We come for all sorts of reason. Some like the excitement. Some like the floats. Some come for the throws. I come for the music. I come for the marching bands. Of course, I photograph anything that moves. But, it is the bands that move me the most.
In the past, I use to publish images day by day. Parade by parade. That’s one way to organize pictures. These days, I publish by category. Today, the pictures are all about music. Heh! As if you couldn’t tell. Today is also a day off from the parades because nobody rolls on Monday. I may make my way down to the French Quarter and photograph the silliness there. We’ll see.
We also have to go grocery shopping, or make groceries as they use to say around here. I say “use to” because I haven’t heard that phrase in many years. Anyway, after yesterday’s brunch we are all out of food. We have some king cake, which is fine for breakfast this time of year. But, all cake and sugar does not make Jack a happy boy.
Carnival seems to run forever. It is six weeks long. Aside form a few early parades, most people don’t see what happens in the background. There are balls, parties and friends and family gatherings.
Then, there is parade season.
Even though many, many local people come out for the parade season, it is partially a tourist event. The parades are colorful, bold, fun and noisy. Even though I’m a local, I like going to them. I like photographing and swinging in time to the music streaming from the high schools big marching bands. Just like the scene, sounds and smells of a second line, my body seems to heal, albeit just for a few hours.
But, that’s enough. That’s enough for me. I’m always grateful as I walk back to my car.
Here are a few pictures from the first night. As usual, I’ve published them in little collections. It’s the way that I think you should make a portfolio. It’s the way that I think.
I hope that you enjoy them.
I a few hours we are off to participate in, and photograph the Krewe of Barkus. Yes. A dog parade. It starts in Louis Armstrong Park, dropping remembrances as it makes its way through the French Quarter.
The parade officials are doing a good job of notifying us about the weather. A few years ago, maybe six, I photographed it in the rain. It was wet and sloppy, but it kept the crowd down a bit along the route. In my current state, I doubt that I’ll come out.
That’s what Tom Petty sang. That’s what true. We waited and waited and waited. Sometimes that happens, a tractor broke down on one of the earlier parades. The Krewe of Cleopatra could do nothing but wait.
Besides, it’s peak New Orleans.
This picture is sort of a placeholder. I’m jammed up. Night time parades followed by daytime parades will do that. I thought this was a great picture with which to start. I’d have used it in a grouping as well as this way even if I wasn’t too busy.
I don’t think that I have to explain anything to you, do I?
I was out walking when I heard police sirens. I looked up. I saw Mardi Gras floats being pulled by their tractors. After being around for so long, I know that the floats are being towed to their parade starting points.
There are three parades in which I’m interested. They are all Uptown parades. However, there are at least three more parades that could be called local.
Today is when my Mardi Gras photographic season really begins. For sure, I photographed some of the downtown parades. They are great fun, but starting tonight the parades have some real history. And, tradition.
A couple of years ago the folks who organized the downtown parades thought they were onto something new.The organizers wanted to call their parade season “New Mardi Gras.” That was a non-starter. Nobody wanted that.
I talked to one of the organizers. She wanted to know why I was opposed. I said that it was simple. All of Mardi Gras evolves every year. Krewes come and go. Some are replaced by new krewes. Some reform and return. Some are gone forever. All of the downtown parades are a part of that tradition.
I made this picture about 45 minutes before I published it.
I made it cinematic in post production because I like the style. A thought is rolling around my brain. Tonight, I start photographing parades for real. It’s more or less photojournalism. But, it doesn’t have to be. At least for here on Storyteller. I can make the pictures a little more magical which is the whole point of working on this stuff. That’s for y’all.
A little magic. Because… you know why.
For my client and agencies I’ll take a more straight approach. That’s how all of the images start out. Sometime they’ll enhance my work. That’s their call. I will add some of my enhanced work. They’ll see what I’m thinking. You never know. It might align with their thinking.
I’m a little excited about tonight. I know where i’m going. I know the routes. But, I have no idea what I’ll do. That usually comes to me while I’m standing around wondering what I’ll do.
That’s the story.
No. I didn’t forget the day. Happy Valentines to all of you. Please go to my Instagram feed to see how I celebrated it. It’s different. At least it has that going for it.
I’m quite proud of it. Because, when I said I made it, I meant that. I took a picture of an overcast sky with power poles scattered throughout. I saved it, mostly because it wasn’t much.
I started reading about Todd Hido, who is one of the photographers interviewed in the book I mentioned a few days ago. If you Google his images, you’ll see quite a lot. He’s built the artistic pedigree that I wish I had.
Everything that he does is made in camera, using a medium format body and film. He does no post production. I thought about that for a while and wondered if I couldn’t make an image with similar atmospherics in the computer.
Note. Similar. Not copying. Not faking it until I make it. Just experimenting. This image is the result.
That’s the story of this picture. But, what’s the story behind it? Taking chances.
I could say that a lot of my career was based on taking chances. I could say that I photographed on the edge.
The edge of what?
The edge of technical limitations. The edge of the city. Or, is it really the edge of madness?
I’m not mad. Or, crazy. Or, lacking in certain cautions. But, I do take chances. I didn’t always. I was photojournalist. Pure and simple. My pictures were clean, sharp and well made. They had to be. That served those years of my career well.
After I moved on I found other mentors. Other photographic friends. They talked. I listened. With any luck at all, I grew.
One night, while walking in New York City, a friend and mentor, showed me how to expose for the night light and subjects. I made a picture that was just dripping with motion and energy. His exposure became my base exposure. Two Seconds at F5.6. Over the years, I modified that according to the scene and what I hoped to achieve.
That got easier in the digital age because F stops turned weird. Traditional numbers meant nothing. Gone were the days of, F2, F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8, F11, F16 and F22. Instead using the camera’s light meter and histogram, often you saw numbers like F9, F7.2 and so on. Precise light measurements. Checking the histogram told you if the exposure was correct from a light to dark balance.
That made pushing the edge easier. It also made it more time consuming. Photographers, still unused to digital capture, started checking the LCD on the back of their cameras. Not only did they check the exposure, but they check the subject for sharpness, contrast, and composition.
Experienced photographers who trusted their instincts didn’t look at the LCD, instead they created a term for it. Chimping. You can figure out why.
A curious thing happened with many of these chimping photographers. You’d think that the volume of their shoots would drop. Instead it rose. These guys still had no confidence in their work. They would shoot a non-moving subject that they could control, holding down the shutter release button, while making 500 pictures of the same thing.
That’s a big mistake.
There are a few ways to learn not to make that mistake.
Photograph a lot comes to mind. No. That doesn’t mean holding down the button. It means look for many subjects. If you want to play this game, limit yourself to only five images per scene. I know a photographer who limited himself to one image.
Create a way of working. One way is to make a picture per day. Do that for a year. I did that for a while. You learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about light. You learn a lot about subject matter. I liked it so much that my one year turned into two, then three. I stopped after my fifth year.
Find a mentor. I did that in my early newspaper years. I found a guy who was brutal. His first critiques could make a grown man cry. Little by little as I learned and grew, his critiques turned positive. When it was time move to a bigger newspaper, he recommended me for a job at a newspaper that was the sister paper to his paper.
There are other things you can do as well. Ask your mentor. That’s what I did.
I’ve heard this little round, normally white wildflower called a Clover Flower. It may very well be because it grows in small patches of clovers. Three leafed ones, not four. Or, it just might be a local phrase.
Obviously, I did a lot of work in post production. But, it’s not what you think. I did not add color, I removed the haze caused by the white color to reveal what is underneath. It’s really something, isn’t it?
This way of working is really a large press printer’s technique. It’s really contra to normal instincts.
I learned it from a long time veteran of working on big presses. He could print anything, repair bad color film and fix design mistakes. All, on press. I learned as we worked on big jobs. There is no class that you can attend. There are no set of tips that you can buy. You have to live it on high pressure, tight deadline projects. I worked with him for seven years. I probably know 10% of what he knows.
You’d think that I’d be done learning about photography. But the same thing holds true as it did learning to print books. After 45 years I probably know and understand 10% of the photo knowledge that is floating around through history.
I don’t believe that anybody can know it all. I see the compiled knowledge as something akin to understanding Photoshop. That software is so big and all encompassing that you learn just enough to do what you do after a steep learning curve of five years.
I suppose the bottom line is simple. There are no tips or tricks to turn a person into a great photographer in a very short time. True, you can fake until you make it by copying others work, but where’s the fun in that?
The fun comes in the process. All art is a process.
This picture is for all of you who still are suffering from cold weather, and I don’t care what that little rodent said. In many places it’s cold. Down In the swamp, we have all sorts of blooms. In this picture I tried to make that point by layering two flower images. The image is bold and bright. Just the way a spring picture should look. Except it’s not yet spring.
My dear old dad used to say that when a person wrote a letter and about half of it was about the weather, the person had nothing to say. He was probably right.
I’m going to talk about photography. I’m a reading book called, “Photo Work: Forty Photographers on process and practice. I think it was recommended by someone who posted to a photographer’s network. It’s a good and interesting book despite it’s academically lengthy title.
In a few words, those 40 photographers are asked a series of questions which are the same for all of them. The group came from different backgrounds, use different tools, and answer the questions fully.
I’m about half-way through the book. Reading is slow, but not for the reason you might think. Instead, I’m savoring it. I read no more than two chapters a day, or, about two photographers a day.
I’m happy to know that many of them think as I do; instinct over research. I also learned that I might be on track when it comes to New Orleans culture. A project or series of pictures might take ten years to complete, but when it’s done, it’s done.
There’s more, but I’m I’m still reading.
The picture. I mentioned that it is layered. Let’s talk about that because I actually made the picture just like I normally do. See it, photograph it.
Layering works only if you have pictures of the same size and shape. You can approach color from a lot of ways. My two favorites are the use of contrast and bold colors or by using extremely similar colors. You can find your own joy.
It’s a matter of fine tuning and adjusting the layered pictures from there.
I’m reading a rather long op-ed piece by The New York Times’ Ross Douthat. It is a take out of his upcoming book called, “The Decadent Society.”
The name is not what you are thinking.
He quotes Jacques Barzun, who says, “The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable . When people accept the futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.”
I don’t know about you, but I keep saying that all systems are broken. They are broken to the point where I am thinking seriously about leaving the country in November if the worst possible thing happens.
That said, let’s limit this to what we do. Most of us either write, or make pictures.
There is no new or newly broken ground. There hasn’t been for a long time. In the book world, I have to ask how many new vampire books do we need? Seems like Anne Rice broke the mold on that one. Or, how many historical fictional novels do we need that feature a good looking bare chested guy squeezing the hell out of a beautiful woman?
It doesn’t get any better in the photo world. Sunsets, sunset and more sunsets. There are so many that they are loaded to Upsplash, the site that doesn’t pay photographers. Or, night photography featuring star fields? Or, slow motion water so that the water looks smooth?
I’m guilty of it too.
All these faux nature picture that I produce. are not new. I made the same thing eight years ago. And seven years ago. And, six and five and four and so on.
This work is easy to make. This work breaks no new ground. It doesn’t move my art forward. I’m not certain that I can move it forward, but I’d like to try. Realizing this is hard. Even though I love photographing Mardi Gras, I’ve been fighting to get myself to go.
Yes. The floats and themes change. So do the people. But, I’ve done it for how many years? A lot. This year I’m getting paid by one of my clients to set them up for next year. I’m incentivised. I’ll go. Once I get there I’ll have fun. It’ll turn magical. But, they are paying me for work that is yesterday’s. That’s the funny thing about showing portfolios. If the client likes your work, they want more of the same.
Think about this. How does it apply, or, not?
For sure, don’t confuse yourself with all the things you did to get to the picture. Often times the hardest thing about taking a picture is getting there. But, that ain’t the picture. The picture is the picture.