A little preparation.

There’s more to it than you think.

Walking a second line takes some work. Not just on the street. But, inside. Inside the club, bar or house from which the second line begins. Sometimes I go inside. Sometime I don’t. Depends. Usually when I’m inside most people are happy to see me. After all, a little respect goes a long way.

This picture deserves to be opened up so you can see what’s going on.

If you look closely, you can see that the subject is in sharp focus. That would be the smiling woman with all those hands surrounding her. You would also see that one of those hands has a red-painted manicure. That’s a big deal for female second line participants. Since this second line is called “Women of Class,” dressing well is very important. Finally, there is the subject’s smartphone being held out in front of her. Care to guess why? It’s for me. Of course, I obliged. I’m in their house.

I’ve gotten to the point where so many second lines look the same. Sure, the colors of the day change. Rarely does anything else. Even the people. Especially the people. They attend second lines that aren’t theirs as a show of respect. Brass bands are the most interesting. Musicians play in multiple bands. All they do is change their shirts.

I like photographing second lines. As a friend says, they are like going to church. The sights, the smells, the good feelings are important to me.

I am a photographer first. I was trained to tell stories. I was trained to make pictures that are a little different. I was trained to edit, okay — cull — my work down to the best pictures. So, I try very hard to figure out different angles, different locations, different approaches. Usually, I fail. That’s okay. I think about baseball. Using old school metrics, the best hitters bat around .300. That means they made an out two out of three times. That’s fine with me.

It’s the one successful at bat I try to make count. Certainly, there is the decisive moment. A moment when most of what you are seeing, when somebody does something that is so good, so cool, so exciting, that you better push the button.

You’d better know the scene.

For a while it was a big deal to capture guys dancing on roofs. Now, everybody dances on roofs. Or, there is a very young trombone player whose mom sort of introduced him to the adults. That was unique. Now he’s everywhere. His mom used to stand near him. Now, she doesn’t. She knows that we’ll — all of us, musicians and photographers — will look after him.

So.

I keep looking. Thinking. Watching.

One thing I know for sure. If I make one new picture. Or, the guy next to me does it, we’ll all be doing it within about two weeks. We are all on the same chase. It’s not really competitive. None of us care. Not like that.

This picture. I went inside where the ladies were getting ready. I smiled. I nodded. I made some pictures. A guy came up to me. I thought he was going to ask me to leave. That happens sometimes.

Not this time.

He asked for my business card. He is getting married and wants to hire a photographer. We’ve talked since. I asked “why me?’ He said that if I could walk into what is essentially a private session and not upset anybody I must know what I’m doing.  I didn’t quote him because those are my words. Turns out that he works with a lot of second liners. I’ll make him a good deal in exchange for access.

I’m not really a wedding photographer anyway.

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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.


Sitting, waiting.
Sitting, waiting.

Another one.

A picture made on the way to someplace else. This time, I was walking on Bourbon Street near Jean Lafitte Blacksmith Shop, which is really a bar. I was waiting for the action to start. And, looking for a picture or two. People were wandering around everywhere. On the sidewalk. On the street. In the patio. In the bar. A few minutes earlier, while I was looking for a place to park, I passed this same place and noticed four people posing for a group shot. In front of the bar. They were all naked. I’m willing to bet they were tourists. They would never do that at home. They would do it in my home.

That’s the thing.

During Mardi Gras we have this terrible reputation of hard partying and nudity. Women baring their breasts for beads. The partying might be on us. But, the public nudity? Nah. Those are tourists who will do anything for a 19 cent string of beads.

Our local women. Never. If they wanted a bead (that’s what we call string of beads), they’d say, “Gimme a bead or I’m coming up there to take one.” We are tough down here in the swamp. Or, they wouldn’t even go to the Quarter during Mardi Gras. They couldn’t be bothered.

Anyway.

I saw this guy sitting in his window. Across the street from Jean Lafitte’s old place. He was ignoring the hub-bub and reading. I took a couple of pictures with a longer lens and thought, “Nah, I need to work closer.” I always think that. I asked if he minded. He didn’t. And, I took this picture.

Thank you for all the compliments about yesterday’s picture. A friend of mine who has a lot of advertising agency experience sent me an email that said something along the lines of that agencies would have art directors, and assistants, and lighting and all that stuff… and I just stood on the corner and waited.

That’s what I was taught to do.

Often, when I show up to an advertising campaign shoot, I drive young ADs and CDs crazy. I have one small bag of gear and an assistant… usually a friend who knows cameras, but who needed a little time off and a little cash in their pockets. His or her job is mostly to get in the way of the “creatives” while I work with the talent (models and props). Afterwards, when the “creatives” see the pictures they are gobsmacked. “Oh my God, these pictures are soooooo good.” Their reactions have more than convinced me that bringing tons of gear is mostly a selling tool, not a technical need to make the picture.

Heh.


French Quarter
French Quarter

I’ve always liked the work of Edward Hopper. And, I’ve enjoyed the music of Tom Waits. This is my unintentional homage to both of them. At lest I know where I made this picture. In the French Quarter. In New Orleans. For years and years, Hopper fans have tried to locate the diner that he made so famous. Near as I can tell, nobody has come close. I suspect that he saw a similar scene and put it wherever his mind wanted it to be located.

It’s about the same for this picture. I didn’t go out looking for it. I just ran into it. Or, it ran into me. I’ve looked at and studied a lot of art in my lifetime. Sometimes. No, make that most times, stuff just comes bubbling up out of the murky mess that I call my mind. I think this happens with most genres of art. The artist is influenced by the time in which he or she lives. He or she is influenced by all the events that happened in his own personal life. History, as it were. Universal and particular. Sometimes, she twists and spins it a little bit to make sense of it. When the art is finally birthed, it likely doesn’t matter what the artist thought or what the influences happened to be. The reader, viewer or listener bring their entire life to the art as well. They make sense of it in their own way. That’s what I’ve learned. Formally, and by happenstance.

This brings me to now.

There are no current statistics for 2014. I suppose there will be in a month or two. But, according to Instagram — owned by Facebook — in 2013, there were 75,000,000 photographs posted every day. 75 million. That’s a lot of pictures. That’s 27, 375, 000, 000, 000 pictures a year. Yes. That many. That’s just on Instagram, who claims 13% of all internet penetration. That’s a really lot of pictures. If you add that remaining 67% of the internet who doesn’t use Instagram, that’s really, really a lot of pictures. I have no idea of the total. Obviously, Instagram is photo-driven so the rest of the internet won’t exactly correlate, but still…

This probably means we are living in the most documented time of the human race.

If.

If you like pictures of cats, cute puppies, someone’s lunch or selfies.

I wonder what the percentage of all pictures posted on the internet is dominated by those, er, subjects? More importantly, I wonder how you break away from all that noise and get your signal out there? For me, 2014 was a year of testing of that. 2015 is about doing that. It probably still won’t work. Time has a way of changing things.


Vaughn's at dusk.
Vaughn’s at dusk.

Vaughn’s. A typical southern juke joint. Bar. Music Hall. Lounge. In fact, their official name is Vaughn’s Lounge. Or, it’s just a neighborhood bar. A dive. A place where on most nights, everybody knows your name. My kinda place. Free food is served during Saints games. Trumpet player Kermit Ruffins used to have a regular Thursday night gig here. He “retired” when he became a family man. He wanted to work earlier, but on Thursday night the place was packed with tourists. If you watched the television show Treme, you knew about this place even if you live in Nebraska. Not that I have anything against Nebraska. Or, Nebraskans. His starting time was 8:30pm. But, this is New Orleans. Nothing starts on time. The regulars didn’t mind. Nor, did the tourists. But, Kermit wanted to get home by around 10pm. Of course, Kermit was replaced by another local musician. But, it’s not the same.

Anyway.

Vaughn’s is located on the far downriver side of The Bywater. It’s an interesting neighborhood. Fun to photograph. It’s a former blue-collar neighborhood. A lot of importing and manufacturing went on here. Three streets away is a former Navy base. Banana boats from South America offloaded here. Coffee beans from all over South America were imported and roasted here. The folks who “Put Folgiers in Your Cup,” were located here. There is still some shipping and importing going on here. But, not much. Ships dock nearby. Freight trains rumble through the neighborhood along the river. As the big importers moved away and manufacturing slowed down the neighborhood slipped into decline.

But, not today.

The neighborhood is coming back, or has come back. The big buildings have be repurposed into condos or highly priced (Read that overpriced for the area) apartments. Or, they were torn down and turned into parking lots. There are probably more new restaurants being opened in the Bywater than any place in the city with the exception of Magazine or Freret Streets. Of course, a lot of those new restaurants are simply the product of turnover. You know. Here today. Gone in a week. Trendy food. A lot of Kale. Too much Kale.

This picture. If you’ve read me since the eBlogger days, you may have seen it. That’s about three years ago. But, the picture needed reworking. I’ve always seen it as being sort of soft and dreamy. Light and color glowing. Dusk light at its best. I think I came closer this time. I didn’t quite have those skills a few years ago. I’m still not sure I do. But, my work ethic is good. I’ll get there eventually.

Oh yeah. The guy in the picture? Not what you think. He runs the outdoor bar-b-que. If you could see just past the second truck, you’d see one of those half-trash can-looking things with a smoke stack on it. Typical for the South. It’s located on the sidewalk. Typical for New Orleans.


A broken chair, a six pack in  a bag is all you need on a hot summer day.
A broken chair, a six-pack in a bag and a tree is all you need on a hot summer day.

I don’t usually take a couple of pictures and leave. I work the scene. Well, most of the time. Unless I do one of my drive by things. But, usually. While I was photographing Snake & Jake’s, I wandered about the neighborhood. I saw a couple of things that I liked and photographed them. But, I like this scene best. It’s a real New Orleans thing. A broken chair. A nice shade tree. And, a bag of beer in a brown paper bag. Who needs Snake & Jake’s?

I’ll let you bring whatever you want to this picture.

How do I know about the beer in the bag? No one was around to ask, so I just looked. A fairly fresh and still cold six-pack. I didn’t have the heart to “borrow” it from whoever was coming back. So, I left it. Where it belongs.


Little picture. Liuzza's By The Track.
Little picture. Liuzza’s By The Track.

When I lived near this neighborhood, I used to stop by “Liuzza’s By The Track” a lot. It’s classic New Orleans. A neighborhood dive-cafe-bar that serves great food quickly. You can have New Orleans-styled food or you can have a cheeseburger. You can ice tea or a beer. Or, something stronger. Or water.

It was heavily flooded during the storm and recovered very nicely, mostly because it is about three streets from the fairgrounds where Jazzfest is held. Tourists come from far and wide. Locals come from around the corner. I haven’t been there for a long time. I was hungry. It was lunchtime. And, I was in the neighborhood.

I call pictures like this one, “little pictures” because they are small snapshots in time. Usually, I keep the detail as the main subject with the action going on in the background. These pictures are hard to take. The minute somebody sees me focusing, they try to get out of my way. So, I have to be sneaky. Not because I don’t want them to know I’m taking a picture. I usually talk with them anyway. I just don’t want them to be nice and get out-of-the-way.

Anyway.

I’m moving a lot of my daily publishing to Instagram. The doesn’t mean I’m ending this. To the contrary, I’ll try to make Storyteller better. But, I reckon more people will see this blog if I tell them about it on more photo-oriented sites. Even though I have a lot of feedback on Facebook, it takes forever to grow anything from that platform. It’s the same for me with Twitter. It may turn out to be the same using Instagram, but unless I experiment I’ll never know.

Oh yeah…. please follow me on Instagram.com

I’m Laskowitzpictures there.


Resting in Central City.
Resting in Central City.

I made this picture about a year ago in Central City. How do I know without looking at the metadata? It was maybe six weeks before Fat Tuesday. I wanted to photograph the outdoor neon sign, but the bartender-owner invited me inside. I asked if I could take pictures inside. He told me I could photograph him and the bar, but it was up to each customer if I would be allowed to take their picture. Some said yes. Others said no. I honored that. Except for one woman who said no but kept leaning into every picture. I smiled and said, “In or out, but not both ways.” She laughed and said okay and offered to buy me a drink.

So back to my steel trap calendar like mind. Mostly, it’s rusty. But, I remember this because they invited me back on Fat Tuesday “when things really happen.” Okay. Maybe I’ll make it this year. Last year I was in the middle of never-ending traveling. I happened in there on a road break. But, I didn’t get to see Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras Day as foreigners from, oh let’s say Texas, call it.

The picture. Well. I pushed it a little. Well, a lot. I was shooting with an NEX7 which is a fine camera in available darkness. I pushed the ISO to over 6000. You can make a technically proficient picture at a high ISO like that, but your exposure has to be dead on. Balancing all these levels of light was a little tough and so the exposure wasn’t right on. Or, maybe nowhere close. So, I repaired it in post production using photo magic. That’s not a brand name. That’s what I call it when I get lucky enough to pull off something like this. Photo magic.


On the sidewalk outside of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop.
On the sidewalk outside of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.
Outside of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop
Outside of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

Experimental. These two pictures are even more experimental than usual. I made them as sort of a test. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I could go on and on about pushing the boundaries. About trying to learn new methods and uses of our ever-changing technology. But, all of that would be just words. The truth is, as with many things, it’s about money. You know. Follow the money and that’s where the truth lies. That sort of thing. I’ve had a number of potential clients ask, through on of my agencies, for pictures that look like Instagram pictures.  Oh great. Just great. I shoot very rarely with my iPhone because I think of it as a sketch pad and not as a tool. And, I’ve tested Instagram but don’t really understand the point. Yeah, yeah. I know a lot of talented photographers use it to build audience share. I suppose I should do that too. But… Well, for one thing, it has yet to be proven how audience share translates into business or sales. For instance, a musician can have a million “likes” and still sell six records. So?

Anyway, I was returning from someplace else, when I thought, “why don’t I try to make a higher quality version of the basic Instagram premise?” Thinking to myself can be dangerous. Sometimes. So, I sort of blew through the crowd standing outside of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is really a bar. Then I turned around and it did it again. I kept walking. I held the shutter release button down while keeping the ISO pretty low. I made a total of three passes. The young man and woman in the foreground of the bottom picture figured out what I was doing and just sort of held their poses. Thank you.  Then, I did some post production and you see the result. I’m not sure if it’s Instagrammy enough. But, It’s a start.

Why not just shoot with my i-Phone and use Instagram? Two reasons. The first is their contract and TOS is odious. They seem to think that they own the content that a photographer makes. That’s not going to work for me. Two, I just know what’s going to happen. Some client will use a picture like this online and it will be fine. Then, he will want to use it on a print product like an advertisement. And, the finished work just won’t hold up. There won’t be enough pixels. There won’t be enough of anything to enlarge properly. Yeah. That’s pretty old school. But some quality issues never change. You know. GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Oh yeah. The place. Lafitte’s Blackshop. Jean Lafitte was a pirate who hung out if the gulf, pirating things. Somewhere down near Barataria. There is even a little town named after him. He helped General Andrew Jackson win the War of 1812 by teaming up with Jackson in The Battle of New Orleans, which was really located in Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish. He used to make his way up to New Orleans to work in his so-called business. A blacksmith shop. This blacksmith shop. Or, so legend has it. But times change. And so did this building. It is now. — wait for it —  A bar. Once it was old and run down. It looked the part. New owners came along and turned it into the Disneyland version of the original.  It was popular with tourists once. Now it is popular with a hipper, younger crowd. I guess the new owners achieved their goal. As I wrote to a friend in an email. Life is change. Change or die.