A pile of musicians.
A pile of musicians.

What a weird parade.

I never actually saw the Krewe of Pygmalion’s Mardi Gras parade roll. It started very late. I left the staging area and parade start location about 35-40 minutes after the scheduled start time and I never saw a float. Anywhere. Usually, the floats and krewe are lined up in about one of three places. Not last night.

I did get to see plenty of high school and college marching bands. I saw them roll into the area on their buses. I saw them stretch. I saw them practice. I saw them line up in preparation for the parade start. Luckily, for me, the bands are the best part of the parade. So I had a pretty good time taking their pictures.

And, it’s not to say that I didn’t see a parade roll with floats. Krewe. And beads. And other kinds of throws. I caught up to the Knights of Sparta’s parade when I reached my neighborhood. So, that was cool. I didn’t really try to make pictures there because I was trapped well behind the crowd who lined up along the curb and neutral ground where the streetcars run. That was also fine with me. I felt like I’d made a few good pictures while I was roaming around with all the bands. Besides, you know what Leroy Jethro Gibbs says. Family first.

The pictures. As I wrote, I never saw the floats. I have no idea where they were. There did seem to be an awfully lot of marching bands for what is normally a smallish parade. I’m not sure what I can tell you about these pictures. You know. Find the scene. See the picture. Take the picture. Pretty simple. I think.

I did see one detail that I’ve never noticed in the past. The high school bands get off of their buses ready to go. The only thing that might not be in place is their head-gear. They get off the bus. Get organized according to instrument. Stretch. And, start rehearsing.

Tulane University’s band hit the streets wearing their pants, shoes and what looks like a grocery apron. They do all their parade pre-prep and then get dressed. Their uniforms are rolled up in the hats on the street.

I think I had a pretty nice shoot considering only about half the parade showed up while I was there. Two nights in a row. Imagine that. Once again, my muses were there to push me along. And, the great thing… I’m walking between four and five miles a night. That’s in addition to my normal daily routine.

The bus.
The bus.


Krewe of Amelia Earhawt.
Krewe of Amelia Earhawt.

So. It begins. The Uptown parades began to roll on Friday night.

As you already know, I like to work the margins. The edges. Along the gutters. There’s a good reason for that. I cannot compete on a timely basis with about 10,000 people armed with smart phones, and news media outlets who all immediately post via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. In many ways, I don’t want to. I looked at my feeds. Just about every picture of this parade looked alike. A couple of floats, with the crowd surging around raising their hands begging for beads. The pictures I saw last night looked about the same as they did last year. The year before that. And, ten years ago before the storm.

So. I have to do my thing. I work the edges. I look for a moment in time. I actively engage the people I photograph. I try not to make many “scene setters.” The work you are seeing today, are the scenes I saw last night. Not everybody saw this. I’m fairly certain these pictures are very different from anybody else’s pictures. My vision. My intent. That’s kind of the only way I can do it. Otherwise, I’d get bored. So would you.

The only picture that needs explanation is “Cotton Candy Sky.” The rest are fairly self-explanatory. We had a wonderful first night. Temperatures were in the low 60s or upper 50s. When the sun started to set and dusk rolled in, a cotton candy sky is what we got. What I saw. What I had to show you.

Cotten candy sky.
Cotton candy sky.


Bead tree.
Bead tree.

Mardi Gras beads.

The funny thing about beads is that they really have no value. Yet, we fight for them when a parade rolls by. People will do weird things for them. You’ve heard the stories I’m sure. Other people will wander around French Quarter streets wearing about ten pounds of beads on their shoulders and necks as some kind of badge of honor. You can even buy them in souvenir shops for about three dollars a bead. That’s local talk for a strand of beads. Beads and other “throws” cost each float krewe member about $1,500 – $2,000 to toss them into the crowd.  That’s pretty expensive when you think about it. There might be twenty people on a float. I’m sure that you can do the math. That doesn’t include the krewe membership dues, side events, masking and so on.

The value drops the minute Mardi Gras comes to an end. That’s not entirely true. Most of the beads you see are made in China. They are cheap. There are also old-fashioned glass beads that are usually made in the Czech Republic. Those are keepers. You don’t see many of those anymore.

There are some rules to this bead-catching thing too. Catch them in flight. Never pick them up off the ground unless they are really special. Never grab beads from a child. Never fight over them. Whoever caught them first keeps them even if you caught them at about the same time. I do one more thing. Since I work close, a lot of beads almost just fall into my hands. We can go catch our own beads when I’m not working. So, if there is a child behind me, I just give the beads to the child.

Beads end up discarded in the streets. Stored in boxes in the attic or an almost unused closet. Normally, we recycle them by giving them to an organization for learning disabled children.  They untangle them, sort them out and resell them. Some time last year we used a big box of beads as the base to patch a pothole that was causing big problems for us near our driveway. Just pour them into the pothole, tamp them down with a shovel and pour some asphalt-like looking stuff over the beads that we bought at Home Depot. Tamp that down. And, you have a pothole patch that looks as good at the city’s pothole-killer machine’s work. The city says that’s illegal. Trying getting some NOPD officer to enforce that. They get tired of having their teeth rattled as they bounce over our never-ending potholes.

There are beads just about everywhere in the city. In every neighborhood. Not just the places where a parade passed by. All year round. You see them hanging for power lines. From streetcar lines. On fences. On trees. On bushes. You see them faded into a kind of metallic gray. You see them crushed into the pavement.

It’s a year round thing.

The big Uptown parades start tonight. Wish me luck.


Getting in the zone.
Getting in the zone.

This is why.

This is the reason that I like to work from the start of almost any parade. Especially Mardi Gras parades. This is where the pictures are. The unusual pictures. The little moments. The interaction between the subject, other subjects and me. This is where I actually get to talk to the people who are walking, riding or playing music during the parade. This is where I make friends.

Take a look. The young lady in “And, Once Again at Zulu” and “All Smiles” is the same person. I made “All Smiles” at the first Uptown parade of the season. “And, Once Again at Zulu” was made on Mardi Gras Day in the frozen dawn. The one of the two last formal parades of the season. She was the Mardi Gras Queen of her high school. She led her school’s band during the parade. I already had emailed her digital files of her earlier performance, so when she saw me at dawn she was happy to see me. Yes, yes. She received digital files from the massive Zulu parade as well. That’s what you do.

I’ll get back to that in a bit. But first, just a little about the pictures. This is how I prefer to work. One or two camera bodies. Shorter lenses. Let everybody see what I’m doing. No lurking. No shooting from a long distance. Instead; lots of smiles, lots of talking and lots of business cards. No, no, no. I’m not looking to make money from the people I photographed in these pictures. I want them to know that I’m for real and that pictures of them are theirs just for the asking.

I have no idea which picture I like best. It changes hourly. For me, this is a very nice selection of pictures. A little portfolio. It leads up to this Friday night when I actually shoot the first of the Uptown parades.  These pictures are about my memories. When I took “And, Once Again at Zulu,” the temperature was about 28 degrees. On that day, the high temperature never got above 31 degrees. Freezing rain all day. Very icy and cold streets. To some of you, that might not be very cold. To us, down here in the swamp with the normal humidity turned frigid, that’s brutal. Then, there is “The Waiting is the Hardest Thing.” I forget where online I first posted it, but somebody said, “Too bad, if the car wasn’t there it would have been a perfect picture.” To me, the car adds the layer that makes it very close to being perfect.

Oh well. It’s all a matter of viewpoint. And, perspective,

Oh yeah. About that comment, “That’s what you do.” Sharing with the people that I photograph on the streets is a matter of respect. Paying it. They work very hard to do what they do. Giving them a few pictures is the least I can do. In return, I am also respected. I can work much easier. I’m helped when I need it. People smile at me even when I get in their way. They push me gently to the front of the crowd. Of course, sometimes you also feel their pain. Today, we lost a musician. A saxophone player. Clarence Trixey Slaughter. Another pal on the scene. I don’t know why or how. I suppose it doesn’t matter. RIP.


Glowing.
Glowing.

A look back in order to look forward.

These are the people of Mardi Gras. Well… a few of them. From different years. Different locations. And, the images are made with very different camera gear.

Which brings me to…

The pictures. The content is fine. The quality is not great. I can see the transition from film to the earliest of digital sensors and so on. In the earliest of digital days, most sensors really hated working in deep darkness. That improved. In the early days of converting film to digital files via scanning, every error I ever made in film exposure was enhanced. In some cases, specific film images were duplicated for agency distribution and prior to being used in the print production process. Children’s Parade is a great, or, terrible example of that. The image you see was sharp when I took the picture. It was duplicated and duplicated again. Then it was scanned. The overall resolution was manipulated right out the door. The image that you are looking at is at least fourth generation. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

And, so it goes.

Resolution keeps getting better. Megapixel counts are growing through the stratosphere. ISO too. Technical issues are mostly resolved these days. Almost every camera is a good camera.

But, none of that matters. If you don’t stand in front of better stuff.


Trumpets.
Trumpets.

Ladies of Unity. Day Two.

As promised. I generally try to do what I say that I’m going to do. This also means that I have no idea what I’m going to post for the next couple of days. Making these daily multiple pictures posts isn’t easy. But, y’all seem to like them.

So, off I go.

It’s supposed to rain today. That’s good. And bad. Bad for the obvious reasons. Good because pictures of wet streets and wet Mardi Gras decorations look somehow special. At least different from the usual pictures.

We’ll see.

The pictures. I’m only going to talk about a couple, mostly because you know what I’m going to say. F8 and be there. And, it’s not so much the technical stuff I’m going to talk about. It’s the content.

The first is the general look of The Ladies of Unity. Really, the picture in which you that you can see that best is called “Lovely.” And, so they were. I’ve photographed a lot of second lines. I’ve never seen a social and aid club look quite so elegant. That’s not to say that other clubs don’t look good. They do. But, these ladies were just outstanding.

The second picture is  called “I’ve Never Understood This.” That guy smoking the cigarette is the lead trumpet player. It takes a lot of air and lung power to play the instrument as loudly as he does. Not only that, but they are walking and playing at the same time. I would think getting any kind of smoke in his lungs would not exactly be a great thing. By the way, see that thing on his shoulder? That’s the little video camera I was talking about yesterday.

A couple of you posted your favorite picture. Thank you. Keep it up. The one thing I dislike about being a one man band, plus associates as needed, is the lack of picture talk. My favorite? You know, I’m always going to like something that is a little on the edge. So…. It’s “Watching the Parade Flow By.” It’s an example of how I quickly ask permission without really disturbing anything. A kind of street portrait.


Blowing that trumpet.
Blowing that trumpet.

Sunday. The Ladies of Unity second line.

Their tenth anniversary. That means they began just as Katrina recovery was just starting. Ten is sort of a big number normally. But, it’s a really big number for this social aid and pleasure club considering the circumstance. And, that they likely walked their first second line to fairly empty streets.

It started right at the heart of things. Sportsman’s Corner. Where the Mardi Gras Indians gather on St. Joseph’s Night. Where everybody gathers for Mardi Gras Day. Sort of a home base for the people who live in that neighborhood. Not all that far from that old abandoned Catholic Church that I like to photograph, or from our legendary and finally restored three-story gothic-looking house that we bought after the whole back-end fell off. In many ways, even though I live across the streetcar tracks in The Garden District, this is home base for me too.

So.

For you, that means there will be a couple of days of this work. For me, that means there will be a couple of days of this work. See what I did there? I’m sort of skating. The first of the big Mardi Gras parades start on Friday. I’m an old guy. I need to get my rest.

The pictures. First. I need to tell you that I intentionally did everything wrong. High noon winter sun. Normally, you keep the sun over your shoulder. I’m not normal. I shot into the sun. Normally, you try to stay on theft side of the second line. Or, the center. Well, I got to the center eventually, but I started from the right side. I could make some kind of snarky political comment about now. But, I’m already sick of politics. I’m willing to bet that most of you who read this in The United States feel about the same way.

So.

The main picture. The guy playing the trombone was wired up. No. Not that way. A small video group is doing a thing as background video for when brass bands go on tour. They hope to project it behind the band while they are on stage to give the audience a sense of what it is like to be at a second line. So, they pinned this cigar-looking video camera to his shoulder. They were having trouble so I suggested that they duct (or duck, if you prefer) tape it to his forehead. He looked at me and said, “Oh man, I thought you liked me.” I do. We all laughed. I think you should duct tape all sorts of things to other people’s foreheads.

The rest. The pictures are all pretty self-explanatory with the exception of “Just a Quick Pose.” Usually at the beginning of the second line, a photographer who knows the social and aid club will ask them to line up for a quick group shot. I believe in not making the same picture as everybody else, so I shot from the side.

I think you can also see that all that back and side lightning made the pictures a little more sparkly than usual.

Oh. Since somebody will ask. My favorite in all of these pictures is “A Big Crowd.” That captures the sense of what it’s like to be in the middle of a second line.


King and his lampshade.
King and his lampshade.

Now it started.

Parade Season. Even though the rest of the New Orleans parades don’t roll until next Friday, Krewe du Vieux is the real kick off in the city. It’s an adults only parade that is a bit raunchy, a bit over the top and very irreverent.

Like all parades in the city, when it began this was a much smaller parade. It was seriously raunchy then. I could tell you stories. But, I won’t. This is a family blog. But, as it grew, it seemed to self edit a little. I’m not sure that it had to. People who come out for this parade know what they are getting into. After all, it’s New Orleans. It’s the French Quarter. What happens here, stays here. Or, something like that.

About the pictures. Once again. The Quarter is a dark place with pools of light. Even working at ISO 2500, which I hate to do because it introduces all sorts of noise the picture, I was generally working wide open at about 1/4 to 1/8th of a second. Even with all the new technology, extremely sharp images were mostly just a wish and a prayer. So, I slowed things down a bit and let whatever happened in front of the lens make the picture.

Of course, that meant I lost a lot of pictures. But, that’s life. Right?

Let’s see if this works on twitter.

#kreweduvieux


Mardi Gras mask.
Mardi Gras mask.

It’s Carnival time.

Third and fourth parades tonight. Then, the bigger Uptown parades start on Friday. I haven’t been all that motivated. I’m having a tough time getting into it. I’m not exactly sure why not. Usually, by now I’m chasing around photographing decorations and details.

So. I thought that I would post a selection of pictures from Mardi Gras 2015. Some that you’ve seen; many that you haven’t.

I was going to post another selection of older work. Pictures from Asia. China, specifically. But, I think I’m done with showing you all that past work for now. Yeah, yeah. This is past work too. But, it’s not even a year old. Hopefully, it will get you in the mood. Hopefully, I’ll feel like actually photographing Mardi Gras 2016. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully…

Pictures. What are you looking at? Heh! Mardi Gras 2015.

Seriously.

A little Mardi Gras doll, masked and ready to hang somewhere. A small brass band leading a second line through the French Quarter. Beads on the fence. The Krewe of Zulu, lead by the Tramps. A really ugly zombie mask. A masked member of a float. A parade member walking to her parade. Reflections in a French Quarter window. Another krewe member headed to his float. And, masks on the fence.

That was a pretty quick wrap up, wasn’t it? It should be. After all, it’s last year’s Carnival. Let’s see what I do this year.