Flambeaux
Flambeaux

Flambeaux. Well this is curious. I Googled flambeaux to make sure I had the details correct. Guess what? My post from last year came up as number 10 on the page. The only difference is that I published it last year on Feb 10, which makes sense because I shot the pictures, posted them and left for Los Angeles the next day. From there I went to Australia. That was some year.

Anyway. At the risk of repeating myself, Flambeaux carry these lighted torches for the length of parade. They dance and swing around hoping to earn tips. I have a thing about that. I always tip them a dollar and I always give it directly to the man I photographed. Here’s why. In the old days — the way old days after the Civil War — many of these guys were former slaves. Since there wasn’t much street lighting back then, they lighted the way for the parades. Spectators tossed coins at them and Flambeaux stooped down to pick up the coins. Think this through and I won’t have to write the rest. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t feel right to me to make grown men carrying 70 pound propane tanks bend over to pick up a quarter. So, I hand them a dollar bill… from my hand to theirs.

So. Last year’s picture is a portrait of a flambeaux standing in the street. It is nothing like this one.This was made just prior to the parade after the torches were first lighted. It’s a 16mm lens picture. Pretty close, eh? Yes. The man looking at me, was given a tip. Those torches are hot. He earned it.

It’s very interesting for me and parades. I kept bouncing from flambeaux to The United States Marine Corps Marching Band. I’ll show you a couple of pictures of them later next week. I have a lot of pictures to process and I’m physically tired. I can’t recover as quickly as I used to. Certainly not in the 12 hours I had to rest between shoots.

I’ll tell you the back story now. I noticed that these Marines were pretty heavily decorated and the very lowest rank was Lance Corporal. Most were more senior sergeants. Photographers talk to each other while we are waiting, waiting and waiting. I was fortunate enough to talk to the USMC photographer. It turns out that even though these Marines’ MOS was band musician, once a Rifleman always a Rifleman. Many of these Marines saw some pretty heavy combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Or both. Tonight they walked in New Orleans. They started with “The Star Spangled Banner” and then played “From the Halls of Montezuma.” What do you say to that?

Oorah.

 

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One of the "big ones. " Krewe of Muses.
One of the “big ones. ” Krewe of Muses.

What you need to know. In Greek mythology the nine Muses were the daughters of Zeus. In New Orleans, the Krewe of Muses first began parading in 2001 and now has over 1,000 riding members. They are the first all female parade to roll at night on the Uptown route. Their most prime “throw” is a highly decorated shoe. It is an honor to be given one. No. They are not really thrown as beads and other trinkets are.

On a personal level, my God daughter’s mom is a Muse. So, this parade is near and dear to my heart.

The picture. I finally found a little elevation. It was just a ramp walkway to business door. But, every foot helps. This gave me both the right height and distance to make what a lot of editors consider to be the “perfect” picture. A float. The crowd. And, reasonably good light. It’s really not my style of picture. It’s a little too clean for me. But, it does give you an idea of what a Mardi Gras parade looks like. A real good idea.

Enjoy it. Happy Mardi Gras.

 


Druids everywhere.
Druids everywhere.

I felt Harry Pottered. There were Druids everywhere. They came out of about eight school busses which pulled up along Magazine Street. There must have been 200 or 300 of them . They marched up Magazine Street, turned left on Jefferson and mounted their floats. They did the right thing. After all, the first parade was the Krewe of Druids.

Wanna see another picture?

More Druids
More Druids

Same location. Different lens.

The funny thing about these guys is that they had no idea how imposing they looked as they poured off their school buses. With their masks and my positioning, they could have been planning something real bad at the bank. Hmmm… maybe there is something to that. A movie, maybe. I’m not that original. I’m sure it’s been though of.


Waiting for the rain to stop and a quick portrait. One.
Waiting for the rain to stop and a quick portrait. One.
Waiting for the rain to stop and a quick portrait. Two.
Waiting for the rain to stop and a quick portrait. Two.

Here’s the backstory. As I wrote, we at the Krewe of Barkus were forced to deal with some pretty rainy weather. Early on we were able to duck under some overhangs in Armstrong Park. Yes. That’s Louis Armstrong. Satchmo. New Orleans’ own. “What a Wonderful World.” That guy. We were jammed in all over the place. Wet dogs. Wet people. Wet Mardi Gras stuff. As I walked around looking for pictures, I ran into my buddy. Well, that’s a stretch. We know each other to say hello to. We see each other at a lot of second line parades. He’s working. I’m working. So, I asked if I could photograph him. He was happy to do it. When I showed him the pictures on the camera’s LCD, he loved them. He asked if could I make him few prints. I’m happy to do it.

But…

He liked the vertical. At least, as he saw it on my little bitty LCD. It’s kind of formal even though it looks like we are in a jail or something. I like the top picture, the horizontal one. It shows him as I know him. When he’s walking in a second line and playing his tuba, he’s always smiling. He always looks happy. He likes his work.

So.

What do you think?

Likely, I’ll give him both, but I’d love to hear what you like.


Reflections.
Reflections.
Big smiles and bigger dreams.
Big smiles and bigger dreams.
Taking a break before the 8 mile walk.
Taking a break before the 8 mile walk.
Documenting the scene.
Documenting the scene.
Rat-tat-tat.
Rat-tat-tat.
Oh mister...
Oh mister…
Eight miles? I'd better stretch it out.
Eight miles? I’d better stretch it out.
The long walk begins.
The long walk begins.

Mardi Gras parades and brass bands just seem to fit together. Usually, there is an order to a parade. There are a group of power company trucks (just in case), a few police cars, some kind of noisy motorcade, the trooping of the flag, a brass band and a float. The bands and floats alternate. I usually like the bands more than the floats. But, the crowd likes the floats because that’s where the throws and beads come from. I also like to arrive at least two hours early. Sometimes, even earlier. There a couple of reasons for this. First, there is the parking. The earlier you arrive, the better the parking situation will be. Given that I usually walk back and forth between St. Charles Avenue and as far towards as Tchopitoulas as many as maybe ten times, I might walk between 8 and 12 miles while I’m working. I want to park as closely as possible to the parades so I don’t have another mile hike after I’m done.

That’s nothing.

These brass marching bands walk the length of the parade. The distance could be as little as seven miles or as far as 12 miles. Many of these bands might do that twice a day as Fat Tuesday approaches. Most bands do this at least every day.

But, that’s not the only reason to arrive early. It’s not the best reason. The best reason for me is so that I can photograph the bands, the krewes and the support people preparing for the parade. Photographing multiple parades on multiple days can get a little mind deadening. In other words, as much fun as they are, they start looking about the same unless you have friends in the particular parade. But, finding friends in the chaos of a Mardi Gras parade can be next to impossible. For me; it’s the people getting ready, stretching, getting their head in the game, practicing, even competing against other bands in a friendly way that make the pictures. It’s about the kids who are getting ready for their big day, or days. It’s the smiles and the nods of recognition and the poses the kids strike when they see a camera. Making the best pictures that I can is my way of honoring all the work the schools, musicians, cheerleading squads, dancing teams, baton twirlers, teachers and staff put into their passion.

I wander around the neutral ground and the side of the street where the parade won’t pass and look, and look, and look. I talk to people. I let them see what I’m about and I make the best pictures that I can. I try to win them over with a smile, and if I haven’t talked to them for any length of time, I approach them with one of two simple phrases. I hold the camera up and ask, “May I?” or “Do you mind?” I haven’t been turned down yet. I may have just jinxed myself, but I don’t think so. It’s Mardi Gras. We are all pretty happy.

Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s pretty hard work walking as much as I do. It isn’t fun dodging people who are after one thing — beads. It’s hard working in the rain. Or, walking in the heat. Or, the cold. But, you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 


It was wet.
It was wet.
Hey Mister. Who are looking at?
Hey Mister. Who are looking at?
Dad, can we go home now?
Dad, can we go home now?
The president of Barkus' dog.
The president of Barkus’ dog.
Handing out beads. Zeus Place. One of the best places for dogs and cats.
Handing out beads. Zeus Place. One of the best places for dogs and cats.
Too much rain.
Too much rain.

It rained. A lot. Over three inches. That doesn’t stop us in New Orleans. If it’s parade time, we walk. So do our dogs. I’m not sure who enjoyed it more. The people. Or, the dogs. Yeah. Sure. We all got wet. But, what’s a little water among friends? Besides, as National Geographic’s Sam Abell says, “When the weather turns bad, the pictures get good.” He is right. At least he was today. I’d like to think that I have some talent. Some days I wonder. On some days I know that I’m just lucky. But, the pictures where everywhere today. Talent or not. Lucky or not. The pictures found me.

All of that said, the parade route changed a couple of times. I’m not sure why. The guy I was standing next to early on and I speculated that the organizers would probably use a very short route because of the weather. Oh no. They shifted the start, but that was it. That’s good. I walked pretty much the whole route which gave me a little time to work.

The Quarter was packed. Even with the stormy weather I thought everybody had a pretty good time. You could tell the locals from the folks who were in town for Mardi Gras. Locals wear t-shirts or regular shirts. Normal dry weather shoes.  Almost no rain gear. We dodge under over hangs. Or, into doorways. At one point as the rain started to pour down, I ducked under an umbrella that wasn’t mine and asked, “How do you feel about having a new friend?” No problem. Just a big welcoming smile.

The pictures. Well, as I wrote, they found me. All I did was point my cameras and push the button. There is one thing that helped me. Most dogs like me. I’m not exactly sure why. Of course, I’m covered with dog scent so I suspect most dogs think I’m cool because I smell like a dog. That sure makes it easy when I want to take a picture of a dog who I don’t know.

Little Miss Cute.
Little Miss Cute.
Color, umbrellas and rain.
Color, umbrellas and rain.


Beads and smiles.
Beads and smiles.
With her grandpa.
With her grandpa.
All hands at the ready.
All hands at the ready.
Flying beads.
Flying beads.
Oh puleeeze throw me something.
Oh puleeeze throw me something.
All smiles.
All smiles.

Two days. Eight parades. Over 72 gigs of images. Somewhere near 2,400 pictures. And, I’ve still got nine days to go. Luckily, there are some breaks. No parades on Monday and Tuesday. Still, that’s a lot of pictures. Even for me. What am I going to do with all of them? Well, by the time I edit — er, curate — them, I’ll keep around 3% of my take. Still, that’s a lot of pictures. 

So.

For Storyteller, I made an editorial decision. With the exception of one parade, The Krewe of Barkus, I’m not going to show them to you in calendar order. I’m going to show groupings of certain subjects. You know. Like little photo essays.

So for this Storyteller, you’ll see spectators asking for beads. On Monday, you’ll see Sunday’s parade. There’s only one. But, it’s about dogs. I suppose that’s a subject. But, I’ll try to show you the overall feel of the parade. 2,000 dogs and their people making their way through The French Quarter. Woof.

On Tuesday, maybe I’ll work on marching bands. And, so forth. It will also help me to fill the non-event days when I get to them. 

Please don’t misunderstand. I photographed each parade in its entirety, but I curated the pictures by subject. After all, I shoot what I see. 

These pictures.

First, the closeness. The pictures you see here were mostly made with a 16mm or 18mm lens. The only picture that required longer glass was the picture of the beads flying through the air. I used a 200mm for that one. As you know, I like to work close to the subject. I also have the benefit of working here for a long time which means I get away with stuff. Yes, I have a working credential. No. It isn’t recognized in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. This year the issuing agency — The New Orleans Police Department — limited creds to local media only. No Getty Images. No Corbis. No AP. No AFP. No Reuters. No national magazines. But, the police working the event are pretty cool. They’ve seen us around. As long as we don’t do something silly like lay down in front of a float, they pretty much let us work on the inside of police lines and do what we need to do. This is New Orleans after all. 

You might notice that there are a lot of children in these pictures. Day parades bring out more families. Not only that, but Mardi Gras brings out the kid in all of us. Even the guy with the gray beard… he’s a kid. 


A look at the crowd ad the Parades of Oshun & Cleopatra
A look at the crowd ad the Parades of Oshun & Cleopatra
A Quick and almost formal portrait.
A Quick and almost formal portrait.
Happy parader at the Krewe of Cork
Happy parader at the Krewe of Cork

Sorry. I’m a little late. Well, a lot late. About ten hours late. But, I have a good excuse. Or, maybe the best excuse. I was working. I worked from 2pm through midnight. Yes. I stopped for coffee. A lot of coffee. I had dinner. But, I just kept taking pictures. Once I get settled into the Mardi Gras routine I should get back on my usual schedule. I hope.

These are just a few pictures from the first heavy day of parades. Three parades. As you have come to know, I try very hard to give you look at the little details, rather than an overall scene. I do this for two reasons. I hope to show you what most people normally don’t get a chance to see. And, since everybody is carrying some sort of camera these days, I have to stretch at public events. That’s good for all of us.

So.

You are looking at one picture from three parades. The Krewe of Oshun. The Krewe of Cleopatra and the Krewe of Cork. Yes. Our names get a little tricky, but they honor all sorts of people, things and places. Except for one. The Krewe of Cork. Cork does not refer to a place in Ireland. It refers to the stopper in a bottle of wine. And, it shows a little.


Blooming Japonica Trees
Blooming Japonica Tree

Even though freezing temperatures and some ice damaged the tropicals, none of that got to the Japonica Trees. After three days of almost near 80 degree weather, guess what? Spring Sprung. I waited until the light got a little lower and started making pictures. I usually like to do macro studies, but there are so many flowers that I backed off to give you an idea of how many there are.

Of course, much of this won’t be there tomorrow. Heavy wind, rain, lightning and possible tornadoes are being predicted for very early morning. It’s the beginning of our spring. The weather is changing. Pretty soon we’ll be complaining about all that heat and humidity. Yes. The world turns. Nature rules.