A Jazz funeral. If you’re ever in New Orleans and you are lucky enough to see one, be sure to remember one thing. It may by big, bright and bold. But, somebody passed. For all the wonderful music, all the joyous noise and the well and brightly dressed participants… Somebody is sad. Somebody’s loved one passed. He ain’t der no mo’. Not coming back.
I doubt most of New Orleans knew about this one. A trumpet player called Porgy Jones passed. Although the procession took place in Treme, it was just a little neighborhood thing. The weatherman said there would be some rain. Some rain. As we started to walk, the skies opened up. Oh, it rained, alright. Over, under sideways, down. That didn’t stop us. Despite the original tenor of this parade, life goes on. The weather won’t stop us. It hasn’t before…
The pictures. Just four sketches of what I witnessed. I think that’s why I do it. I don’t need to stand out in the heat. In the humidity. In the pouring rain. We don’t have snow (much) so I get a pass on that. I do it to bear witness. I do it because I still believe the work is the prayer. I believe I’m paying my respects by working.
I really have no idea why there is an elephant painted on the side of an abandoned house. Sheesh. I’m not even sure if I could find it again to ask. I was going home from the Katrina memorial second line when I decided to take the long way just to see what I could see. The very long way home. I sort of just cruised around turning left, or right, or passing around the block because there are a lot of one streets around here. It makes no sense now. It made sense at the time. After all, that’s where all the pictures are hiding. And, the light was right. Obviously, I wasn’t disappointed. I found an elephant.
Well. Not a real living and breathing elephant. But, a nicely rendered cartoon style elephant painted on the side of an abandoned house. Huh? Why? Where? How?
So. I stopped. Nobody seemed to be around so I couldn’t ask questions. You know. Like, “Why is there an elephant painted on the side of this house?” I did walk around the house though. The front of the house had a Katrina cross painted on it. Oh, you know the ones. I’ve written about them in earlier posts. Just to refresh your memory, when early responders came from out-of-state, they did a house-by-house hard target search for survivors or worse. They spray painted a cross. In one corner they painted the date, then their unit number, then their findings — alive or dead. And finally, an animal count. Again, alive or dead. Then they encircled the whole thing with more paint. Most are gone now. Some are faded. Some have been turned into a kind of shrine.
I’m sorry to report that somebody died in this house. That’s what the cross told me. That’s confirmed by the red sign in the grass. Sacred ground.
Here’s where my guess might be better than yours. By looking at the side of the house, I’m guessing that a relative began to rehab it after things started settling down. I’m also willing to bet that his or her heart just wasn’t in it. See that orange wood? That shouldn’t be there. Or at least, all the holes should be sealed. Once that is completed the yellow wood-like boards are applied, either to the studs which have been insulated, or over the old wood which has been properly sealed. That didn’t happen. The wood over the windows? That looks like hurricane protection that never came down. It’s sagging now. Around here, you either have storm shutters or you nail pieces of plywood to the window frame when a big storm is on the way.
It’s been 9 years. The house is slowly starting to fall apart. The old paint is fading. The new paint is growing mold. The yard is over grown. Somebody painted an elephant on the building. All of that is just physical stuff. I just hope that the biggest loss is beginning to heal.
That was the Big Chiefs chant. The crowd took it up. We chanted. When it was time to pray for those who passed on this very spot, we did that too. Then… We walked. We danced. We sang. We made a second line. That’s what we do down here. Down here in New Orleans.
After all, we are remembering and celebrating all in one. It’s been nine years. Nine years since Hurricane Katrina blew in from the Gulf and sank New Orleans.
Oh yes. I remember. I remember seeing the water in my neighborhood and thinking, “Well it could be worse.” I remember walking into our house and thinking, “It is worse.” I remember after the mud dried out and we went back to empty out the house and seeing all this sparkling, glittering stuff embedded in the hard dirt and wondering, “What is that?” And, realizing that we decided that I should be the keeper of our family’s Christmas decorations after a big earthquake rattled Northern California. A lot we knew. When it’s time, it’s time. Nothing stops it. That glitter was my parents christmas tree decorations from the 1940s ground to dust in the New Orleans mud.
Oh yes. I remember.
This picture. Two indians playing and chanting. This happens to be the spot where the barge broke through the levee, flooding the 9th Ward… located along the Industrial Canal. You can see the new, stronger levee in the background. No. They aren’t masked. It’s hot. They are just representing their krewe. Their tribe. You have to know the players. Sometimes.
Sometimes, I have trouble naming my posts. I borrow song lyrics or a song title. Today’s title came from a young woman who hadn’t been back to the 9th ward since the storm. There is a paper wall with the names of those folks who passed during the storm. It is hung on the anniversary of the storm. She looked at it for a minute and said, “There’s my uncle’s name. Y’all are representing him on the wall.”
This picture. Well, I’m weird. I don’t need ear buds to hear music in my head. Rattling around in my brain was Allen Toussaint’s song, “Yes, We Can, Can.” Goes a little like this; “Take care of the children, the children of the world, they’re the strongest hope for the future, the little bitty boys and girls.”
For those of you have been around Storyteller for a while, you know her. She’s a Baby Doll. They call themselves a subculture. She leads just about every parade. She’s a tradition. A tradition, just like a jazz funeral or a second line. A little sad. A little happy. Start with a dirge, end with a dance. What else can you do? What else should you do?
They say that it’s all in the details. If you really want to take part in one of New Orleans krewes, social clubs or tribes you really have to like details. I read that in order to be a Mardi Gras Indian, you really have to like to sew. There you have it. Details.
This picture. I saw it. I ran to it. I wasn’t even sure I got there soon enough. It says it all. In the foreground, there are the pilings from a house that “ain’t der no mo’.” It’s gone. Washed away. Flooded out. Destroyed. The pilings are a reminder. You know what’s in the mid-ground. The parade. People. Walking. Honoring. Remembering. Representing. A young woman holding a baby asked me who I was there for. Who I was representing? “The 7th Ward.” That’s where all that glittery stuff is buried in the dirt. We live Uptown now. In The Garden District. Up the street from Anne Rice’s old house. But, my heart is still in the 7th Ward.
And, the background. Rebirth. One house that was salvaged enough to be rebuilt. And, a couple of Brad Pitt’s Make It Right houses. The past and the future all mixed up. A gumbo.
I thought that I’d take you on a tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. At least, I’ll show you a few details as I saw them. If things look a little bit worn, keep in mind that this place has been under water. A couple of times. Keep in mind that it’s old. Very old. It was consecrated in 1823. That’s old. The markers that people leave in remembrance faded in our hot sun. They faded in our heavy rain. They changed from something colorful and bright to something faded and washed out. The bricks and concrete did the opposite. They grew dark and clouded.
Tomorrow is August 29. It was nine years ago that just about everything changed. That was the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall at Buras, Louisiana and left 80% of New Orleans underwater. My neighborhood had six feet of water. We left the day before. I suppose today is the anniversary of me walking around and wishing Godspeed to our dear neighbors. The next time I actually set foot on that ground was weeks later when I started emptying out that house out. The house stunk of mud, mold and whatever was in that flood water. Our dog walked in, took a walk around and refused to enter the house again. It was no longer a home. She knew it before we did.
We are walking in what we hope is a giant second line in the Lower 9th Ward tomorrow. The band will play. We’ll sing. Everybody will dance. I’ll photograph. It will start from just about where the barge hit the levee, breaking it and totally flooding the neighborhood. That’s right over by Brad Pitt’s houses. You know. “Make It Right.” It’s an early parade. It starts about 10am. Hopefully, I’ll actually make a picture that I can show you later in the day. But, you never know. We all remember in our own way. I might not be up to working very hard. We’ll see.
St. Louis No. 2 and the Lower 9th Ward. Both sacred ground. People died in one place. They were remembered in the other. When people visit the cemetery, they know to be respectful. Sometimes when I’m in places that haven’t yet been rebuilt in the 9th Ward, I have to remind myself… be respectful. People died here. Never forget that.
Before the storm, this place was plain scary. Now, it’s just scary. It was a kind of no man’s land that was one of those places that you shouldn’t go into alone. But, the storm cleared out the bad guys. Most of the nearby housing was torn down. They moved to other parts of the city. Or, they went to the far western neighborhood in Houston. Texas.
This is St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. Yep. That’s how it’s written.
I went there to photograph something else. Well, actually to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. After doing what I came to do, I decided to walk around a bit. That should tell you something. I guess after all these years, I’ve finally acclimated. Imagine walking around at high noon in about 95 degree weather and with humidity at about 90%. Yes. Imagine that. Without a hat. But, I did have water. That’s something. And, a camera. That’s something else.
Anyway. As you know by now, high noon is not my favorite time to work. Ever. But, I had no choice.
I started looking for a picture that could be made into some other picture. Later. Using computer software. I saw this collapsed tomb. I looked through the bricks and the other monuments and I saw the buildings of the CBD. “Aha,” I thought. The dystopian me came out of hiding, cursed the heat, the humidity and started making pictures. When I got back into the studio, I started messing with the picture. This is the result. Maybe I’ll call it, “The End.”
A word about our cemeteries. They are ancient. Many of them are partially uncared for. It’s expensive to that. There is a group called “Save Our Cemeteries.” They are a more-or-less volunteer group that began in 1974 in response the destruction of the wall vaults in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. They work as hard as they can. But, many of these old tombs are family tombs. Some were funded perpetually through trusts and wills. Many were not. When the family left the area or died out, the tombs began to crumble for lack of care. Katrina’s flood waters didn’t help. This is the result.
A little change of pace. A couple of you were asking what happened to my more dystopian work. You didn’t use that word, but that’s the proper term. I think one of you said the word that I normally use. Junk. So. Last week, no matter what else I photographed, I made sure to circle around looking for the more seamy side of things. The gutter. Where things are a lot more interesting, as Neil Young says.
This is the Lakeview School. I always forget about this place. I probably wouldn’t have thought about it, if another photographer hadn’t posted a different view of it on Facebook. Even then, I almost forgot about it until I was on my way to some place else. I thought, “What the heck, it’s only 96 degrees, the sun is just beating straight down, have no water and I’m wearing flip-flops.” Obviously, as unprepared as I was, it was a perfect time for a little Urbex.
Before, I write much further, let me tell you that I found what I needed at the school. But, I didn’t use it. Yet. I will. But, I’d like some company.
The school was designed and built by E.A. Christy in the very early 1900s. 1915 to be exact. It is a huge example of California Craftsman-styled architecture. The Lupo Family deeded the land to the city in 1929 and eventually took it back in 2006. I’m not sure why. It may have had something to do with hurricane recovery. They sold it to a private developer over a year ago and nothing has happened. I did do a little poking around. There is no sign of an actual land transfer, so the developer may not have been able to fund it. One more thing, its abandonment was not Katrina-related. It was left to rot about 30 years previous. I’m not sure why. It’s very hard to find anything about the history of the place.
I walked around the building and a bit of the neighborhood in which it is located. Pictures are pretty much everywhere. They were just jumping out at me. I must go back. Twice. Once at dusk. I might do that this week. And, once… well, to explore around a bit. He says, with an evil grin. I’ll be properly dressed. Long pants, thick-soled shoes, a flashlight… oh, never mind.
The picture. It’s a little dirty. I was shooting on a brightly lighted sunny day. I need to add a little to the picture in order to give it the proper look and feel. The angle helps a lot.
There must be something in the air today. The morning started this way. A friend of mine wrote in his blog about art and photography. Let’s call him Andy, because that’s his name. He wants to know if he’s an artist. You can read it here. http://www.lightcentric.wordpress.com Go to today’s post. My reply is simple. “I dunno.” “Are you?” “Do you want to be?”
Then, we started watching Cosmos. The new version, with Neil deGrasse Tyson. He rightly attributes the entire series to its creator, Carl Sagan. But, he makes this version very special. The show we were watching ended with photography and the next show morphed into light and color. Hmmm. There must be something in the air.
But. If that wasn’t enough to knock me in the head, Peta Pixel just published about the same thing that Andy did… the nature of art and photography.
I thought this discussion ended about 30 years ago. Apparently not. I was wrong. Again.
I really don’t have much to say except for one quote from my other side. The musical one.
When a reporter once asked John Lennon what his songs meant, the late Beatle replied, “Whatever you want them to.”
That’s about where I fall in. I think that I just take pictures. Really, that’s all I want to do. If you, kind reader and friend, think that my work is art then thank you. If not. That’s okay too. It doesn’t matter. It matters that I record scenes that interest me. I hope to catch a memory. I hope to show you what I saw. With my eyes. My heart. My brain. My soul. I hope that interests you. But, your life is different that mine. You know. Toe-May-Toe and Toe-Mah-Toe.
This picture. Well, if you live in New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana you will at some point in your day, or week, or maybe hour; drive in the rain. If you happen to be out around dusk, this is what you might see. Light. Light. And, more light. Nothing tricky about this picture. Just turn the windshield wipers off for a minute or so and let the water build up. Press the button. Hope you don’t hit anything.
Yesterday would have been be Henri Cartier Bresson’s 100 birthday. For those of you who don’t know of him, he was my photographic grandfather. He was that to a couple of generations of photographers.
He was maybe best known for the phrase “decisive moment.”
When the 35mm Leica camera was created, he adopted it and pretty much began working in a style that we call today, “street photography.” He pioneered a lot of things. He called it “Life Reportage.”
Interestingly, he studied painting as a young man. He returned to it as an old man. In between, he photographed… exclusively in black and white.
But, during those middle years. Oh boy.
He realized that “a photograph could fix an eternity in an instant.” In 1931 he acquired a Leica with a 50mm lens. By 1932, he was already showing his work, having photographed in Berlin, Brussels, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Madrid. In 1934 he met Robert Capa and David Seymour. Eventually, after the end of World War II, they would go on to found Magnum Photos along with George Rodger and William Vandevert. He continued to work everywhere. He was in India when Gandhi was buried. He was in China when Mao lead the revolution. He went to the Dutch East Indies to document their rise to independence.
He retired during the 1970s. By 1975, he stopped taking pictures. He returned to painting. He died in 2004 at age 95.
This picture is about the best I can do to honor is work. I made it at the lake. Last week. Google around, and you’ll find his original photograph. The one that influenced me. I’d post a link but, I’m going with the parable of the fishes today.
I’ll leave you with this, because it sums up very nicely what I feel. He was more articulate than I am. Read his very last line. Read it about 20 times. Memorize it. That’s all you have to know.
“Constant new discoveries in chemistry and optics are widening considerably our field of action. It is up to us to apply them to our technique, to improve ourselves, but there is a whole group of fetishes which have developed on the subject of technique. Technique is important only insofar as you must master it in order to communicate what you see… The camera for us is a tool, not a pretty mechanical toy. In the precise functioning of the mechanical object perhaps there is an unconscious compensation for the anxieties and uncertainties of daily endeavor. In any case, people think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing.”
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