I was wondering just how many pictures of old couches, chairs and furniture would hold a readers interest.
I wasn’t sure what to do about it until I saw this scene.
It hit me.
A picture like this holds the reader’s interest in many ways. Not the least of them being the human need to understand the photograph. To study it. To spend some time with it. To let your brain grasp the details within the details.
The first couple of pictures that I made for the “Junk Project,” were mostly overall scenes. You look at them once, quickly, and you are done. You see everything that needs to seen in less than a second. They rely on color, shape and hue.
This picture relies on content. Subject matter.
This picture would work in black and white, as well as in color.
This picture is also harder to find. Even harder for it to find you.
If somebody wanted it for their wall, I work hard to convince them to use the horizontal version and turn it into wall paper. Something that is about twelve feet wide and eight feet high. Something that when you came home at night, you could stare at and forget the day. You’d mumble to yourself, “Oh wow. I didn’t see that before.”
Just like I’m doing now. That light bulb. They are expensive. It isn’t broken. What was I thinking?
I had a good week. Not only did I find a couple of pictures for the summer project, but I found a couple of pictures for my junk and water projects. I’m not saying that everything I photographed will make it into the final cut, but having many pictures from which to select is better than too few. Right?
I wrote about this topic a few weeks ago.
Durability. Sustainability. Repairability.
The furniture that was set out by this dumpster was old. The pieces were probably manufactured in the 1930s. Every piece was well made of good solid wood. Nothing was broken. They needed a little refinishing work, but that was about it.
All they needed was a little loving touch. They would have made a fine collection of furniture for somebody. Anybody.
We live in a time when everything is made so cheaply that it costs more to repair an item than it costs to replace it. That’s too bad. More broken stuff for the overflowing landfills. More broken stuff to add to our pollution. More broken people not working.
A few weeks ago, we went through the great plastic purge. We are still working on it, but it’s damn near impossible. Sheesh. We tried to buy butcher paper locally. Good try. Yes. It can be found in our local and regional grocery stores. But, it’s improved. It has a — wait for it — plastic backing.
Sure. You can buy paper butcher paper on Amazon. And, you add to the carbon footprint by having it shipped. Get this, most of it comes in huge rolls for commercial use.
So, you have to buy a rack and a paper cutter.
I believe that we are at a point beyond which we can’t turn back. Everybody and everything is too invested in the stuff that could kill the planet. Besides, follow the money. How does Mitch McConnell grow his wealth by some $24 million in a couple of years?
The picture. First, I would have taken that furniture if I had a truck. But, I had a dog on a leash. She refuses to carry heavy stuff. Seriously, I photograph my projects as I see potential subject matter. For me, it works better to let the pictures come to me, rather than chasing them. As I wrote earlier, I think I have my color palette figured out going forward. For the junk project.
One more item of semi-interest.
Doctor John was buried yesterday. His family and friends organized a true jazz funeral with a second line and a mule drawn hearse. I didn’t photograph it. The temperature was 96 degrees at 3pm when the parade began. The heat index was 104 degrees. Way too hot for me.
It starts around now and lasts well into August, when even hotter temperatures dry out the air a little bit. A loss of humidity would seem to be a good thing.
Unfortunately, the temperature starts creeping into the triple digits. Like about 219 degrees.
You pick your poison.
Or, you leave.
With climate change — it doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not — there are very few cooler places in the United States in the summer months. At least, you might go to a place that has a dry heat heat. Still, it’s hot. I rarely live in anything approaching cool weather from May until October.
So, this is the goopy season in the south. Heat. Humidity. Daily rain.
Move your camera from your air conditioned house to your air conditioned car to the street and you’ve got condensation. On the camera body. On the lens. Do not remove the lens. If you do that you will have condensation inside the camera. Inside the lens. That’s deadly.
Instead, wipe the camera down with some kind of soft, lint free, cotton. Clean the front of the lens with something designed for that job. Lens cleaning tissue, or a micro fiber cloth. Let the camera acclimate and you’ll be good.
Some photographers wear t-shirts to use as a cleaning cloth. Fine, as long as it is cotton, not a blend, and it is clean. Don’t wipe your camera down with your lunch. Or, the egg that you ate for breakfast.
The picture. Running errands. In and out of rain. You can see a fairly good example of that in the picture. To the left, mighty storm clouds. To the center, blue skies.
This picture is a classic example of the modified drive by. It is a drive through. I could have let my errand running partner drive. But, oh no. I can drive. In traffic. And, make pictures at the same time. Sheesh.
I think that may even be more deadly than texting and driving. On second thought, it isn’t. I put the phone or camera on the dashboard, let it focus, and I just push the button while looking at the road. If I have to react quickly, I just drop the camera or phone. Obviously, I’ve thought about it.
Also, in one way or another, I’ve done it for years. Practice, practice, practice. But, this falls into the category of “kids, don’t try this at home.”
This is a weather picture. I made it because I saw it. I’m not sure it falls into the group of ten great summer pictures. Yesterday’s picture did for sure. Many of you confirmed that on various social media and, here on Storyteller. Thank you.
One down. Nine to go. Or, maybe not.
Doing this is a combination of talent, experience and the luck of being there are the right time. The luck thing is a really big deal in this particular series. For yesterday’s picture, a couple minutes on the either side and scene is blown.
You drive. You listen to specially curated playlists of road music. You eat gas station food. You drink bad coffee. You stay in motels of questionable quality. Even the ones with big names.
You’re having fun.
You decide to make tracks to a certain destination. You drive on. And on. You stop for gas. You eat in the car. You speed on. And on.
You become one with your car. Places whizz by. Signs become a blur. You’re not even going that fast.
Tired. So tired.
You see. But, not see.
That’s it. You stop. For the night.
Everything that you see looks like this picture. And, that ain’t a good thing.
The picture. It was planned for yesterday. So was the prose. But, you know what they say. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Chef Leah passed. That stopped me in my tracks. Funny thing, I had a song in my head the whole time that I searched for her picture and started writing. I couldn’t quite place it. I had part of the melody. And, no lyrics. Last night it came to me. “Mandolin Wind.” An ancient Rod Stewart song. A beautiful and appropriate song. So, while I write to you today, I’m listening to his work from that era. When he was young. When I was young. When the world was younger than today.
Oh yeah. What did I do? I did all the post production that I wanted to make the basic picture, which was good enough. By then, that road trippy feeling was in my head. I stacked the same picture on top of itself. I skewed them slightly. I clipped their edges by cropping. I added some edge darkness. Voila!
By the way, I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately. Wallah. Huh? It’s voila, pronounced wallah. Sheesh.
The heart and soul of New Orleans changed last night. We were made a lesser place. Chef Leah Chase passed last night. She was 96 years old. She lived a life of service and good works. She believed that food could bring us together.
Although Ms. Leah was the grande dame of Creole cooking, she was so much more. She opened her restaurant, Dookie Chase, to both white and black people during the Jim Crow Era, when that wasn’t allowed. Illegal in some places.
Her restaurant was a base where the Freedom Riders could eat, rest and plan.
She put Barrack Obama is his place for adding hot sauce to her gumbo without tasting it first.
She collected African and folk art. She was steeped in jazz. I always looked for her blessing whenever somebody new came into my life. Going to see her and eat her food was for me — New Orleanians — like going to church. It was a spiritual experience.
She made everybody feel at home when they entered her restaurant. Yet, whenever I ate there I made sure I was dressed nicely, even in the summer’s heat when you normally find me in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops.
I could go on and on.
I suspect that over the course of this week I will go on and on. It’s likely there will be unplanned second lines starting at Dookie Chase. There may even be God’s own jazz funeral. I’ve mostly retired from the street, but you know I’ll come out for all of whatever happens. If it doesn’t happen, that’s okay too. We’ll remember her in our own ways. We’ll tell Chef Leah stories. They will always be about goodness. About respect. About bringing people together. And, about the worth of working like a dog.
I, like most of New Orleans, will miss her. Her comforting clear eyed presence will be gone. She once said about rebuilding the city after Hurricane Katrina left us in tatters, “I suppose you should put on your pants and get to work.”
For those of you who want to know about the picture, I made it in 2002. On film. For a book project. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded the city. My house had water, but it didn’t reach to the level of my film archives. No matter. With no air conditioning, mold grew everywhere including on the plastic base of film. I was determined to save this take. The book project take. The film was funky and smelly. Even the best scans couldn’t quite save it. The highlights blew out for no known reason. The film color changed as well. But, it’s the best I have. It’ll do.
When I made this picture Ms. Leah had just turned 80. I asked her what was next. She said that she would just keep cooking. At least until 85. She keep cooking until she was 96.
“Sometimes the hardest part of taking a picture is getting there.”
For the abandoned railroad project, sometimes the hardest part of taking picture is finding the picture.
Four hours looking in two likely places yielded nothing. For the project. I did find a picture or two. For myself.
This is one of them.
I went to a neighborhood in Shrewsbury, which is a little area in Jefferson Parish. I’m not even sure how many people call it by its name. Or, even know its name.
I went to a street that is under the Causeway Boulevard crossover. There are train tracks there and maybe a community of a dozen houses or so. They are small. They are working class houses of maybe 100 years old or so. They are weather beaten. They are covered in grime from the trains that pass by and the dust that falls down from the bridge. They are mostly in constant shadow.
I found a little statue. Of The Blessed Virgin Mary. They are common in some neighborhoods. I didn’t expect to find one here. I did what I do. I made a picture. It’s a Catholic thing. It’s a New Orleans thing.
I told you about this yesterday. I made this picture in the Lower 9th Ward. Houses stacked on other houses. Houses stacked on cars. Cars completely left to die after the water finally receded.
The Lower 9th Ward was a vibrant community on the downriver side of the Industrial Canal. It more-or-less sat by itself away from the rest of New Orleans. It started out as small truck farms feeding the restaurants of The French Quarter. Most of the folks who resided there lived in old family homes, many of which were built between 1900 and maybe 1930. They were smallish. They were insured for replacement costs when they were built. The houses passed from family member to family with out a deed or proof of mortgage.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Without the proper paperwork, FEMA funds and LRA funds were unavailable to the people who just lost everything. They might be able to file an insurance claim and be paid at full value. But, a house built at 1,200 square feet that cost maybe $8,000 to build in 1920, cost about $200,000 to replace. The current family members didn’t have that kind of money. The original insurance had never been upgraded and they couldn’t qualify for Federal money.
The community pretty much died.
There was actor Brad Pitt’s foundation called Make It Right, who built maybe 40 new homes clustered around one or two streets. That didn’t make a dent. Worse, the very high end architects who volunteered to design energy efficient modern homes didn’t design houses for our very extreme climate. A number of them have serious issues. One was demolished because it couldn’t be repaired. Make It Right doesn’t seem to want to repair the others. As usual, the whole thing is ending up in court.
That’s the story.
Thank you all for your comments and good wishes. They matter. A lot.
I’ll post like I did yesterday when I can. But, producing yesterday’s post was very emotionally draining.
The picture. I saw it. I photographed it. This is a kind of photojournalism so I don’t tinker with it except to correct things like color and contrast. I do remember that when I made the picture it was so hot. So humid. We had one of those hot, hot summers. That’s what heated the gulf, which fueled the storm, which destroyed 80% of the city. Then, there was the smell. The stench of rotted everything. Of mold. Of the oil and chemicals that flooded everywhere. That’s what I remember when I look at this picture.
My Spotify playlist brought up a Mudcrutch song. Mudcrutch was the late Tom Petty’s first band. It had an Eagle in it, along with a few members of The Heartbreakers. It was a proto band. Petty decided to release an album of their music in 2006. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It helped us get through the early days after Hurricane Katrina when we sought refuge in New Mexico.
That one song on the playlist brought me to the album, which kicked my rear into gear. Time to start doing the final work on my dual book project, Abandoned New Orleans Books One and Two.
Off I went. Into the archives. I decided to go inside first. Into the buildings as they were, right after Hurricane Katrina. I also decided to let you see some of the pictures. Because? Because why not?
By the way, the line that caught me in that Mudcrutch album was, “”Lord, I’m just an orphan of the storm.” We felt that way.
Because it was still very hot when we returned to the city after the storm, I couldn’t work all day in my house. The heat and humidity was draining. I took breaks by driving around in my car. It had air conditioning It was the only way to get cool. I would stop and make pictures along the way.
Anyway, on to the pictures.
“Calling Buddha” is very close to me. I used to live in that house. It was the last place I lived before I bought the house in Esplanade Ridge. This house used to be in Lakeview. It’s gone now. I liked Lakeview well enough, but it never felt like New Orleans. It was safe and boring. The best thing about living there was that I could walk across the street and have a coffee. Later, I could walk across the street again and have lunch.
It was on one of my cool-down drives that I decided to look around in Lakeview. If you recall, there were two places were the levees completely failed. The Lower 9th Ward and Lakeview. The water blew through with such intensity that houses were lifted off their foundations. They were dumped on top of other houses. Cars were stacked on top of each other. It looked like a scene from the end of a war. Apparently, the house that I rented had been sold. The kitchen was completely redone. When I lived there, it had a 1950s look and feel. It was wonderful. If you look into the kitchen, you can see wooden Home Depot cabinets.
The backdoor was in tatters so in I went. I had to make pictures. If you look at the crown molding you can see how high the water rose. These folks were lucky the the house stayed on its foundation, which was a cement slab. The rushing, raging water turned everything this way and that. Yet, if you look in the kitchen, there are bowls on the counter just as they were left when the occupants evacuated. Ain’t that something?
After I settled in a bit, I started roaming around the city. I started looking in Central City a little bit. At that point a lot of the city was empty. It was fairly safe.
I took no chances. Like just about everybody else, I was armed. I remember walking into one of the few open restaurants in the French Quarter, looking around and thinking, pity the fool who comes in thinking he can rob the place. Everybody was wearing guns on their hips. It seemed to be the thing to do. Nobody gave anybody a second look. We shared the restaurant with soldiers from elements of the US Army’s First Cavalry Division and the 82nd Airborne, as well as police from everywhere and members of the Louisiana National Guard. Those guys were armed to the teeth.
Anyway, on one pass through Central City, I found this place. I entered through a broken wall. Somebody had been at work. Whoever it was started the hard work of rebuilding. I guess that person may not have left the city during the storm. A lot of poorer people couldn’t. They didn’t have cars. The busses slated for evacuation were parked in a bowl and were flooded over their roofs. Many of the survivors made their way to the Superdome and the convention center. Places that were supposed to be places of last refuge. They suffered there for days. Most of them were eventually bussed to Houston were they New Orleansized the neighborhoods they settled into. God bless ’em. Others were sent to places like Atlanta while the rest of their family was to someplace like Chicago.
The strangest resettlement happened to us. We rented an apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico. About a month after we settled there, I walked outside to see my 7th Ward neighbor who lived a few houses from ours. She was staying with her nephew who lived two doors down from our new apartment. If you ever wanted to see two people dance and hug each other, you needed to see us. We were so happy to be alive and know that each other made it. We proceeded to New Orleansize things and have a bar-b-que in the front yard even though we had backyards. Good bless us.
“The last three days the rain was unstoppable.” Another Tom Petty line.
I made this picture towards the end of the time of my giant house emptying. This time I was able to do what most of us dream of doing. I opened my old office window and threw my water logged computer into the street. How many times have you felt like doing that after your computer crashed for the third time in an hour?
I was looking around the 7th Ward, which had almost been entirely under water during the flood that followed the storm. I was looking into houses that were in a state of partial remediation, which meant that many of them were stripped down to the studs as a way of removing the Aspergillus Mold that grew everywhere in the flooded houses in hot and humid weather. My eye was caught by a little sparkle. I stopped. There it was. A chandelier, hanging by its wires. Something that said, “this is my house.”
There you have it.
We are two weeks from hurricane season. That always spooks me a little. Time to organize some things and buy extra water, batteries and canned food that we’ll never eat unless we need to.
We had God’s own storm early Sunday morning. So much rain was dumped on the city that everywhere flooded. Even our neighborhood, which never floods. Luckily, for us, it did no damage. But, plenty of folks lost their cars. Some water crept into their houses. We all want to blame the city, but not this time. We are city that floods. Time for a t-shirt.
Two more things.
This is long enough already. My publisher was wondering why I have such deep files of abandoned buildings. When I told him, they were stunned. They are based in England. They forgot. Or, barely knew. They haven’t seen my final selection. Just wait until they do. Heh, heh.
There are lots of people who emigrated here after the storm, after the second storm and after the last hurricane. They don’t understand. They think they city will just flood like it does when there is a lot of rainfall. The don’t understand that they need to make an evacuation plan, or figure out what they might need to survive for many weeks without power or running water. Even when I talk about buying supplies that’s for something on the small side. If there is an evacuation order, we are gone. Maybe Hurricane Katrina was a 100 year event. Somehow, with climate change, I don’t think so.
A hard way to make a living. These days, in the music industry, distribution is king. Without that, you struggle with tours and merchandise sales. If you are working the street, you have none of that.
You have the music. You have a tip jar. And, maybe a few cheaply recorded CDs for sale.
Cheaply is an understatement. Just like digital photography, and auto photographers, everybody with a computer thinks that they can record and master music. Sure, there’s a few folks with passion and drive. For the most part, music recorded, mixed and mastered on a computer sounds like it. You really have to like the songs to listen to that poorly recorded sound.
Take a look at her. She’s got her violin. Her tip jar — well — wagon, and she’s waving a CD around. I admire her. That’s hard work. It was cold that night. She’s wearing a glove on one hand. Yet, she’s smiling and chatting up anybody who’ll listen.
That’s what it takes.
Let’s bounce. Back to photography. You can have all the best gear. You can have all the learned technical skills. You can even make a good picture or two. Without that energy, passion and desire, you ain’t gonna make it.
Like a good musician, a photographer must woodshed. That means taking pictures when you aren’t traveling. When you aren’t getting paid. When you don’t feel like it. That’s how you get good. You work in all kinds of weather. You walk. You look. You make pictures. You work on them at home. You even keep the real losers so that you can learn from your mistakes.
Then, when you are traveling on your own. Or, when you have a paid assignment. The pictures come easily. They find you. You are ready. You’ve practiced. That’s one of the things “ten tips that will make you a great photographer,” never tell you. Work. Work. Work.
The picture. One of those French Quarter nights. Wandering around. Practicing. Looking for pictures. Not caring about showing them to anybody. Or, about money. Just working for the joy of it. Knowing me, I used a 16mm lens, set at f 4.0 and the shutter speed was maybe 1/30th of a second. Most is sharp, except for the CD she is waving around. That’s okay. Her face is sharp. That’s another thing. A picture like this one needs sharpness somewhere. It’s not like those whirly-burly things I photograph sometimes when everything is moving. That’s a whole other skill.
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