Strolling along.

New Orleans sidewalks.

Depending on the neighborhood, they can be made of brick, cobblestone, very old cement or even slate. They are usually pretty broken up. Tree roots grow up through them. The heat cracks them. They fall apart after years of use.

We are an old city.

I found this one while I was waiting for a friend of mine to close his gallery. He had a last-minute customer so I spent the time wandering around his neighborhood in The Bywater.

The Bywater is an old industrial, blue-collar neighborhood. Once, it was the place where coffee and South American fruits were offloaded from ships and processed. In those days, most of the people who lived and worked there called it by its real name. The 9th Ward. The Bywater name came later, apparently it was named after an old telephone exchange that was used in the neighborhood.

But times have changed.

There is very little industrial work of any kind going on there. After many years of decline, the neighborhood has come back as sort of a hipster, artist enclave. Houses that once sold for $15,000 now sell for $450,000. There must be 15 coffeehouses in a one mile square neighborhood. And restaurants? Sheesh. I can’t count them. They come and go very quickly. There are a few old standbys. Jack Dempsey’s comes to mind. It is named after a crime reporter. Not the boxer.

As NOLA sidewalks go, this one isn’t bad. Sure, it’s brick and looks perilous. But, it’s pretty well maintained. Of course, with our past few days of deep freeze, those leaves likely got very slippery. Down here, we really aren’t prepared for frozen or slippery.

The picture. I saw it. I made it. I actually worked the scene a little because the light was so pretty. This image is the result of getting down. To the ground. Actually, these kinds of pictures are much easier to make with new modern articulated LCDs. Just put the camera close to the ground and tilt the monitor up so you can see it from above. You have to be careful when you do that. You can accidentally stick a lot of unfocused foreground about half way up the frame.


Fire hydrant and words.

A little change.

Something a little more grungy. A little more urban. A little more made by hand.

Some people think graffiti is some kind of blemish. A kind of destruction. An attack on civilized society. Others think it is a kind of street art. I fall into the latter category. Sometimes. Some of this is just tagging for tagging’s sake. Leaving a mark.

It gets controversial when an artist like Banksy came to town a few years after Hurricane Katrina. He tagged 18 buildings. Almost immediately, 17 of his works was painted over in gray, by a guy who took it upon himself to cover all graffiti with gray paint. The remaining one was removed along with the wall on which it was painted. The owner of the building did that. He also had it restored a bit, and it is now on display as part of another show.  I think it just opened.

I made these four pictures in The Bywater. I also turned the graffiti into my own art by cropping in camera and then bringing out the color in post production. On the other hand, if I actually knew who did the original tagging, I would love to credit them too. Unfortunately, unless you know the taggers’ work by name, secrecy is kind of the whole point.


A little graffiti.

Yesterday, a great musician and a sweet and kind man died.

Fats Domino.

There have been tributes written from all over the world. Because, at the heart of it, he started rock n roll. Without him, the guys who came a little after him — Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and even The Beatles — might not exist. At least as we know them today. It started with “The Fat Man”  a song that was a reworked of a drug user’s song called, “The Junker’s Blues.” It rocked. It rolled. His music only grew from there. His legend did too. You can read that all over the internet today. There’s no point in me rehashing it.

At the heart of him was a New Orleans man. A 9th Ward guy. He lived there. He built his very modern mansion there. And, his last studio was there. Yesterday, the media of which I was one, descended on those old buildings. Local television stations used the studio as a prop for the evening broadcasts about his death. I was gone by the time that they got there, chasing other things and places.

I took the time to drive around the 9th Ward with a friend. So many changes. So many passings.

And, that’s what I thought about.

Passings. The past couple of years have been rough if you like music.So many have passed on.  On personal level, they’ve been rough because a lot of my old friends have left the planet. Or, gotten very sick. As I drove around the 9th Ward, I saw so many changes. More buildings rotting. Things still falling down.

But, there was more.

Things were getting better. The rotting strip along St. Claude Avenue is being restored.  Many homes that were storm damaged and left for dead have come back. Including one that I’ve posted here a couple of times. The one with the destroyed interior and American flag hanging in the background. I almost couldn’t find it. It has been restored to its proper shape. Painted in the “right” colors.

Even though I documented the rotting of that lower end of New Orleans in the past, I’m happy to say that I liked what I saw yesterday. I didn’t get to stay long, but I’ll be back. There’s a lot for me to do.

And, that’s a good thing.

This place. Club Desire. History tells us that Fats Domino first played some in a little bar in the Desire area called the Hideaway. As he started to gain a little fame, he moved to Club Desire, which was a very well-known club throughout the segregated 1950s, 60s and 70s. Eventually, it fell out of the “chitlin’ circuit” and then fell out of use in the late 1970s except for occasional events. That was an unintended consequence of desegregation. Black musicians could play in what were White clubs. There was no need to take a 45 minute streetcar ride out to the ends of the city. Hurricane Katrina about tore Club Desire apart. It was finally torn down last year. The Hideaway hasn’t existed in years.

Goodbye Club Desire.

Rest in Peace, Fats Domino. You certainly made my world a better place.


Healing prayers

August 29, 2005.

That was a day most of us who live in New Orleans will never forget. Hurricane Katrina blew in, and made landfall at Buras, Louisiana. The levees broke and 80 percent of the city was under water.

August 29, 2017.

Hurricane Harvey, now Tropical Storm Harvey, finally makes a turn away from Houston, where most of the city was flooded. Harvey sat over the gulf and refueled, headed northeast and then northwest. Towards us.

So far, in New Orleans, we’ve had 5.85 inches of rainfall. Our diminished pumping capacity is not really keeping up. Streets are flooding. All schools are closed. Many government offices are closed. Our smart phones have been going off all morning with flood advisories.

I know. 5.85 inches of rain is nowhere near Houston’s 40 to 60 inches of rainfall. But, our ground is already saturated. Our pumping capacity is down. The mayor’s office said that the original pumping station, the one that was repaired just about a week ago after being broken down for the last flood, broke down again this morning.

And, as a snarky aside, after most of the old Sewerage Board was fired or resigned, new consultants were hired. They are led by a man whose last name is Rainwater. Oh, come on. Give us a break.

These pictures. After taking a break last year, the 9th Ward folks decided to honor the 12th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a gathering at the levee and a second line followed by a party in the 7th Ward. The city strongly suggested that everybody who didn’t need to be on the streets, stay off the streets.

So.

No memorial. No second line. No party. Just rain. Just water. More rain. More water.

I decided to show you some of the pictures that I made in 2015, commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the storm. The one when seemingly every media in the world descended upon us… and got most of their stories wrong. You know. Ten is a big number. Twelve, not so much.

Some of you who have been around Storyteller for that long may remember some of these pictures. The top picture, of Big Queen Cherise, is sort of famous. It hangs in the Jazz and Heritage Festival’s permanent collection.

Today, I honor our twelfth year anniversary and those Texans who are still going through the flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. They will be recovering for a long time. We’ll be there for them. We can do less. They were there for us in the aftermath of Katrina.

That storm isn’t done yet.

Once it finally turns north, it doesn’t stop until it reaches Indiana. With luck, we’ll only have five or six more inches of rain, bringing New Orleans to about 12 inches of Harvey-produced rainfall.  By the way, that brings us to well over a record-setting summer rainfall total.

Have a good thought. For all of us.

Dancing


Po’ boys.

More Bywater. More Vaughn’s.

Even though we were trying to cover a lot of ground fairly quickly, I slowed things down when we got to one of my intended destinations. My colleagues looked around and talked to the bartender. I made pictures of whatever I saw. Inside and out.

It really was just that simple.

Talk to people. Make pictures.

That po’boy sign always draws my attention. It’s been there, in that state, for at least the 19 years that I’ve been in New Orleans. It’s a sort of a landmark. It’s weathered all manner of storms, including Hurricane Katrina.

The bar has survived too. Unlike a couple of bars in the French Quarter, it closes during hurricanes. No matter what, it re-opens. The regulars come back. All is good.

Inside Vaughn’s during a quiet time.


Life in The Bywater.

This is what I thought.

If I’m changing the last series to something new, it really ought to be new. Something different. Something unexpected. Something in black and white.

So.

Here it is.

The picture is about two months old. I made it when I was taking a couple of guys around New Orleans while they were scouting for possible film locations. After an extended email conversation, I had some pretty good ideas of where to go. I took them to my first idea. Vaughn’s. In The Bywater. A dive that is known for Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers long, long Thursday night residency.

Of course, we went out during the daytime. The bar was open. There was no food. No music. Just this guy hanging out, trying to keep cool. He didn’t care if I photographed him. In return, I bought him a beer. That seemed like the New Orleans thing to do.

We went inside. My friends fell in love with it. One day, I suppose, it might be in another movie. Who knows? These things change.

The picture. It started out as a color image. But, I wanted to make a change. So I did. I really did. I converted it. Then I did my little magic and made it creamy and less contrasty. I hoped to make it feel old. Or, oldish.

Here’s a little clue for you all. Open this picture as big as you can. This is a very subtle image. I made and finished it as I saw it in my mind’s eye. Hanging on the wall. About 6 x 4 feet.

The funny thing about this picture is that after watching an unrelated movie I came to the conclusion that my best work is in color. Yeah, yeah. I know the argument. You see form, shape, light, texture better in black and white.

My reply to that is simple. The world is a colorful place. Honor that.

 


What remains.

This is what remains. Before it is taken down. Carted off for scrap. Left to rot in the land fill. I haven’t been to this neighborhood in a long while. I don’t want to get shot. I doubt this building is still standing. There are other pictures in my archive that have been made from a side view. It is interesting to note that the house was leaning heavily to the right. The next time that I went back, more parts fell off. It was leaning to the left. Usually, when I building sort of rocks back and forth, the next step is collapse. We call that demolition by neglect.

Speaking of archives. And, collapse.

One of you kindly wrote that even if I can’t shoot second lines, masked indians and the culture anymore that it didn’t matter because my old archives would eventually surface here.

Nope. No way. No how.

It may be nothing more than a point of pride, but the only pictures from those collections that make it here, or anywhere for that matter, are the best, the ones with the peak decisive moment, and the newest. The rest of that days work are out takes. They live in my files only because I’m old school and I never throw away an image. I don’t delete.

So.

If I say that I’m done then I’m done. I don’t like it much. It speaks about getting old. I’m giving up something that I really like to do. And, I miss the companionship. I will occasionally come out for something like I did last week. A second line for a person who was a friend to us all. I’ll do it for a jazz funeral… if I know the person being honored. But, that’s different. You know why.

So.

Today.

This picture is about me. I asked yesterday what the picture meant to you. Some of you answered. Cool and thank you. There’s a lot of post production going on. But, it’s sneaky. Subtle. Even, maybe, sublime. Sublime is about the last thing that you’d ever say about my work. And yet.


Chapel at St. Roch Cemetery.

The other one.

While I was making my Easter picture selections, the choice came down to the yesterday’s picture and this one. Two things put this one in a sort of second place. First, you’ve seen it in the past if you’ve been hanging out on Storyteller for a long while. Or, a version of it. Second, I’m not sure how much it has to do with Easter.

The main subject is a statue of Father Peter Thevis, who came to New Orleans during a yellow fever epidemic in 1867. He prayed to St. Roch for delivery of his parish from the illness. In exchange, he built a cemetery, shrine and this chapel. That’s a very short history. I can post more about that if you’d like.

Today, there is a neighborhood that bears the name of St. Roch, which is really located in The Bywater, which is located in the 9th Ward. Yeah. It gets confusing around this place. Sometimes.

The picture. This is actually a digital image. Then I went to work on it. Again. And, again. And, again. This is the result. There are a couple of other versions that I like a little bit. But, they didn’t quite of the energy of this one.

 

 


Once and again.

If all art is autobiographical, what does this say about me? In fact, what does any of my latest series say about me? The problem is that you can’t know. Because, you make your own meaning from art.

I have an idea of what I’m trying to do. Someone very close to me says be yourself, and proceeds to hide behind her own wall. We laugh about that all the time. I suppose that for me, it means not restraining myself. After all, isn’t a photograph supposed to look like a photograph?  It does for some people. For journalists. For pure documentarians. For my clients who hire me because of a certain photographic look. Even for the folks who think they are street photographers, which is about 90% of the people with mirrorless cameras. But, what about what I call my art?

I suppose, if I thought this through — and, I have — as I come toward the end of my career, I’d like to work on  jobs for which the client pays for the style that you’ve seen for about the last week. I’d like to sell art… instead of licensing stock pictures. What nobody wants to admit when a new stock company appears, is that clients turn to them when they want the same old thing. The propping might change to suit the era, the diversity might change but that’s it. One picture pretty much looks like another. We won’t even get into the sole reason to produce this kind of imagery which is to earn a living. Good luck with that.

So…

I’m making changes. A new “commercial” website which will be completely art focused is on the way. There will be three genres. The art you have been seeing this week. A black and white collection. And, a New Orleans culture collection. Each will be on the small side. Probably no more than 20 pictures each.  My archives are deep and broad, so I’ll rotate the collections more frequently than normal, but keep all the pictures where they can be found.  The site will allow for direct sales, pricing will be fairly simple, the site itself will be simple. The only possible hangup is with Storyteller. The new site will allow for a blog. I’m just unclear if can link WordPress directly to that. If not, I’ll back link from here. I like Storyteller too much to just let it wither.

Oh, and now that I seem to be recovered and can walk again. I’ll be making some new work with my newly evolved vision. Yeah, I know. Down here in big Baptist churches, I’d be a miracle. You know, “Praise God” all of that… make no mistake, I love those big boisterous churches.

No. I won’t be photographing any more street culture. Ne second lines. No Mardi Gras Indians. I’m pretty sure how I hurt myself. Potholes inside of bigger potholes and 12 miles of walking in a crowd are not good for any human being. As Jimmy Buffett once wrote, I’m not sure if the pleasure is worth all the pain. Of course he was talking about a three-day bender followed by a three-day hangover. But, still…