It’s been spooky and scary for almost two years. Today as the day for evil, spooky and scary. It’s way different today.
Enjoy the day. And, especially the night.
It’s been spooky and scary for almost two years. Today as the day for evil, spooky and scary. It’s way different today.
Enjoy the day. And, especially the night.
You know me.
On most Sundays, you can find me at a second line. This one was important to me. Because, the work is the prayer. The whole world seems to need a whole lot of prayer right now. You know what I wrote yesterday. That’s what this work was for.
Second lines are joyous. They are happy events. The are celebratory. That’s what I needed. Probably, you did too.
The pictures. The actual making of them is easy. See them, press the button. Done. Oh, and a little work in post production. Very little work. Mostly, it’s a question of getting there. And, staying there.
I have questions. A question.
Black people hunted and killed, pipe bombs sent to liberal people, a murderous mass shooting of Jewish people in their house of God. Last week was just horrible. In a year of terrible things.
A good friend of mine suggested that I not publish anything overtly political because he thinks that Storyteller is a place where people come to get away from the daily news. Fair enough. But, this post isn’t political.
I’m not taking the usual approach discussing our leaders. That really doesn’t matter right now because the whole world seems to be tilting extremely rightward. We are becoming nativist. We are extremely angry and mean. The leaders we all elect represent us. You know, “We the People.” We are electing populist right wing extremists. There, I said it.
My quest is a simple question. A toddler’s question.
I’m not asking why about the events of last week. I’m asking why is there so much hatred. Hatred of people who are not like ourselves. In every evil act last week, somebody was killing, or trying to kill, somebody who was different from them
Have we as a planet become some polarized that we want to hurt people who don’t think like us? Where does that come from? Why is it still among us? Why are people so damn angry at everything?
I read about Trump rallies and the people are still screaming, “Lock her up.” Hillary Clinton is barely a political force these days. She lost the election. They shout, “CNN sucks.” Huh? Is it because they cover the news differently from Fox? They don’t suck. They are doing their jobs. They aren’t evil.
I don’t understand it.
Where does this extreme hatred come from? I think that the word “hate” is a little word with big ramifications. Big enough to send you straight to hell when you die.
Given that so many of the haters also claim to be Christians, don’t they think about that? Don’t they think that taking another human being’s life can send your soul to hell for all eternity?
There are days when I don’t know what I believe when it come to spiritual thinking. But, I have a real clear idea of right and wrong. I must be praying to somewhere because I say that the work is the prayer.
I know. I’ve written a lot. I’ve come to no conclusions. It’s well beyond my pay grade. Feel free to comment. Please. Maybe a discussion might clear it up a little. I dunno.
I made this one at the same time that I made yesterday’s picture. A few steps away. Man, was stuff growing in Treme. I lightened the image and made it as simple as I could. I needed a little clarity.
I needed a little peace.
Peace to y’all.
The return. To the scene.
If you read yesterday’s Storyteller you might have an idea of what I mean. Those first pictures of Mardi Gras Indians were made right here, at this place. In a very different time.
I made this picture yesterday. I had some business in Treme and other errands around downtown. The dog who sees stuff hopped into the car wanting to go for a ride. I got her leash and off we went. I did what I needed to and took her for a walk around a very long block. She had a great time. All those brand new smells, and sights. When we made the turn on the corner at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church — and jazz church — I saw this. An original Katrina cross. And, some new growth coming right out of the church wall.
I made the picture. I had to. It is the perfect bookend to yesterday’s post. I didn’t even know that the church had been searched in the days following the storm.
The “X” is called the cross. The number on top means it was searched on September 10th (2005). COM means it was completely searched and there were no bodies — not human, or animal. CA8 really tugs at my heart. It means California Highway Patrol. CHiPs, as they are sometimes called. I grew up with those guys. They were there for me growing up. They came for me in New Orleans.
The picture is also a good Sunday picture. It’s peaceful. It’s about trauma. It’s about rebirth. And, it is brand new. A good way to start the week.
It seems that y’all are getting to see my firsts. First picture in New Orleans. First Mardi Gras. And, now first pictures of Mardi Gras Indians.
Even though I was living in New Orleans for about 5 years, I wasn’t out on the streets. In July 2005 that changed.
Looking back, it seemed like everything changed in about six weeks.
In mid-July Mardi Gras Indians Chief of Chiefs Tootie Montana, made a dramatic plea to the New Orleans City Council to live and let live. The New Orleans Police were cracking down on the Indians. They broke up two Super Sundays for no real reason except they thought the crowds could get out of hand. That word, “could.” They didn’t.
So, Tootie spoke before the City Council live on all the local television stations. As he spoke, he suffered a massive heart and died right there. Anybody watching the news was horrified. Word passed around the city in sort of a coconut telegraph, well before the advent of social media.
It was time to plan his funeral, in the streets and in the church. Everything took place in the heart of Treme, at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church.
I decided to attend and to photograph.
And, so I went.
I arrived a little early. I parked at friend’s house just around the corner and walked over. I was stunned. There was a massive crowd. There were Mardi Gras Indians, friends, family, spectators and photographers.
I had no idea of what I was looking at. I saw a legendary photographer, Syndey Byrd, who I knew a little and she pointed me in the right direction.
I sort of jumped into the fray and started making pictures. You know that I like to work close, so close I went. The Indians would toss my out of their scrum. Back in I went. Back out they tossed me. After about four or five times, they realized I was the real deal and let me stay. Even Syndey was shaking her head in laughter.
These are the pictures that I made. The very first ones. I think that I worked better back than. These are the kinds of pictures that I should be making now. Looser, with more suit and scene in the pictures. Looking at them after thirteen years helps me to see that.
This all happened in July 2005. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall at Buras, Louisiana. The rest is history. I don’t know about you, but I truly believe that with the passing of Tootie Montana the city lost something. Call it whatever you like. Soul, heart, or juju. I like juju.
Even as we continue to heal thirteen years later, for those of us who went through the storm and early recover, something is missing. I can’t put my finger on it. The new people, who are gentrifying the city, don’t know or understand this. And, that’s really too bad.
Like a moth to a flame.
I kept going back. At first, every week or so. I had to know what would become of a once vibrant neighborhood of blue-collar people. While it is true that many people lost their lives out here, many more didn’t. It is still sacred ground. It always will be.
They were the rebuilders. The ones whose sense of pride and ownership brought them back to almost nothing day after day. They emptied their houses out. They removed pews from churches in hopes that they would dry out under our hot Louisiana sun.
Some even scraped away what remained of their houses in hopes that they could started rebuilding soon. Dump truck after dump truck helped them remove the remains and the debris. The home owners hoped to rebuild soon.
It was not to be.
So many of the home owners lived in houses that were built by their grandfathers or their great grandfathers. When one generation passed, the next generation simply moved into the family home. There was no legal line of succession. Most homes were insured at, maybe 1920 replacement cost prices.
Without legal proof of ownership the residents could not qualify for anything. No FEMA funds. No LRH funds. No low-interest SBA loans. No nothing. Probably 90% of these people never returned home. They had no home to come back to. Their diaspora is far and wide. Many went to Houston. Many went to Atlanta. Some went further west. When we evacuated to New Mexico one of my 7th Ward neighbors family lived two doors down from us. Imagine our joy at seeing each other alive.
Yet many continued to care for their property. Even today. You’ll often see overgrown land with one neatly mowed and manicured property in the middle of that.
The best anyone did for this neighborhood was actor Brad Pitt, who founded the “Make-It-Right” organization. They built about 30 house. They used very famous architects who designed modern structures designed to withstand storms. They builders used modern building materials.
The new houses may have been designed to withstand a storm, but they weren’t designed to deal with our extreme heat and humidity. You have to live here to understand. Some are falling apart. One is in such bad condition that demolition permits have been filed in order to tear it down. Brad Pitt is being sued in order to force Make It Right to repair the houses.
And, so it goes.
The picture. They were made over time. For instance, the top picture was made a few weeks after the storm. The middle two were made a month or so later. The bottom picture was made maybe six months after that. I suppose the toilets attached to very strong plumbing will live on. I have no idea if the seat cover was there before the storm or added later. I prefer to think it rode out the storm.
I continue to return today. Usually once every three months. Beside the Make It Right homes, a few people have managed to return and rebuild. There are houses scattered here and there. Many properties are still as the storm left them. Worse for wear after rotting in the hot sun, and severe storms, over thirteen years. The rest of the neighborhood has returned to nature. Perhaps, that’s as it should be. This was always bottom land. Land so far below sea level that some streets leaked in the best of times.
And, so it goes.
What was once. What isn’t is a distant memory.
These are things that I found during the early days of recovery following Hurricane Katrina’s destructive path. Or more precisely, the Federal Flood, given that the levees broke because of catastrophic failure.
I saw things. Terrible things. I’ll show you some of the more publishable things over the past few days. So terrible that when I finally returned to my own flooded house after photographing what remained of the Lower 9th Ward, I sat on my old friend Uncle Joe’s porch with him. I held my head in my hands. He put his arm on my shoulder. He said, “I told you not to go, but like a moth drawn to a flame you had to.”
He was right. He is usually right.
Uncle Joe is now 83 years old. He lost his house, but the Feds replaced it with a factory made house that looks just like his old house, but a little better. He’s a Creole man. He’s lived in Mississippi and New Orleans all his life. He’s seen everything. He’s been through every kind of racial issue there is. Still he smiles. Still he bares no ill will. He’s a guy that I can only aspire to be.
Heroes are where you find them. He’s one of mine.
What I found.
You know how I feel about all marching bands. Big high school bands and the little brass bands that play at second lines. I love them all. I love their music. I love the compact and on point sound of a great high school band. I love the chaotic sound of a second brass band. It’s the same, but very different.
When I returned to New Orleans after the storm, I was standing on Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue. Two Canadian women were standing next to me. I told them that if they ever were lucky enough to see the St. Augustine Marching 100 it would change their lives for the better. A minute after I said that, they came thundering up St. Charles in between the buildings that formed a sonic canyon. I almost couldn’t make pictures. My eyes were wet. I never thought that I’d see them again. It was a gift. It helped spur my return to New Orleans.
When I found these pictures, I was broken-hearted. Whoever owned this stuff marched and played in the St. Aug’s Marching 100. If the hash marks mean what I think the mean, he played in the band for all four years of high school and came back as a band helper after he graduated in order to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of band members. It also means that he was very, very good.
A lot of people went out to the Lower 9th Ward to see what the water destroyed. A lot of them would pick stuff up as kind of bizarre souvenir. I couldn’t do that. Most of the 9th Ward is sacred ground, meaning a lot of people died there. I have no idea how these items came be there. But, I’m not messing around with ghosts.
Besides, I take pictures, not stuff.
A lot of firsts.
As I work through my archives and share newly “found” images with you, I realized that you are seeing a lot of firsts.
A few days ago, you saw my first New Orleans picture. Today you are seeing my first Mardi Gras picture. I made this picture in 1999. On film. Fuji Velvia to be exact. The film was slow, even for its time. I usually worked at ISO 32. That explains the total movement in this picture. Even at f2.8, the shutter speed would likely be around 1/4 of a second. Way too slow to stop motion, especially in the darkness in which I worked.
I made it even harder, by liking to work at F 5.6. That meant the shutter speed would be around one second. You can stop no motion with that shutter speed.
Working this way, at night, meant you either failed entirely or you made something dreamy and moving. The images could look like a watercolor painting, or they could be a mess. Even with all the working knowledge I have, pictures like this depend on a couple of things. One is clicking the shutter where there is just enough light. The other is a kind of luck. Not photographer’s luck, but the kind where everything comes together in one second. With practice and experience you can approximate that.
It surely was a different way of working than today when everything is gauged on sharpness. Today is a time when new photographers look at work by Henri Cartier Bresson and say, “but everything isn’t sharp.” It doesn’t matter. As a wise old professor used to say, “sometimes your best picture isn’t your sharpest one.” HCB is a touchstone for every working street, documentary and journalistic photographer.
I think that’s why a lot of very experienced photographers are moving back towards something more artistic after working on making pictures that are tack sharp for over a decade. We want the pictures to hit you on an emotional level, not a technical one. Sheesh, we own cameras that we can control in any way possible. Why limit ourselves to technical perfection? With a smart phone anybody can do that.
For me, this picture might be as good or better than anything I’ve produced in almost 20 years of Mardi Gras pictures. It captures the energy of a big parade. You feel the controlled chaos. And yet, you know where you are. St. Charles Avenue. The never moving street sign says that.
It’s the energy. In hot or cool weather, it’s the energy that drives second lines. It’s the energy that creates minor miracles for me. If you hear the music, smell the cooking, get pulled into the din, there is no way that you won’t come alive. You’ll sway to the music. You’ll dance. You will feel better than when you arrived.
Eventually, you’ll feel tired. But, it’s a good tired.
It’s a funny thing. When I first started coming out, I had no idea of what I was looking at. I just liked the color. The energy. The people. Eventually I learned a few things. I met a few of the people who make second lines go. Even so, I don’t know everything. I will always still be learning and meeting new people.
I do know the customs and traditions. At least I know them enough not to get in trouble. As I was told many years ago, if you are new on the scene present yourself. You have to know to tradition. You have to know the people.
For me, that’s the same thing as travelling to distant countries, whose traditions are not western. I read about people who get into all sorts of trouble because they compare our way of living to their way of living.
It doesn’t work.
I could tell you all sorts of stories about that. They never happened to me because I’m pretty mellow. But, the things that I’ve seen. Whew.
I’ll tell you one story. I was leaving Thailand, so I went to the airport to check in. Another American was at the window next to me. In those days you had to pay an airport tax. Today, it’s tucked into your airfare. It was 50 Baht. About the equivalent of USD $1.50. No big deal. The guy at the other window started yelling at the agent.
She was horrified.
Then, he started cursing the king and the corrupt country. Now the gate agent was pleading with me, with her eyes, to help.
I tried to calm him down. I told him what the price was in US currency. I told him that in Asia, screaming gets you nowhere fast. I told him that if he kept attacking the king there would be huge trouble
Trouble came in the form of two heavily armed Thai soldiers. They handcuffed him. They were about to turn on me when the gate agent told them in Thai language that I was helping her and I was being kind. The soldiers nodded and put their hands together in a “Y” to thank me and to apologize. Oh, “Y’ing” looks like folding your hands in prayer.
They took him away, kicking and screaming. I don’t know what happened after that. But to insult the King in Thailand is to bring all sorts of hell upon yourself. At that time, the king was loved by all Thai people. I knew him as a really good photographer and jazz musician. He played clarinet in a New Orleans style.
These are some of my favorite pictures from the Good Fellas second line that started on Earhart Expressway. You may be wondering if the name has anything to do with the famous aviator, Amelia. It does. We are a little flying oriented down here. Our airport is called Louis Armstrong, but the destination code is MSY, after an early aviator — Moisant — who crashed in a pasture and was surrounded by scarred cows. That’s where the airport is today.
I made these pictures by just walking around until the second line started. As I’ve said in the past, after a while the actual second line feels a little similar to earlier work, so I try very hard to make something different, or unusual. Of course I photograph the main event.
I invite you to open the little pictures. There is good stuff going on in each of them.
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