I mentioned that sometimes it feels really weird to say as I’m leaving, “I’m going to the Quarter, does anybody want to come?” I used to do that a lot. I don’t do it so much these days.
People come from all over the world to walk our streets. To eat our food. And, to drink way too much of our booze. They can barely taste the 6 ounces of alcohol in our daiquiris. No matter. Usually they confine themselves to a 8 x 13 block area called The French Quarter.
That’s fine. Just remember we are a port city. The city can be rough. Somebody waddling around with a good snoot full is a great mugging target.
There are plenty of police there to protect our visitors, but they can’t be everywhere. Sometimes, the bad guys don’t care. There was a shooting in February — when things were still cooking — that involved a cop and a shooter. The shooter fired at somebody while he was standing next to the cop.
I didn’t say the bad guys were smart.
This is just a small portfolio of my work during two months time, a few years back. I just walked around and made a lot of pictures. I suppose that I was in rare form. Enjoy.
Stay safe. Stay mighty. Enjoy a dozen raw oysters.
Art, in its best form, is supposed to make a connection. It is supposed to make your viewers or readers feel something. A lot of people have been doing that to me.
A friend of mine lost her dog last week. The dog was old and it was time. She wrote such an elegant blog post the it took me three tries to read it without tearing up.
Padma Lakshmi has a new show called, “Taste the Nation.” She picks up where Anthony Bourdain left off. It’s a food show only in that food is the point of understanding. She interviewed her mom while they were cooking together. Her mom is talking about how she came to America. Both mother and daughter are fighting back tears. A vision came to me. I could see my little Polish grandmother cooking and teaching me how to cook. In a railroad flat. In Brooklyn. Whew.
I was reading a column by The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell. He and I go back aways. We knew each other when we were journalistic pups. He wrote about teamwork and how you get there. The example that sticks most is about The Washington Nationals who won The World Series last year. They were invited to The White House. Some went. Some didn’t.
When it was time to start playing baseball and defend their world championship, they checked their politics, egos, race, spiritual beliefs and everything else at the door. They became a team. His working theory is that we, as Americans, forgot how to do this. We must defeat or control the Coronavirus. Everybody is walking to the beat of some other drummer. In order to win we must check our political beliefs, our racial beliefs, our spiritual beliefs and our anger about everything, at the door.
If we can’t do that, this country may not survive. There. I said it.
I said that I wouldn’t be talking about these outside issues. I would only focus on photography and art.
Outside influences are what propels an artist to make new, and maybe, better art.
I suppose that you can write around a group of pictures to influence their meaning. I’m not doing that. This group of pictures is about one of the few times New Orleans comes together and acts as a team. Second lines and Indian events.
Making the photographs was easy. I made pictures of what I saw. I didn’t do very much to them in post production because this work is kin to photojournalism.
There are a couple of pictures that I’d like to talk about.
In the photograph called “all joy” look at the woman with the giant hoop earring. When I lived in the 7th Ward, she was a little girl who lived a few houses down from me. When we saw each other, we grabbed each other and started hugging and laughing. Caring.
In the photograph called “Paying Respect,” I photographed Black Masking Indians greeting a frail looking man on his porch. He is a retired Indian. He’s about 90 in the picture. The Indians stopped, danced and chanted for him. Respect.
It’s those feelings that I hope you feel when you look at the pictures. Open them up. See the details.
Stay safe. Stay mighty. Enjoy every bowl of gumbo.
I don’t mean quite as far out as the locations in these pictures. Going to some of these places would mean really long days for some of them. But, I live here. I can pick them off one by one when the light and the heat suits me.
It’s an interesting thing about heat. It’s hot and very humid now. That will last until mid-October. Normally, I complain about it, but since I want you to be able to feel the picture I have to work in the heat. I reckon if I’m hot or cold, you’ll feel that way too.
Sometimes, my “method acting works,” many times it doesn’t. Same thing with writing. A friend of mine wrote about the passing of her dog. It broke our hearts. It took a couple of attempts to get through it. That worked. Man, did it work.
As I review this mini-portfolio I realize that I need to return to some of these places. I’m going to make a collection of Our Lady of Guadalupe photographs. I know where some are — obviously — but, I’ll have to just look around for others. I also want to return to the broken trees. I have some plans to use the pictures as components of other pictures.
When I returned to New Orleans after my time in New Mexico, I wanted to see what remained of the storm. After all, I’d been gone for almost five years. It turns out that there were some 60,000 buildings decaying. The new mayor managed to cut that in half by the time he left office.
It turns out that the city was split. Those who could afford it, retuned. Those who couldn’t, didn’t. Many of their properties rotted. Many just fell down. Buildings continue to do that today. Every once in a while there is story in the media about one collapsing.
It seems that most of the newly collapsed buildings were being renovated. I have two theories. Either just enough of the building was disturbed that whatever was holding it together caved in. Or, the owner realized what he’d gotten into and knocked the building down himself.
That’s cynical to be sure. But, this is New Orleans. Every weird thing happens. We even have a phrase for letting a building rot. We call it “demo by neglect.” I suppose that’s the term in other places.
These pictures are a representation of what I saw. Yes, even the cemetery picture. If you look near the top of the tomb on the right you can see the waterline. Like just about everything else in the city, 80% of it flooded.
I made this photograph on a Super Sunday celebration, on the Westbank. The name Westbank means the west side of the Mississippi River. Parts of the area are still considered to be part of New Orleans.
I made this picture after photographing two second lines, jumping in my car, taking the bridge across the river and just managing to catch a piece of the parade. I’m lucky that I made it at all. I always get lost over there. I think I was there for less than a half hour.
The question was raised again in comments about asking permission when I made the picture of the two men hugging.
I said, in a word, no.
Please try to understand this.
Anybody standing, hugging, dancing, running or doing anything else has no expectation of privacy in a public place. That’s black letter law.
Expecting a photographer to ask the question and inserting himself into the scene creates the condition of prior restraint… against himself. That’s discussed in the First Amendment of The United States Constitution. There can be no prior restraint. It also creates conditions that could potentially undermine that same amendment.
I could go on.
I could ask why anybody would want to limit potential coverage of any event, except if they were trying to create a dictatorial situation.
The same person who asked about permission brought up the canard about police using facial recognition software.
Most police departments do not have the resources to run that search unless they were looking for somebody in particular. They also know that the blow back from arresting protesters willy nilly would be swift and nasty.
That issue was created online as a kind of fake news. Lazy reporters and lazier editors published as if it were true. It’s been debunked just about everywhere.
I promised that I wouldn’t talk about politics or controversial issues, but between questions here and dealing with the same silliness on Facebook, enough is enough.
Trust me when I tell you that when I started doing my work in 1974 I had to learn a couple of bits of law concerning copyright and privacy. I have two attorneys that I can contact for clarification should laws change or be interpreted differently.
That’s what second lines are really about. Of course there is music, paraders, social and benevolent societies, food and drink. The real point is to say hello to friends. Some who you saw just yesterday. Some who you haven’t in seen in a long time.
It’s the hug and smile that makes this picture. Nothing else.
It is my job to work close enough that I can make a fairly powerful picture, and far enough away that I don’t disturb them. The debate about consent rages on. I’m out of it. I have only one question to ask. If I had stopped these two men to ask their consent, would I have caught such a wonderful moment?
That’s my job as a photographer. To make powerful photographs. I’d go so far as to say when I photograph faux nature images that I’m not doing my job.
I made this photograph on the Ninth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in Buras, Louisiana. All that followed in the next weeks and months is history. In about two months, we’ll be acknowledging the 15th anniversary of that hellhound.
So much has changed.
Change is the only constant, they say. They are right. We are currently dealing with another hellhound. This one is harder to photograph. It’s invisible to the naked eye. It’s more deadly. There is no place to run. We don’t know when it will end. Or, if it will end.
Really, all we can do is deal with it. We can learn to manage ourselves. Today, I had my first haircut since mid-February. I needed it. It was also the second day my salon was open. I had to think about it. Still, I went. We were all masked up. There was sanitizer in an auto-dispensing machine. For those customers without masks there were free masks.
When I was searching my archives for a suitable picture, I thought about all of that. Even though we were honoring the storm dead, we were also celebrating life. As usual I just made my way to the front of what was forming up to be a second line.
The three men directly behind The Dancing Woman of New Orleans — Julie — are unmasked Mardi Gras Indians. Or, as they prefer, Black Masking Indians. I probably should get you used to reading that. Eventually, they lead a second line through out The Lower 9th Ward. It pretty much was a day of celebration after first mourning the people who died when the levees broke.
That’s also our shared history.
Stay safe. Enjoy every bowl of red beans and rice.
Sometimes I get bored with my own work. The trick is to keep making pictures. Eventually, the pictures evolve into something different. I get lucky sometimes and options appear while I’m in the field working.
That’s the case with this picture.
A brass band was playing in Woldenberg Park, which is a location in The French Quarter that is a few yards from the river. They were playing just beyond a bridge.
I started trying to make a graphic image. It didn’t work for most of the musicians. The overhead shape, just wasn’t there. It worked for the guy playing the tuba, which is really a sousaphone.
In the streets it’s a tuba. Call it a sousaphone and you’ll get a lot of blank stares, even from the guy playing it.
In many ways I made the picture of my dreams. I wish I could do that at neighborhood second lines. They don’t come close enough to buildings. There are a couple of second lines that cross a bridge. They are walking over it, not underneath it.
If we ever get back to the streets, I’ll get back out there. I’ll shoot a lot less while looking for angles from which to make unique pictures. I hope.
She was getting ready for her walk as a first liner in a second line. I asked if I could take her picture. She wasn’t sure so I asked her mom, who said sure. She also wanted a copy of the picture.
I made sure that she got that.
That’s the number one rule when you are working on the street. Do whatever you say you are going to do. That’s your street cred. Your only street cred. Being a working photographer is meaningless with everybody taking pictures on their phones.
There are two other rules.
“Be nice or leave,” was a sign created by folk artist Dr. Bob. Do what the sign says.
Stay focused. You might know a lot of people. Hang with them before the second line starts. When it does, do what you came to do.