Ain't der no mo'.
Ain’t der no mo’.

Club Desire.

If you’ve read Storyteller for any length of time, you know about this place. If not, I’ll catch you up briefly. Club Desire is the birthplace of rock n roll.

Say what you will about the King — Elvis. It’s the chitlin circuit bands that passed through New Orleans in the late 1940s and early 1950s — playing anything from bop, to big band music, to rhythm and blues to straight ahead jazz —  that formed the gumbo from which rock n’ roll bubbled up and eventually took form.

Who played here? Oh man. I can name a few. A few that you might know. But, the list is way, way long.

Little Richard, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and… Fats Domino.

When Fats played here, it was at that moment that the music changed. He eventually left Club Desire. He moved across the railroads tracks to the Hideaway Club. In the neighborhood of Desire. From there his career is a matter of history. He’s still alive. The Hideaway is long gone.

The place. It closed in the early 1970s. When the owner passed. There were a few one-off events that were held by his daughter. Mostly, it just sat there and mouldered. She still owned it. But, never paid property taxes. There was no reason for music fans to come out this far. The streetcar known as Desire had been gone for many years. Fans could see their favorite bands in town. In New Orleans. Eventually, Hurricane Katrina came and the area flooded with about 15 feet of water. The entire neighborhood was hurt pretty badly. It’s starting to come back. The club did not. Not now. And, apparently never.

Oh sure. All sorts of organizations tried to delay the city’s demolition process. One group even tried to have the building declared a national monument since FEMA money was used in neighborhood restoration. Not happening. Everybody wrote letters. We did too. To no avail.

I knew it. Every time I passed by, more of the building was collapsing. Even if the building could have been declared a historical monument, it would have cost a lot of money just to make it safe, let alone to restore it.

Still.

When I turned the corner to have a look at Cafe Desire, I was shocked. Stunned. Saddened.

It was gone.

Near as I can tell, the city tore it down last week. The grader is still parked there. With a ladder on top of it. The ground still has tracks on it. It hasn’t been weathered. I missed the actual event. The demo. All boys like demolitions. Just as well. I wouldn’t have been happy.

As a wise man once said, “Don’t be sad because something ended. Be happy because it happened.” You know that wise man. Dr. Seuss.

Besides. There are ghosts. Musical ghosts. Long live the musical ghosts.

Upstairs
Upstairs
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Healing prayers.
Healing prayers.

Hurricane. Katrina at 11. I said last year that ten years was enough time to mourn. To rebuild. To reflect. I said that I was done living in post-Katrina New Orleans. That from last year’s ten-year anniversary I wasn’t going to wallow in the Katrina leftovers. I was moving on.

My response was partially due to the national and international media coverage of the “big” ten-year anniversary of the storm and flooding the swamped 80 % of the city. Every possible kind of media descended on the city. Many of them got it wrong. Most of us who actually live here and have recovered were disgusted. We predicted, and got it right, that there would be next to no coverage this year. I saw two national stories on the storm. One in the Huffington Post and another in the Washington Post. That was just fine with me.

Many of my friends who post on social media said the were not going to post anything at all. I kind of agree with them. But, obviously I don’t agree with them all the way. I decided to simply photograph what I saw on August 29, 2016 in the Lower 9th Ward. That’s a big piece of what I do. I document things. Sure, I spin the post production my way. To help make the picture my mind saw. But, still…

Obviously, many New Orleanians felt the same way. Very few people came out.

Look at the top picture. That’s the healing service. Last year the crowd was so big that it stretched into the street and down some of the side streets. Everybody represented. Mardi Gras Indians. Queens. Baby Dolls. Brass bands. Social and Benevolent Societies. And, of course, media from all over the world.

Not this year. What you see in the top picture is what there was. You can count them.

So.

I decide to wander around the Lower 9th Ward and just photograph a few things. What I saw. You may have to open the pictures to see the details.

The big question. What do I think? Feel?

Eleven years on, I don’t feel like the government let us down. Anymore. Oh, they did to be sure. The levees are a federal project that was locally managed. The levees weren’t built all that well and they certainly weren’t maintained. They broke in 57 places. Two neighborhoods were completely destroyed. And just a bit downriver, an entire town was almost wiped off the map. Overall recovery was a mess. You saw the immediate results on CNN.

We can talk about how and why one neighborhood came back and the other didn’t. Well, with the exception of the few streets that actor Brad Pitt’s Make it Right group helped to rebuild.

If you want to get into why most of the Lower 9th didn’t come back, search for it here on Storyteller. Or, Google it. It’s not pretty. It will make you angry, but that’s not my point today.

Instead, while I was photographing around, I saw a lot of beauty. Oh yeah, I find beauty in ruins and broken things, but that wasn’t it.

I saw nature. Doing her thing. She’s been doing it for a while. But, yesterday toward the end of summer with all of the season’s growth I could see it clearly.

And, maybe, just maybe this neighborhood wasn’t meant to come back all the way. Much of it is simply country now. Southern country land. Nature reclaimed it. And, that ain’t a bad thing.

So.

No. I wasn’t sad yesterday. And, I wasn’t reliving the past. I was seeing the now. And, maybe I had a glimpse of the future.

Still for sale.
Still for sale.


Summer Morning.
Summer Morning.

Every now and then I get really, really lucky.

Yesterday morning was one of those times. The light. The color. The subject came together. In front of my face. Yes. The dog was with me. It was her walk. But, I’m not sure she saw this. It’s well above her normal point of view. It’s likely that she did. She sees everything. But, this isn’t one of “What the Dog Saw” series. This is what Ray saw. In the morning.

Anyway.

This picture is simple. See it. Shoot it. Process it. Bring the color up just a bit to keep the picture within the range of how I saw it. And, done.

Happy week.


Another Sunday experiment. 
Once again, aside from making the original image in my normal way, all the rest of the work was done on my iPhone.

 I used an app called Snapseed. Once it was completely stand alone and developed by a small company. It cost money. A few dollars, I think. Google bought them. Now the software is free. It’s a great photo manipulation tool. I don’t know if there will be future development or even support. But, for now it works great.

Anyway.

I converted the color capture to a black & white photograph. I added a little further manipulation to it and there you have it.

I uploaded the picture from my phone to Storyteller. It’s as you see it. I was pleasantly surprised the first time that I did it. This time I wasn’t so surprised. I just did it. The process was as smooth as it could be.

But. I’m not quiet ready to get rid of my cameras and computers just yet. The process, as easy to use as it is, just feels strange to me. I’m old school. At the end of the day, I think that I’d rather shoot film and work in a wet darkroom. It’s a little less factory like and a lot more organic. 

The picture. I made the framing a little weird by shoving the main subject far to the left with the right side being a kind of bokeh. However, that element allows you to see what’s going on in the background. You get a sense of place and people.


What the dog saw, Again.
What the dog saw. Again.

Number three in an occasional series. What the dog saw.

The dog and I have decided that walks are much better after a hard rain. The smells are better for her because the air is fresh. The colors are better for me because they are brighter and cleaner. She instinctively seems to know this. I had to figure it out.

Luckily, this is the rainy season for all of us in South Louisiana. Sometimes it can be too much. Way too much. We saw that last week, upriver. Sometimes it can be just about right. Luckily, in New Orleans, it has been pretty good this summer.  We had some very hot days right at the start. I whined about them.  Since then, either the temperatures have cooled off a bit, or maybe I’ve just gotten used to them after five years of being back. I think it’s the latter because the average high temperatures have been the upper 80s to the lower 90s. When I’m out, I get sweaty because the humidity is so high, but I don’t feel overheated.

It is also storm season which translates into hurricane season. It’s something for which to prepare, but not really worry about. An online friend wrote and said we’ve had seven storms. Yes. Seven named storms. But, none of them have broken into the Gulf or turned cyclonic. Most have died in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Or, turned north and never reached the coast. The one closest to us today can’t seem to get formed and wind shear has chopped off the tops of the clouds meaning it has no energy.

I’m no expert. But, we think about this stuff down here. Nobody wants to be caught in another Katrina situation.

The picture. Very simple. The dog lead me right to it. All I had to do was see it, frame it and push the button. It’s a little hard to do since the actual scene is so chaotic. You kind of have to make meaning out of it in some way.

One more thing. Yes. There are shells in our unpaved areas. Remember most of Greater New Orleans was once swamp. The shells were either just in the places you see them, or they were imported when the land was filled in order to build on it.


Dancing on the tombstone.
Dancing on the tombstone.

So. One of you said yesterday’s picture was scary enough.

Ha!

This feels a little more scary to me. And, it’s within about five minutes walking distance from the house. The sign on the gate says plainly, “no dogs.” The dogs go there. No. They don’t do what you are thinking. I make sure of that. They just like to play hide and seek among the tombs. Sometimes, it seems as if they know who is buried in certain tombs. They also seem to have their favorites. Before you think we are the only rule breakers, they also have their favorite dog friends who they meet there. This is New Orleans. Dogs go to coffee shops. And, sit outside with their people.

The picture. More experiments. I’m getting quicker at doing them. I think, the speed mostly because my ability to predict what an image will look and my muscle memory is improving.

Working in the coal mine.
Working in the coal mine.

In case you are wondering why I’m going on about dogs, it’s National Dog Day.  There’s one now. She’s learning about old-fashioned UPI drum scanners. I’m pretty sure that she’s thinking, “Nine minutes to scan and transmit? Huh? I could do that now in a couple of seconds and still eat three biscuits.”


What's a little water?
What’s a little water?

It still looks this way.

Nothing has been done to this building since Hurricane Katrina flooded the neighborhood. Eleven years ago.

That’s not to say the building was in good shape then. In fact, the entire corner had fallen on hard times well before the flood.

Luckily for Bohn Motors, a well-known local car dealer, they’ve been on the Westbank for years. This building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2011. It was built in 1926. Rhodes Funeral Home bought it in 2005 for future development. Two weeks later the storm flooded the city. Redevelopment was scheduled to start in summer 2012.

So far, nothing has happened.  Four years later.

This is the place the Rhodes family said is the crossroads of New Orleans. So much for the crossroads, I guess. Despite many signs to the contrary, maybe New Orleans hasn’t really recovered yet. After the storm damage was assessed, the Urban League said it would take about eight years for the city to recover. I’ve learned a little bit about project management in my career. The rule of thumb, when I learned it, was to plan for three times the predicted schedule time. Twenty four years. That sounds about right. We are less than half way through.

The picture. More experiments. More tinkering. More starts and stops. I wanted to make it really, really dark. But, the picture looked too evil. So, I went in the other direction. I think it works.

 


What remains today.
What remains today.

Out there where the swamps meet the lakes it looks like this.

Not exactly this way. I made this picture look this way. But, the trees are broken. Many are gone. The swamps are dead. The land is desolate. The way you might think that the end of time looks.

Some of this is storm damage. Hurricane Katrina made landfall just a few miles from here. But, it’s been 11 years ago. Nature has a way of healing things. Especially nature’s own things.

This is something different. Much worse. This is the result of land subsidence. This is the loss of our outlying land. And swamps. And, the merging of salt water with lake water. That brackish water is killing the plant life that isn’t used to it. That’s my simplistic and layman’s take on it. There are plenty of places to read more about it. One of the best is http://www.jrconline.org. It’s a science site. Not a political one. It doesn’t grind axes.

That said, this place does make for some striking pictures. I’ve photographed the area mostly in the warmer months. This year I want to work there in the winter months. Well, our winter. Which isn’t really that much of a winter. Even so, it should be truly desolate.

However.

Since I’m on an experimental journey, I thought I’d use a little heavy post production technique. Okay. A lot of photo manipulation. I thought that I would make it brighter and more punchy than my last few pictures. I have two reasons for this. One, the basic scene was blue and green. Converting it to something dark just looked sort of weird. And, not everything around here is bleak and muted. As I always say, let the picture teach you. I think if you rework a picture about 300 or 400 times, eventually the picture will take you to the place where it is supposed to be. I’m not sure that it is there yet, but it stopped me in my tracks while I was working on it.

What do you think? Am I on track? Or, off the rails?


Deserted cities.
Deserted cities.

“Upon this street where time has died. The golden treat you never tried. In times of old, in days gone by. If I could catch your dancing eye. It was on the way, On the road to dreams, yeah. Now my heart’s drowned in no love streams, yeah. The street is cold, its trees are gone. The story’s told the dark has won. Once we set sail to catch a star. We had to fail, it was too far. “

— Deserted Cities of the Heart,  Jack Bruce & Pete Brown/Cream 1968

I have no idea how this song got into my head. But, it seemed to fit the picture. Sorta. or, the picture fit the song. One or the other.

I’m getting into my storm mental zone. I didn’t mean to, but things have a way of happening. A lot of what I post this week will refer to Hurricane Katrina. In some way. All of the work will be heavily post produced.

Because.

When I started to work through my photo archives after I returned to New Orleans most of the slide film had been soaked. Much of it was unusable. Some was good enough to be scanned. But, upon enlargement they showed all kinds of weird stuff. Mold had eaten into the plastic. It caused strange colors and shapes. It really couldn’t be fixed. Or, retouched. I kept the scans, but tossed the film. You don’t want mold lingering in your house. In any way. Especially that mold.

Luckily.

The really good images. The keepers. The portfolio pictures… were scanned long before Hurricane Katrina even was a blip on the horizon. Like a couple of years before. And, as you’ve seen, the black and white negatives were fine.

This is not a scanned slide. This is a new digital image. But, I managed to come very close to what that damaged slide film looked like. All it took was a lot of tinkering. False starts. And, a couple of successes.

That’s how it goes.