’m getting used to it.

I was aware of this little area of The Lower Garden District, but if I drove through it once in the past I probably didn’t know what I was looking at. It is what I call The Catholic Church compound. Three churches. One built for the Irish, one for the Germans and one for the Italians. There is also a school, a senior center and a senior living facility as well as the Seelos Center that ministers to the sick and the poor.

I was walking around the neighborhood when I started walking down the street that divides the “compound” and noticed that one of the church doors was open. So, in I went. As you know, I’m Superman as long as I have a camera in my hand. There were a couple of people in there who acted as docents and historians. I had a nice long talk with a couple of them and one showed me around the church. The church that was built for the Irish. It is currently decommissioned so I was free to walk anywhere I liked, even on the altar. They have a nice little museum tucked away in what might have been the sacristy and I was free to photograph it.

Since the church is not in use except for one-off events like a concert or variety show, it is starting to fall apart. The folks showing me around are hoping to drum up some publicity to keep it in good enough shape to function as a concert hall. It is stunningly beautiful and has incredible acoustics. So, I’m happy to help. After all, they are pretty much my neighbors. I started thinking. Yeah. Yeah. I know. That’s pretty dangerous. I’m going to start looking for an editorial client — something old school like Smithsonian Magazine — and have a discussion with them to see if they might be interested. I know what you are thinking. Why not National Geographic? This would be a smaller story. It’s not expansive enough. It can’t be. But, there is a huge amount of history to this neighborhood. So…

These pictures. I photographed what I saw. At first I just made pictures of everything. Than I began to get some clarity. I made a lot of pictures in a short time. Maybe 400 frames in about an hour or so. That’s a lot for anybody. Even me. Especially me. I’ll show you some more in the next few days.