A giant mural.

They say it comes in threes.

Ronnie Virgets. Chef Leah Chase. And, now Mac Rabennack.

You might know him as Dr. John. The Night Tripper.

The good doctor passed today. His family said that he had a heart attack around day break. He’d been sick for a long time. I’m not sure with what. Doesn’t matter now. I know that he lost a lot of weight. That’s a hard thing to do in New Orleans. About 18 months ago he cancelled two shows at Tipitinas. That was the last of his scheduled performances. He spent that time at home, but on the Northshore.

Needless to say, New Orleans is reeling. We are sad. So sad. We haven’t even buried Ms. Leah yet. Her viewing is planned for Saturday, with the funeral on Monday. We are all invited to attend. We will.

Ronnie Virgets was a beloved author. His writing is the stuff of legends. I arrived on the scene a little too late to know it well. And, he wasn’t that well known out of the city. That’s too bad, because what little of his work that I did read caught the heart, soul and spirit of the place I call home.

But, Mac.

Oh man, oh man. He’s beloved everywhere. He started making his own albums in the late 60s. He was a session player until then. He had a rough start in New Orleans, doing things that would make tough guy rappers run home crying to their mamas. He’s been sober for longer than I have. Things change. We change.

How well known?

When you have a Beatle tweeting about his passing, you know how much he mattered to the music world. He played with just about all of music royalty, without ever adopting those trappings himself. Not only did he produce his own work, but he was an enthusiastic collaborator on other musicians projects.

Yes. I knew him. You’d see him in grocery stores or running errands. He was old school and gracious when he met a fan in the usual places. I photographed him once, formerly, at his home. I was paid for a half day. The shoot ran well over that. There weren’t any problems. We were telling stories and laughing so hard that tears were rolling from our eyes. Like they are as I write. I wish I was laughing now.

I wish that I could show you a picture from that take. Sometimes, a client will ask for an embargo until they have gotten their best use of an assigned set of pictures. I’ll call them tomorrow and ask if I can post one here. There shouldn’t be a problem.

For now, here’s his mural, painted in Central City. I almost like this better than the environmental portraits that I made at his home.  I made this picture on the way to some place else. A second line.

What can I say?

Desitively Bonaroo. The best of the breed. That he was.

Rest in Heaven, Mac. You meant a lot to us.

 

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Left Behind.

The dumpster project. Part two.

Just like the water project, it takes some time to find the pictures. Mostly, they find me. When I’m not looking.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not focused. It means that I’m disciplined, always keeping these projects in the back of my mind.

I’ve been a little unsure of my color palette, and most post production style. I think, that with this picture, I’ve found it. It’s pleasing to my eye with just enough shadows to make the picture a little mysterious. And, enough glow to make it a little ethereal.

We’ll see.

I do like letting the pictures lead me, rather than the other way around. I’m pretty sure in terms of the flow of this project, one of two things has to happen. Either every picture stands together. As a group. Or, every picture stands alone. As a single picture.

Even though I like this particular post production process, it could change.

On another subject.

Have a good thought for some friends of mine. They are moving to Mexico from Seattle. Take that ICE. Take that POTUS. They will be living with a lot of other expats. They have a lot of reasons for doing this. Two are cost of living and quality of life.

As they get ready to approach Laredo, where they are crossing into Mexico, the weather has turned un-Godly hot. Around 115 degrees F. They have about a two day window when the temperatures drop. They’ll need that badly because they must transfer their stuff from a U-Haul trailer to a van that will deliver their goods to their destination. That’s very hot work. They are in their 70s, although you wouldn’t know that to look at them. The heat alone will tax them. Broken down heat exhausted cars in the desert could kill them. They also sent a big moving van with their furniture and big stuff.

Currently, they are holed up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The temperature is around 75 – 80 degrees F. I wish I was holed up with them. Besides, Santa Fe and all the wonderful things to do, see and eat there, we have a lot of photographer friends in common that we can hang with. We all have worked with each other in the past.

Long careers seem to equal old friends. Artist friends.

 

 


Pretty, pretty.

The middle day.

The so-called hump day of the business week. That is if you work five days a week in something like a 9 to 5 job.

I don’t  know anybody like that. I was working into the late night after taking a mid-day break. A short one. Same kind of day, today. It doesn’t stop. Sure. There are times when I don’t work as much. You know. Ebb and flow. The calendar might set my schedule, but the clock doesn’t.

How about you? How do you work? When? For how long?

Anyway.

This picture is yours. It’s a simple picture. I turned it into a watercolor painting. Almost. It’s peaceful. Quiet. A positive image.

That was my intent.


Flowing water.

No. I didn’t.

I didn’t forget about it. I bet you thought that I did.

The water project.

I work in bits and pieces. I keep ideas filed away in my brain. When I see something that I think might work I photograph it. That takes time. I find if I look for these elements of a little collection, I could probably complete a project in a week or two. It’ll look like that’s what I did.

That said, I found another picture for my dumpster series. Somebody threw away a lot of old wooden furniture. This was quality stuff. Fairly old. At least made in the 1930s. I looked closely. Dovetail joints. Very good details. Wonderful drawer pulls.

Sure. All of the pieces would need refinishing. Some would take more work. Most wouldn’t take very much at all. There were no holes that needed careful repair.

I have no idea why anybody would just toss it. If I had the ambition to work on it, I would have taken it. Even if we couldn’t use it, we could sell it. I’m sure by now a couple of the regular junk collectors have picked it up. They’ll sell it as is.

Anyway.

This picture might become one of my water collection. After looking at it enlarged, it’s going to take a lot of work to make it the kind of reproduction quality that it must be.

I made the original image in a very contrasty and backlighted situation. I really had no tools to control the original exposure. As you see it, there are deep pools of black that should be opened. It is too contrasty. The highlights are plugged up as a way to control some contrast.

If I’m going to do this project properly, I’m going to have to take a pass on my phone. These situations are just too hard for it to handle even with auto-HDR settings. I’m going to have to carry a real camera everywhere. Like I used to do.

That’s not a bad thing.


A new storm.

Road trips.

You know them. You like them. Probably.

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.

Until.

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.

Until.

You become one with your car. Places whizz by. Signs become a blur. You’re not even going that fast.

Your eyes.

Tired. So tired.

You see. But, not see.

That’s it. You stop. For the night.

Because.

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.


Chef Leah Chase.

Leah Chase.

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.

Rest in Heaven, Chef Leah.

You’ve earned it.


Painted flowers and stuff.

This morning.

I started by reading the last column from a young writer at NOLA.com/Times-Picyune who was terminated — a euphemism for fired — when the competition, The Advocate bought the newspaper and website. Because it was a purchase and take over the new owners had to give them sixty days notice. Today is the 30 day mark.

It is her last column because she and her husband, also a T-P reporter who covers the Saints, want to stay in New Orleans. They bought their first home in February. She is looking for work outside of journalism since there is really no place to look in the city. There is the potential of conflict of interest. She’ll still edit and report. Just no more columns which have her opinion sprinkled into them. For the record, her column caused a lot of eye leakage. But, it wasn’t sappy.

That got me thinking about my own life, my career and my changes. It’s long and winding. It would probably take a couple of months worth of posts to tell you all the stories.

Sometimes, I wonder how I got here.

In terms of places, I lived all over. I even lived in Asia. A lot of my adult life has been lived in the south. Aside from Louisiana, I’ve lived in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas. All was career related. Sometimes, I wish that I didn’t let my work drive my life.

Make no mistake, along the way I’ve lived in some wonderful places, had some great adventures and met some amazing people. The trick for me today is to keep going. In theory, even at my age, I’m not that old. But, getting older is simply the body’s way of saying if you think that was bad, just wait. So, on I go.

That’s the story. So far.

The picture. When I changed my phone system I thought that I lost photo editing software called Stackable. That’s like Lunchables, only you can’t eat it. I realized, only last week, that it still exists on my iPad. So back to work I went. I made this picture, using flowers and vines and all the stuff the dog usually sees.

By the way, she was groomed two days ago. Man, is she a pretty girl. She’s always cute, but this cut. Oh wow!

I have only one question about the finish of this picture, which I do in OnOne. What the hell happened to my watermark? I went back to the TIFF. It’s there. I went back to the working JPEG. It’s there. Yet when I export it, part of it falls off. I don’t even know how to fix it since it’s correct everywhere. Oh well.


Working tools.

Painter’s tools.

Paint brushes waiting to be called upon to make art.

No. They aren’t mine. You know better. I was walking a couple of the dogs when we came upon our neighbor who does paint. She likes to say hello to the dogs so we know each other a little bit. Her studio is located in a screened-off section of her porch. When I asked her about summer’s heat and humidity, she said she didn’t mind. It helped her to feel. To feel more connected to her work.

I asked her if I could photograph her studio. And, maybe her. She declined on a portrait saying she looked like a mess. I tried to counter that with you look like a working painter. She’s smarter than that. But, I did make pictures of stuff in her studio.

This is one that I like best.

My post production is kin to something that many photographers have forgotten about. Painting with light. It’s always been around. After all, the word photography is Greek for either painting with light, or, writing with light, depending on who is doing the translating.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it really burst onto the photo world, in part because a photographer-inventor created a machine that controlled how the light fell on a scene.

It looked like a giant vacuum, with a large hose attached to one side. You pointed it and controlled where the light travelled. There were additional tools that you could attach to the hose to create different light shapes. Just like a vacuum and the tools that came with it.

Like all things trendy, it fell out of favor after a few years of everybody doing it. What was art became technique. Sort of like those star field pictures that are so popular today.

I haven’t thought of that machine in years. I’m going to have Google around to see if I can find an existing example.

Anyway.

This is my take on a vase full of paint brushes.

If I can’t use them, I can photograph them.


It doesn’t look like it.

It’s been a while.

I’ve been walking around this kind of scene. Passing it by. For some reason, I stopped. I made a picture. This picture. I guess something caught my eye.

I know what you are thinking. This is an autumn picture.

I promise. It’s not.

I made it yesterday. On a very short dog walk,

Short? Yes. It seems that the dog who sees stuff isn’t liking the heat. So, she cuts her walks short. After all, she’s an old girl. She’ll be eleven years old in July. On the Fourth of July to be exact. I see the signs. Her muzzle is turning white. She’s buff in color. That’s fading a little bit. When the weather turns wet, I see her arthritis kicking in a little.

No matter.

She takes care of us. We take care of her. She’s the boss of the other dogs. That’s funny to watch. She herds them by walking in circles around them until they move to the place that she thinks that they should be.

So.

The heat? She’s getting groomed as I write. She’s has a long relationship with her groomer. She’s getting a short summer cut. That should help a lot. When she’s done, she’ll have a short skirt, her legs will be fairly full, but her back and head will be very short. If you are doing this at home, remember that you can’t cut the dog’s hair too short. He or she will get sunburned.

Anyway.

The picture. Yes. It really is a spring picture. Around this place, leaves are always falling. Often, in fall-like colors. That’s due to the various species of trees that grow in what was a swamp.

If you ever saw the movie, “JFK,” there is a meeting in which one prosecutor says that the trees in front of the famed Texas Book Depository didn’t lose their leaves in November because they were Texas Live Oaks. They lose their leaves in April and May. That’s true.

As an aside, if you ever find yourself in Dallas, do yourself a favor. Go to the grassy knoll. Take the book depository tour. I did that years ago with a group of international staff. Nobody left the sixth floor with dry eyes. I don’t know what kind of president John Kennedy could have been if he hadn’t been killed because he was just getting started.  But, he stands for something bigger than that. Optimism. Hope. Dreams. All was lost on that November day.

We could use a little bit of that today.

Or, at least, leaders capable of leading.