May 31. Wrapping It Up.

Tagging, Rosalie Alley
Tagging, Rosalie Alley

The end of the month. Time for a little wrap up. Lots of pictures to show you, and this isn’t all of them. But, I do try to keep current. I do try to show you newish work. Every now and then, I dip back into my files… usually when I haven’t been around enough to make new pictures for Storyteller. This is, after all, supposed to be a New Orleans blog.

So. Monday. June 1. Hurricane season starts. With this also being the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and what many folks call “The Federal Flood,” it’s an all hands on deck media circus starting, well, it seems like about now. I’m trying to ignore it. As August 29th rolls around, I’ll talk a little bit about it and show you some work that I’ve been holding back. But, that’s it. For me, it’s going to be like a jazz funeral. Start with a dirge, celebrate, recover, heal and move on. Ten years is long enough.


A little bit about what you are looking at.

1. The top picture is graffiti in Rosalie Alley. The alley is an old historical Native American and pirate path from the river to the French Quarter. It is located in The Bywater. It is known for Voodoo now. And, pool parties. I made two versions of this picture. The first, is with the graffiti cropped very tightly. Somebody else’s art became my art. The picture I chose for this post is something that sort of combines nature with man-made art. That’s why I like it.

2. More plastic flowers at Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. I’m sort of facisinated by this stuff. Unlike human beings and most things in nature, these flowers never die. Hmmm. I’ll tell you a little story. Once after eating a Chinese dinner, I got a fortune cookie. The fortune said, “Protect and honor your friends. Seal them in plastic.” Maybe there is something to this.

3. Graffiti number two. This time in the 9th Ward. I’m of two minds when it comes to tagging. Is it art? You know, like folk or street art. Or, is it vandalism? Should the police get involved? Probably not, since they are still short 500 officers and just yesterday two people were shot during broad daylight in the French Quarter. They have better things to do than chase down some kid with a spray paint can.

4.  Voodoo. An offering, I suppose. Or, it’s just a bunch of stuff piled up on an old bird bath. I know. I know. Don’t get snarky. This is important to somebody. Just not me.

5. And… more graffiti. I just like this bit of spray painting. It almost looks primordial to me. I think it’s about fire raining down on our heads. No. No. No. It’s not some kind of end of days thing. I’m easily influenced by what I read. Today I read about exploding houses. Yeah, yeah… now you’re interested. Okay. It seems that back in the 1970s houses were exploding in newer sections of a city called Metairie, whose boundaries abuts New Orleans. Apparently, their gas lines were just run under cement slabs poured without any pilings below them. Pilings are important around here. We live on reclaimed swamp land. Our land is always settling for a whole host of reasons. Pilings must be driven deep into the ground to support the foundations, or they will crack. Prior to the early 1970s, that wasn’t a zoning law. You could pour cement slabs right on the ground. So, the land would subside and the gas pipes would bend and crack. The gas would seep into the house. Somebody would ignite a spark and BLAMMO. The house would explode. Usually, that house was in splinters afterward. Houses nearby were destroyed. Windows would be shattered a block or so away. There were many of these explosions. Somehow, nobody got killed. Yeah. I know. Voodoo. 

There you have it. Exploding Houses. Right here in New Orleans. We are nothing if we aren’t exciting. And, you thought this would be a peaceful Sunday post. HA!

And, that’s it. Happy Sunday

Dead Flowers.
Dead Flowers.
Broken and tagged.
Broken and tagged.
Voodoo offerings.
Voodoo offerings.
Tagging as art.
Tagging as art.

A Little Magic

The magic of nature and tagging.
The magic of nature and tagging.

Yes. A little magic.

In truth, it’s a combination of three things…  A pretty much abandoned neighborhood created by Hurricane Katrina, some local taggers and nature. As we all know, nature always wins. It doesn’t want anything except stasis. How can it not win? Stasis really isn’t all that much. Just balance. But, it’ll do whatever it takes. Think about that.

This scene is a great example of that.

The building was left to rot. But, it’s a big cement structure. An abandoned school building. A fairly modern one. Nature started to discolor it and make it porous.

Along came some taggers who actually made some pretty nice art. The taggers used cheap paint. Nature provided a lot of storms. The paint started to run.

Weeds started to grow. These look like for all the world like a daisy. Nature again.

Then, I came along. Poking along. Looking around. Seeing what I could see. Looking for the wizard. Or, something like that. I photographed the scene a couple of ways. It was like porridge. Too hot. Too cold. Just right. Er, too tight. Too far. Just right. Then I started tinkering. I made one version of the picture. It was okay. But, no magic. I made another version. Too bleak. That wasn’t what I was feeling when I took the picture.

Finally. A little more warmth and a little bit of glow. Like sunshine. On a cloudy day.

Well, I’m Having Fun

Take pictures from the wall.
Take pictures from the wall.

Yes. I am having fun. Looking at pictures in different ways is a lot of fun. Typically, I document people, places and things. Usually I do a little bit with them in post production. Sometimes, not.  Obviously, I’ve been adding a little more to the pictures than just a “little bit.”  To tell you the truth, I have no idea where I’m going with all of this. I could be going in the exact wrong direction. It could be that I should be heading in the opposite direction, making things cleaner and simpler. It could be that I should be working in black and white. That’ll be fun. My work is known for color. I could confuse people. You. Clients. Others. We’ll find out. Later. That’s the best way. I think.

That said, you’ve seen this place a few days ago. The double empty structure with the freshly painted magenta trim. One of my visitors hopped up on the wall so he could take pictures with his i-Phone. That’s what you see him doing. This might be a more instantly understandable picture if he was using something that has a more traditional camera shape. But, it’s the world we live in today.

It was a pretty steep drop down to the ground, so to encourage him I reminded him that the closest hospital is about ten miles away through heavy traffic. Helpful, right? He laughed.

The post production? Oh, I don’t know. This and that. Some of the other. Once, there was a guy following Storyteller who demanded to see the original work and to know every step that I took in getting there. First, I tinker until I get there. I don’t write this stuff down. Second, it’s the final image that matters. I said that. I don’t know what became of him. I guess that I’ll never know.

That happens. Sometimes.

There is a lesson in all of that. Make YOUR picture. If you want a little guidance, that’s great. That’s how we learn. If you want to simply copy somebody else’s work, don’t. It’s not good for you.


And, Again… Experiments.

Dead Flowers.
Dead Flowers.

Dead Flowers. It’s a song and more. It’s about a cemetery. It’s a place. It’s a feeling.

“Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you’re the queen of the underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the U.S. mail
Say it with dead flowers in my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
No, I won’t forget to put roses on your grave” — Mick Jagger/Keith Richards © ABKCO Music

It’s also how I saw this picture from almost the minute that I stumbled upon the scene. I didn’t understand how to finished it in post production. Once again I tinkered with it. First, I made it too dark. Then, I made it too contrasty. I finally realized that those approaches were in direct opposition to the lighting conditions. Bright. Sunny. White puffy clouds. I went the other way. Ahhhhhhhh. Finally.

I rarely finish a picture as open and airy as this one. As usual, the picture taught me what to do.

Weren’t my young touring visitors cooperative? They let me stick them in places. Places that needed a little human touch. If only I could get that same kind of cooperation around here. Heh! The dogs won’t even allow this.

An Impressionistic Portrait.

9th Ward Air BnB Double.
9th Ward Air B n B Double.

It’s a long story. But, I made some new friends who came to New Orleans for a visit. They wanted to see my view of things. The view I sometimes call “Ray’s hellish view of New Orleans.” I met them at a second line, but eventually my tour lead us back to where they were staying. We needed a little break so we hung out for a bit. They didn’t mind me constantly taking pictures so I did. This is one of them Yep. I’m lurking in the background. Note, she is downloading pictures from her camera. Camera. She took a lot of pictures. The ones that she showed me were pretty good.

What interested me about their temporary home was their neighborhood. And, that fact that they rented it via Air B n B. I’m pretty sure most of you know what that is. But, for the uninitiated, it’s an online connection service that links people with rooms, apartments or houses to rent for short periods of stays to those people who need them. It’s a little controversial in some neighborhoods because there are local ordinances that do not permit it. Some people who live in those neighbors dislike the idea for a whole host of reasons. One is security. I get that. I might not know everyone in my own neighborhood by name, but I recognize them by sight. I have an idea of who lives there. With a more transient population I would not.

And, of course, there are those who take advantage of the system from both the renter and tenant’s point of view. But, for the most part, it seems like a good idea. Would I stay in a rental from Air B n B? Certainly. But… probably not in this neighborhood. It seems to be coming up and my friends had no problems there. If anything, they got a sense of a real New Orleans neighborhood. It was certainly more real than staying in an Omni, or Marriott or some place like that. Or, never leaving The French Quarter. They wanted that experience. The real one. But, I know that neighborhood to be pretty rough. Still.

The picture. This house is nice and bright and sunny. You may think it weird that there is a bed in what might normally be a dining room, but this place is a double with the a shotgun styled layout. Originally, this room was probably a bedroom that you passed through to get to the kitchen.

Anyway. I started tinkering with the original image late at night and this picture is where I came out. A little spooky. A little nostalgic. A little New Orleans. Let me be clear about one thing. My post production work is not making any sort of statement about the content. I was just playing around and having fun.


Summer Starts

Looking toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Looking toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Yes. Yes. Yes. I know that summer officially begins on June 21. At 12:38pm EDT. That’s Summer Solstice. The longest day of the year. From there it all goes downhill. Or, not. But, in The United States most people feel like it starts on this long weekend. Memorial Day. That weekend. One of the least understood holidays in the country. But, we won’t go there. Not today.

This picture. Well. You are looking toward the Gulf of Mexico. In front of you is MRGO and maybe to the right, Lake Borgne. Hard to know exactly where the waters come together. Just know that some of the water is salty, some is fresh water. Brackish is the proper word. The lower clouds that are along the horizon line are very typical sub-tropical clouds. The higher clouds are remnants of storms that have been blowing in and out all week.


Happy Summer.

Way Out In The Ninth

Through the empty window.
Through the empty window.

I’m not even sure what to tell you about this place. So, there’s this. It’s a former double located in the Lower 9th Ward. It was likely destroyed by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. That’s all I know. For sure.

Here’s what I don’t know.

It’s almost spotless inside. Most of these places are littered with trash left by people who were hanging out after the storm. There is no graffiti. Anywhere. The city is covered in graffiti. Some of it artistic. Most of it, not so much. Even though there is some high summer grass in the front, most of this lot is freshly mowed. And, look at the bottom picture. The overall scene. What do you see? That magenta paint trim is fairly fresh. If it was from the pre-Katrina era, it would be faded and mud covered.


Here’s my guess. Somebody still cares about this place. It has pretty good bones. It could be rebuilt someday. Likely, the person who owns this place still thinks of it as home. Maybe, they can’t come home. There are lots of reasons for that. No Money. Illness. Death of a family member.

This place was a double. Yes. I said that already. I want to make a point. It’s what we call a duplex. You can see that easily by the way the front doors and windows are positioned. If you walk around inside, you can see that there were two matching bathrooms and two matching kitchens. The place was efficiently constructed. Both sets of bathrooms kitchens fall along one plumbing line. Even though it was once a double, it could have been renovated well before the storm. Many doubles in New Orleans have had the middle walls removed and have been turned into a bigger single family home. Or not. Many times if they were left as a double, grown children live next door to their parents or other family members. Older New Orleans communities are very tightly knit.

That’s all I know.


Broken glass still remains.
Broken glass still remains.

Cemetery Stroll

Cloudy Summerish Day
Cloudy Summer’s Day

I took a walk. Well, not exactly. I took some friends on a tour of New Orleans. My New Orleans. The more hellish side. We started with Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. It’s located in Central City. In the past, this wasn’t the safest place in the world. But, like most of New Orleans, things are changing. You still want to be careful, just like any urban place. But, you no longer have to worry. Besides, the gates are closed and locked at 5pm. Everybody knows that the bad stuff happens at night. Mostly. So they say. “They” is frequently wrong.


Here’s a little look at what I saw.

A couple of things to know. I was photographing (I’d say shooting. But, not in this neighborhood.) around 2 or 3pm. That is not my favorite time of day. The light is too high. Too white. Way too contrasty. But, we were starting our tour. Besides, one of my photographic heroes, Jay Maisel, says that you should use any light. Especially light that you don’t like. It is our job as photographers to make a picture with whatever we have. Okay. I’ll try.

These are the results.

I don’t know Carl Spitz. I just liked the shape of his tomb.

One way to deal with this kind of light is to make silhouettes.

Another way to work with overly bright mid-day sun is to ignore it and head for the shadows.

Finally, take a few steps back using a wide lens and photograph the general scene.

Happy Sunday.

Burnt Offerings.
Burnt Offerings.

Southern Feel.

Southern Trees and Spanish Moss
Southern Trees and Spanish Moss

The South.

It has a look. A feel. A smell. All its own.

In the summer it’s hot. Sticky. Humid. Wet.

And, summer lasts a while. From March to Christmas.

In the winter, it cools off a bit. But, the humidity doesn’t go away. The wetness doesn’t go away. It manifests itself in fog. 40 degrees feels like 20 degrees elsewhere. It’s bone chilling.

If you’re from the south, all of that feels like home. If you’ve migrated here — like me — you probably can’t stand some of it. I’ve been living somewhere in the south, with the exception of my southwestern break taken for Hurricane Katrina, for 23 years. Longer if you count my time in Virginia and North Carolina. I’m still not used to it.

Yet. Still I stay. I’m not to sure why. Obviously, I like the pictures. Is that a good enough reason?

Vietnam Vets say that when they return to Vietnam to make peace with whatever they need to make peace with, the first thing that happens when they get off the plane is that they are hit with the heat, humidity and smell. Guess what? When I travel and return, that’s the same thing that happens to me, here. And, this ain’t Saigon. Oops. Ho Chi Minh City. This is New Orleans. At least they get to go home. I live here.

Happy weekend, y’all.