Storm clouds.
Storm clouds.

Well, that was something.

Yesterday. More comments than usual. More comments expressing opinion beyond the comments of image praise. It made me smile. It should make you smile. I never intended for Storyteller to be political. But, these are strange days, indeed. John Lennon said that. Forty years ago. I suspect as 2017 rolls on, Storyteller will become political on some days.

Well.

Not political exactly. Instead, I’d like to think that I might write something that speaks for, and to, other human beings. I might write about a United States presidential administration that is heading toward something that is totalitarian, at best. Or the plight of refugees stuck in limbo. Like everybody else, I must speak out. I can do nothing less. You can do nothing less. We as a global population, matter. All of us. Uno Mundo.

One guideline. Guideline. Not rule. Please express yourself. Michael and I had a little misunderstanding. Mostly because we’ve been posting kind of snarkily on each others’ blogs for a while now. For most things, that’s fine. Fun. Makes each of us laugh. But, this one topic is serious. For all of us. Everywhere on the planet. After all, one nuclear bomb thrown in the wrong direction can really mess up your day. You don’t have to agree with me. You don’t have to disagree. Speak your mind. I’m not going to take your post down. I’m not going to block you. It’s a free space.

One more thing. About me. I’m a fairly private person. Writing about my grandfather was not easy for me. I’m very glad that you appreciated the post. More than I can say. But, there is another thing to know. That’s about as far as I can go with him. Because, our family never talked about the past. Sometimes our family never talked at all.

You know my father’s sister — my Aunt Olga? I never knew that she existed until I started using Ancestory.com a few years ago and I tried to trace my family. I have no idea what happened to cause bad blood in my family. But, when I was very young, we moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and eventually to Long Beach, where I grew up. We lived at the farthest eastern tip of Long Beach, near the Orange County border. My Aunt Olga lived in Cerritos, just on the other side of the county border. Yet, we never met her. I’m not sure if one sibling’s move generated the other’s move. Or, if it was happenstance. She passed only a few years ago. I wish I had known. One of these days, when we are in Southern California and have a little time, I’ll find her grave and pay my respects. To an aunt whom I’ve never met.

The picture. After all, this is supposed to be a photography blog. Talk about discoveries. I decided to use Apple’s newish photo cataloging and storage service. At least, for everything on my phone and whatever happened to find its way onto my computer’s hard drive. I don’t store much there because I believe you only want working files on the computer. The rest go to externals or clouds. But, it did some very deep digging. It even went to a place where files are trashed but not sliced and diced.

You know how there is always lost music that ends up being released 40 years after it was recorded? I understand that. Musicians are notoriously bad file and record keepers. But, I think I’m pretty disciplined about key wording and filing.

However…

Apple dug out files that were so lost that I’d forgotten about them. Some of the files come under the heading of, “Wow, that’s a pretty good picture. I wonder who took it?”

This picture is one of them. My New Mexico days. The Sandia Mountain Range, east of Albuquerque. I could see it out of my front door. My back window. I always experiment in framing. This is an example. I suppose that it’s also kind of symbolic. I’ll leave that to you.


In all its glory.
In all its glory.

I’m going to tell you a story.

This story, in so many ways, is about all of us in The United States.

My grandfather was a Russian immigrant. He came to this country in 1905. He was a sailor in the Royal Russian Navy during the time of the first Russian Revolution. He was a large machine mechanic. A machinist’s mate. He served on board a battleship. His ship, like so many others, was ordered to fire on Russian people in order to quell the early uprising. Like so many others in the navy, he refused. He would not fire on his own people.

He jumped ship somewhere near Vladivostok. He and a large group of his unit. There is a famous book and movie about this called, “The Potemkin Incident.” It is about a battleship crew, how they scuttled the ship and deserted. But not his crew. He made his way to Hamburg, Germany. He had few citizenship documents. And, if history serves, Russian police, soldiers and agents looked everywhere for these men. They had to, since about half the navy deserted. Yes. Deserted. My grandfather deserted rather than kill his own people.

When he got to Hamburg, he managed to buy a steerage class ticket on some broken down old tramp freighter. He and his friends lived in the bottom of a ship for about 30 days eating only apples and Kasha (a sort of rough grain that we still eat today) and drinking putrid water. When they arrived at New York harbor they were quarantined for a short time and then passed through immigration at Ellis Island. My grandfather spoke no English. The immigration officers spoke no Russian or Ukrainian. That’s how I got my family name. When he entered, they wrote “Laskowitz” because that’s the best that they could do. That’s not what our name is. It is something like Laskowicz, or Laskevitz or…

He passed through immigration and made his way to the Lower East Side of New York City, which was an Eastern European ghetto. In 1910, he met my grandmother who immigrated from Poland. They married. They moved to Newark. New Jersey. They had two children. My aunt Olga. And, my dad. Walter. In 1917, while World War I was starting to move slightly in the Germany’s favor, my grandfather enlisted in the US Army. As did many immigrants, he went back to Europe to fight for his newly adopted country. The US government decreed that all immigrants who served and who were holding the historical equivalent of the “green card,” would immediately be granted full naturalized citizenship upon being discharged from the military. They just had to  apply.

Apparently, my grandparents learned a couple of lessons too well. They didn’t trust any government.  Register? Apply? Noooooo…. Although he could have been naturalized in 1919, he wasn’t. He waited until 1947. My dad, by this time, had served the country during World War II. He was home and convinced my grandfather — his dad — to claim his veterans right. He did.

My grandfather passed in 1949. I never knew him.

One more family story. My grandfather’s family were sausage makers by family trade. They lived in a small village. During World War II, the Nazis burned the village to the ground. Later as the Soviets pushed through the village, they salted the land so nothing would grow. The only thing that stands there today is a small monument.

Today is 30 January 2017. The past week was pure hell. Think about it. Make what you will of my family’s story.

Barbed wire.
Barbed wire.


Reflection
Reflection.

It seems we have entered the looking-glass. Things are upside down.

All I know is what Bob Dylan said,

” This is hard country, to stay alive in
Blades are everywhere, and they’re breaking my skin
I’m armed to the hilt, and I’m struggling hard
You won’t get out, of here unscarred
It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday”

This happened in just one week.

Peace, y’all.

The picture. Not what you are thinking. It’s a reflection made on the back of a car trunk, or boot, if you prefer.

One more thing. To those of you who follow Storyteller and are now fearful, I am with you. Many of us are.


Kung Hei Fat Choi
Kung Hei Fat Choi

Happy Chinese New Year.

Life changes. This holiday almost escaped me. How could entering The Year of the Fire Rooster pass me by? Time. Passings. Distance. Once I spent a lot of time in Asia. Mostly Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Bangkok. Now, I don’t.

When I returned to New Orleans I became more involved with the culture. Mardi Gras culture. Second line parades hosted by benevolent societies. Mardi Gras Indians. Baby Dolls. All things New Orleans.

But.

Both are lunar holidays. For the first time in a long time, Mardi Gras and Chinese New Year are not on about the same day. So, we can honor and celebrate both without tripping over ourselves.

The picture. I made it in the Wong Tai Sin Taoist Temple. In Kowloon, across the harbor from Hong Kong. I made during another Chinese New Year celebration. I don’t remember the technical stuff except to say that it was very low ISO — probably native — with an f-stop of around f 2.8.

As far as Chinese New Year goes, Wikipedia does a good job.  Find it here at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year

Gung Hei Fat Choi… Y’all.

 


All a blur.
All a blur.

Sometimes, the view from the inside is as good as the one from the line. You know, the second line. At least, it is for me. I think the moments that surround the main action are maybe more interesting than the action, itself. I like the fringes. The edges. The corners.

These pictures were made inside the Sportsman’s Club just before the second line burst through the doors and started rolling through Central City.

Not much to the pictures. Just be there. Smile, ask and take a few pictures.

But, there are all sorts of technical issues. Because these places are dark, you could blast away with a flash to get good technical light.

But.

Two things about that.

Too much strobing away and you start to disturb the people as they are getting ready. Nobody likes having flashes repeatedly popped in their faces. And, you’ll lose all that wonderful, multi-colored ambient light. You lose the mystery. And, you lose the sense of place. Sure you can use fill flash, but it doesn’t solve the first problem.

So.

I let the camera do its thing. I recently learned that with many digital cameras, using auto-ISO is your best bet in this situation. Apparently, the camera’s software not only picks the proper ISO, which might not be anything you could manually set, but it also modifies the noise reduction properly.

It never occurred to me. After all, isn’t ISO 100 always ISO 100? Apparently, it isn’t. Not in the digital world.

Normally, I’d set the ISO in this situation to about 3,200. And, I’d have a lot of noise to clean up in post production. In some cases it might not be repairable. Using the auto function and the PhaseOne processor, the noise was negligible and could be easily repaired. Even the bottom picture, which is mostly all shadows didn’t take as much work as it could have.

Even though I’m not a spokesperson for any app maker, I can say that pairing PhaseOne with On1 always makes my work a lot easier than using Photoshop to Lightroom. For one thing, it doesn’t take as much computing power to use them. And, the difference is like using a fencing foil and a battle-axe to do processing and finishing.

If you are wondering, the bottom picture is my favorite. It looks and feels like a painting to me.

Really masked.
Really masked.

 

 


Mardi Gras Red.

Mardi Gras.

Things are taking shape. The city is getting ready. Decorations are popping up everywhere. 

Normally they are green, gold and purple. 

I have no idea why these are red. Or, why the skulls are featured. But, the whole thing caught my attention. Hopefully it will catch yours.

The picture. Oh, you know.


Playing in a crowd.
Playing in a crowd.

Brass Bands and me.

You know me. I like brass bands. I like them best when they are chaotic. When they are working in the street. When they are surrounded by a crowd. You also know that I like to layer my pictures so that you get some sense of the scale and depth. I was lucky last Sunday. I seemed do that a lot.

Easier layering came from a couple of adjustments. One, obviously, was the size of the crowd. It was huge and compressed into a tiny side street. Two, was my own positioning, which was mostly trapped on that same side street. Finally, it was my choice of lenses. As you know, I’m not a big gear guy. But, I’ve been working with a very short telephoto lens — a 60mm that sees like a 90 mm — which forces me to keep more of the crowd in the picture. Even when I’m focusing on somebody in the middle of it.

Deep inside, I’ve always known that would help, but the old photojournalist in me kept saying, “longer is better.” And, sometimes it is. For instance, if I worked with a 300mm, I could have possibly made a nice portrait of the saxophone player. But, that would be a little isolating at a second line. The scene matters to the picture.

Of course, my second camera body has a short wide angle zoom on it. I can work even closer with that.

I haven’t talked much about the second line, itself. Those of you who have been around for a while know what it is, even if you don’t live in New Orleans. For those of you who are newer to Storyteller, I invite you to poke around a bit. The search function works pretty well. Just type in second line. You’ll be bombarded with posts from the past few years.


Playing, playing, playing
Playing, playing, playing

It’s the music.

Music drives the second line. The tuba starts it, but the rest of the band keeps it going. Even an “old-fashioned” instrument like a tambourine is important. Old-fashioned because they’ve fallen out of fashion with bands who play on stage. But, they seem to be coming back. A little.

This picture was taken just before the club made their appearance. The band, or should I say bands, was getting going. Banging. Blowing, Tapping. For all they were worth.

If you’ve never been to a second line, you have no idea how this forces your heart, soul and feet to move. You cannot help but sway in time to the music. Even the pavement moves.

If you are coming to New Orleans for any reason, leave your Sunday afternoon open. There are 47 second lines a year. Unless some other big event gets in the way, like Mardi Gras, you’ll be able to see one. Walk in one. Feel the energy.

It’s like going to church. A big old school Baptist church. Were the singers, sing. And sway. And stomp to the rhythm.


Head dress. Waiting.
Head dress. Waiting.

A big one. A big huge second line.

It started at Sportsman’s Corner. In Central City. There were three or four bands. Three or four divisions. I made lots and lots of pictures. I think that I had a pretty good take. I worked inside. I worked outside. I worked on three or four different streets.

That last line wasn’t exactly by choice. Every time that I got in the car to leave I ended up driving right into the heart of the parade where it was crossing the street that I was on. I did the only thing I could do. Well, two things. I blocked traffic. And, I took pictures.

That’s also why I’m late. I made a lot of pictures. Some — me — would say I made too many pictures. Rather than process them all and finish a few at a time, I did what I’d rather do. I kept my work flow in a straight line. I took me a good part of the day to get to the point where I could publish anything. That was a half hour or so ago. But, the dog who sees stuff wanted to go for a walk so I was interrupted. Again.

The pictures. I decided to create little groups of pictures. I wouldn’t call them stories because there is no process or beginning, middle and end. They are just small — very small — portfolios. This one is about the king’s head-dress. In the club, which is really a bar. On the king’s head. And, from the king’s point of view as he faces the wall of people.

Where it belongs.
Where it belongs.
What awaits.
What awaits.