Both Sides Now
Both Sides Now.

Bitter sweet. That’s what this is.

I did my best yesterday. Because I had to. It’s a long story that could be best summed up in the saying, “The work is the prayer.”

I’ll tell you a little more. I’ll start with the back story of how these pictures came to be.

I’m working on a big project. I can’t talk much about it because in the advertising world everything is secret until it’s not. I was asked to sign an NDA. I did that. Suffice it to say, the project logistics are complex. The actual shoot is not. I called an old friend of mine for help to coordinate the travel planes. Flights and hotels. He made a career change a couple of years ago when he took a newspaper buyout. He decided that since he likes to travel, that he would build a travel agency. He’s starting to do well at it. So, I asked for his help.

I’ll do the rest in a timeline style.

Thursday. I discussed all of the particulars with him during the evening. Once we worked through the details, he said that he would email the completed tentative schedule on Friday.

Friday. Nothing arrived during normal business hours. He’s located on the West Coast so I added that time into my plans. I finally contacted him and just asked kiddingly, “Did you forget about me?” He replied that his wife wasn’t feeling good, had pretty bad stomach pains, and that he had to take her to the hospital. The doctors were running tests and he would know whether invasive surgery would be needed or if he could just take her home because it was nothing. I told him Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ Rule Number One. Family first. I told him not to worry about it. I told him to take care of his wife. I would sort out my travel plans.

Saturday. I didn’t hear from him. That didn’t surprise me. It was the weekend after all.

Sunday. I went to the second line. A kind of new one called The Winning Team Second Line and walk. It started late. So, I worked the edges which is what I really like to do. Then I received an IM (He mostly uses Facebook to communicate) from him. I looked at it and thought, “Cool. He managed to get the planning done.

No. That wasn’t it. This is what it said. “My wife died at 8:40am.”

I IM’d back immediately to express our condolences. We IM’ed back and forth a little. He’s in terrible shock. Trying to take care of the business of taking care of his wife’s funeral. Luckily, he has a lot of friends and family on the West Coast.

So.

These pictures are for him, his wife, and his family. He actually came from this neighborhood. Central City. The pictures are about pure joy. That’s the only way I know to counter abject sadness. It’s not much. But, it’s what I do. What I can do.

You know what the pictures are about. They are all pretty straight forward. I’m going to post a couple of days worth of this work. I made enough good pictures to do that. See what happens when I’m really motivated?

And, finally.

All of you know is this. We all say it. But, yesterday it hit me like a three-pound mallet. Life is short. Do something with it. Life turns on a dime. Don’t waste the good times. And, for certain, don’t wallow in the bad times.

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St. Louis Cathedral as the setting sun lights it.
St. Louis Cathedral as the setting sun lights it.

I wasn’t going to do this. I wasn’t going to post another small collection of pictures. No. Not forever. Nothing is forever. Besides, you know me. I change my mind whenever I feel like it.  Just not today. Or, for parts of the next few weeks. I was just going to post the top picture of The St. Louis Cathedral with the next golden side light hitting it. But, as I started working on these pictures for inclusion to my agency collection, I realized that I had a nice, little group of very blue pictures. I thought, why not?

Although I will probably do this again tomorrow with second line pictures, I am planning on going to the one picture a day format for a while. Between taking the pictures, processing them, modifying them, and then enhancing them for Storyteller, I spend a lot of time just working on the pictures. Then there is all the back-end work. Re-sizing them properly for web work. Embedding metadata and copyright information. Captioning. SEO work. All the stuff that it takes to protect, and to help people to find, my pictures.

This is a lot of work.

Please don’t misunderstand. I like sharing my work with you. But, for a short while, maybe just not so much of it. Or, as appropriate. Not everything I photograph needs to be shown in multiple pictures. Sometimes, one picture does it. Most times, I’m thinking.

These pictures. They are part of my take from a few days ago when the post storm light was so beautiful. I work on the cathedral a lot because I think it is so pretty. I probably should go back during the day and photograph the interior. I’ve done this in the past. But, it never hurts to refresh my overall collection.


Street gymnastics.
Street gymnastics.

This guy. These pictures.

I decided. Just now, to start doing an occasional series called, “Life on the Street.”

Wait, what?

Here’s what happened. When I was chasing storm light, I ran into this guy. There was a garbage can lying in the middle of the street just about where I was going to stop to photograph some falling down building, which is really a big rental room for weddings and reunions and like that. It’s camouflaged. A lot of people in The Lower Garden District do that. The garbage can was starting to impede traffic so I thought I’d do the right thing and move it to the sidewalk.

This guy came rolling up on a bicycle and tossed it in my general direction. This very guy. The one in the pictures. So, I put it on the curb. Then he started hustling me. Not to worry, all is good in this little tale of mine.  First, he did gymnastics. The top picture is just one in about five backward flips. It’s hard to tell in my pictures, but this guy is smallish, wiry and very, very well muscled.

Then, he started singing. To use a technical musical term, he has a helluva a voice. Then he did his hustling thing. He didn’t have to. Not only did he work pretty hard, but he let me photograph him and we talked for a while. But, but, but… I don’t carry much cash when I’m roaming around. I had a ten-dollar bill and two singles. I kept the two singles.

He was surprised. And, happy as hell.


Heavenly cathedral.
Heavenly Cathedral.

What a difference a day makes.

One day, nothing but storm clouds and stormy light. The next day, blue skies and golden light.

I have a standing request for tourist locations. One problem. One picture pretty much looks like another. So, I only try to work on this project when the light is different. Or great. Or wonderful. Or, as Doctor John wrote, “On such a night.”

The funny thing about the op ten tourist locations is that they are about  the same. I decided to look through the various online tourism and travel sites in case I was missing something. They pretty much all agree on the top ten not-to-be-missed New Orleans locations. It goes something like this. The French Quarter, City Park, World War II Museum, Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, St. Louis Cathedral and so on…

What’s wrong with that list?

Of the six locations I just listed, four are in The French Quarter. I can’t remember the last four. But, I’d think just listing the Quarter would cover places like Jackson Square, Bourbon Street and St. Louis Cathedral since those three are located IN the Quarter.

No wonder visitors are confused. No wonder they think that visiting the Quarter means they visited New Orleans.

The pictures are pretty simple. Just walk until you find them. Often the hardest thing about taking a picture is getting there. Oh, the picture called “Silhouettes” is going to have some major retouching done to it. Those power lines are nice and straight and look sort of cool here, but my clients won’t like them. They’ll be gone before anybody who licenses the picture sees them.


Around Lee Circle in storm light.
Around Lee Circle in storm light.

Storm Light. One of my favorite qualities of light. There are others. Light at the ends of the day. Golden. Blue. Night. Almost anything but high noon in bright sunlight.

But, first.

I decided not to chase down all the storm damage in the little upriver towns. Those people have enough on their hands without having me around. I’m about the last thing that they need. Sharing their misery is not what I’m about. Funny how living through a huge hurricane will do that to you.

I did make more pictures in New Orleans. These are  one of them.

Most don’t need a lot of explanation. But, the top picture does.

Lee Circle.

Let me say right off that Storyteller is not normally the place for political discussions. First, I’m not all that political. Second, there are some things that I just don’t have much time for. Politics is one of them.

That said, Lee Circle has been a political polarizer since this summer. Why? After the mass killings in Charleston, South Carolina which inspired the state to stop using the old Confederate Flag, our mayor — Mitch Landreau — was further inspired to remove all of New Orleans Confederate statues.

There are a couple of historical points to know. Of the three statues in question; Lee, Beauregard and Jefferson Davis, only Robert E. Lee never set foot in New Orleans.  The other two, Beauregard and Davis, either lived here or were raised here.  Two, the city was Confederate for just over a year when it was surrendered without a shot being fired. Admittedly, New Orleans was the largest city in the South at the time.

The statue that seems to be causing most of the concern is the Robert E. Lee statue for which Lee Circle is named. The general who never set foot in the city. It was erected in 1884. During the reconstruction. There has been a pitched battle from both sides. Every possible reason has been dredged up, both for and against removing the statues. I didn’t really care. For me, the only thing the Lee statue meant was that I had to be really careful passing through the circle. And, hopeful. I hoped that a streetcar would not hit me. I hoped that I wouldn’t get hit by another car or truck as they entered the circle. But, that’s about it. I rarely even looked at the statue. I was busy driving.

That’s changed.

Despite the historical preservationists agreeing, the city council voting 6 -1 to approve the removal and two courts ruling in favor of removing the statues, the group calling itself something like Save Our Statues won’t let go. Now, they are trying very hard to “persuade” potential removal contractors that it is in their best interest not to make a bid or do the work.

Hmmm.

What does that sound like to you? I know what that sounds like to me.

And, now I care.

Remove the damn things and be done with it. Replace the Lee statue with a statue of somebody who actually set foot in the city. I’m up for a musician like Allen Toussaint or Fats Domino. Or, somebody like them. Somebody positive. A little more current.

The statues?

By the way, I never once used the word demolished. They are being removed and stored until somebody can figure out an appropriate place for viewing, like a museum. We have a Confederate museum. It’s old and dusty. Upgrade it a little and stick them there. One more thing. The removal fees are being gifted to the city by an anonymous donor.

Sorry for the diversion.


Rain drops in the middle.
Rain drops in the middle.

A big storm came.

I decided to chase storm light, rain, wind-blown stuff and to make a few pictures that might give you the sense of being there. And, yes. I was driving. And, photographing.  Not to worry. You know how I do this stuff.

These pictures were taken during sort of a lull.

We had rain on Monday, a lot more on Tuesday and it broke loose at just about dusk. It was heavy, heavy sideways rain. Fast, gusty wind. I was fine. But, just about 60 miles upriver, a trailer park in the little town of Convent was destroyed by a tornado. Two people died there.

I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, go there for the immediate aftermath. But, I will go some time today. I’m not big on photographing disasters. I spent a long time doing that early in my career.  Newspapers and wire services publish that stuff. I’ll try to do something more meaningful than just take pictures to document it. Or, I may think better of it. We’ll see.

These pictures are just sort of fun. Night. Dusk. Colorful light. Motion. Blur.

Fun.

But, never forget. These pictures were made during part of a massive storm. A classic spring Southern storm.


Spanish Moss, the symbol of the South.
Spanish Moss, the symbol of the South.

Swamps.

A lot of tourists come to Louisiana for only a couple of things. They say that they want to visit New Orleans. They really mean The French Quarter, or that they want to take a swamp or plantation tour.  Swamps are just about everywhere. Plantations, at least the kind most people think of, are generally located upriver.  With the exception of one or two, most down river plantations have been destroyed by fire or water.

But, let’s not go there today. Before I really get into a plantation discussion, I have to go take a few pictures. Well, a lot of pictures.

However, I do have a lot of swamp pictures. These are just a few. They were all made in downriver St. Bernard Parish where swamps, bayous, lake water and even some salt water come together. A sportsman’s paradise. A least that’s what they call Louisiana.

Meanwhile.

A couple of you think I should do a long story about the EPA Superfund site. Thank you for your confidence and thoughts. But, I really don’t want to spend six months or a year working on a project that really won’t be seen by very many people. And, times have changed. Anybody can publish anything on the internet. That doesn’t mean a lot of people will see it. And, despite all marketing efforts, even great content has to be pulled. Not pushed.

And, that is an interesting word. Think about it. And, how you achieve it.

At the end of the day, it really means most so-called SEO experts haven’t got a clue. Heh!


Federal concertina wire.
Federal concertina wire.

I generally return to the scene of the crime. Mostly just to see what happened since I was there.

There are two things to know.

First, the only thing that has changed in about six months is the graffiti. Oh, and it’s winter. Not summer. Second, normally the phrase “return to the scene of the crime,” is just a little saying. Not this time. If you dig into the Storyteller archives, or just go to http://wp.me/pN5ne-27  you can read my original reporting. The story is long and complicated. It involves the Federal government not following through or making good on the rules that govern an EPA Superfund site.

Yes. This place is horribly polluted. It’s the results of years of The City of New Orleans dumping garbage there, and then building a neighborhood and housing projects over it without really cleaning anything. We are talking about serious toxins. Junk from the late 1800s and most of the first 50 years of the next century that has been percolating underground and just waiting to surface.

Many people were forced to move. Or, were given just enough money to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, but not enough money to make them whole if they bought property anywhere else in the city. Many had no choice but to stay on this land. The housing projects were even worse. By the time they were finally completed, he were already sinking into the ground because they were built without pilings or sub-floors. Black, gooey stuff seeped right into people’s living rooms. Dining rooms. Kitchens.

There are two end results. So far.

Every time a big storm blows through and dumps a lot of rain out there, black tarry, oily stuff comes bubbling out of the ground because the land was only scraped a few inches and then just covered with a thin layer of dirt. The second is less physically apparent. At least immediately. It emerges after a few years. It’s Cancer. Yep, the neighborhood has a very high incidence of various forms of Cancer. The link from the former junkyard site to resident’s illnesses has been established.

I took a friend of mine, who happens to be a very good photojournalist, on the usual “Ray’s Tour of Hell.” You know the one. The one where I show my visitor the really abandoned and ruined side of the city. I only take people who are interested in this sort of stuff because not everybody wants to see it. They come to New Orleans for other, more happy, reasons. Like music. Food. Festivals. Beer.

Anyway.

I think I scared him when we were there. I always feel creepy when I visit this neighborhood, or what remains of it. He seemed really spooked. I think it got confusing. Look at the brightness of the light. Listen to the story. It’s incongruous. It doesn’t make sense.

He suggested that I do a kind of art project in this place. He thinks I should interview the remaining people and just let their words, combined with my pictures, tell the story. He thinks that their words would be powerful if I just used giant quote blocks. Like a long caption.

I don’t know.

I’m not so big on long form projects. And, I need a real target… somebody who will actually publish my work in a place that a big audience can see it. Then it matters. Then it’s not a vanity project. It could actually help somebody.

Or, not.

It seems, these days, that there is so much noise that you can’t hear the signal.

http://wp.me/pN5ne-2r7


Pretty in pink. Two.
Pretty in pink. Two.

It’s spring. Down here. In the swamp.

Yesterday the high temperature was just above 80 degrees. The humidity is way down. The air seems crystal clear. Except in the morning when a lot of fog was floating around. All of that is great.

But, it makes me lazy.

I was supposed to take more pictures than I did today. Mostly, I just wandered around the yard taking pictures and playing with the camera. Little experiments. Little tests.

These pictures came out of the camera about looking as you see them. No big modifications in post production. Mostly, just a little clean up. You know that I’m not one of those guys who proclaims, “I DIDN’T USE PHOTOSHOP” like it’s a badge of honor. I use all the tools available to me. I just wanted to see if I could do this stuff in the camera simply by manipulating the settings. Remember I make RAW files. I don’t use the camera’s JPEG settings which deliver a pretty well processed picture.

So.

I did that. Everything in camera. Using the onboard camera tools. And, my brain. My biggest fear is concerns software that compresses pictures for social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. It’s like using a three-pound mallet to hammer in a tiny finishing tack. Generally, it flattens and darkens the picture. That’s why I make pictures as bright and energetic as I do. By the time those sites compress the color and contrast it looks about right when you finally see the pictures on your computer screen.