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.