Only in New Orleans.

What a day. The fire did not only jump out of the frying pan, but it burned the house down.

No. Not literally.

A photographer who is known to many of us and who has helped us in career advancement just resigned from Magnum in lieu of being voted out of the cooperative.

Let me take a step back.

For those who aren’t aware, Magnum is the premiere photo agency in the world. At one time they were purely editorial photographers. As time passed they grew into something else out of financial necessity. They are a co-op which means they can’t just fire anybody.

The photographer, David Alan Harvey, was accused of sexual harassment of 11 young women. A reporter from the Columbia Journalism Review investigated, talked to the 11 women and found their charges to be true. The women showed incredible courage in talking on the record.

This exploded via Twitter and if you Google his name, you’ll find it all over the internet.

Many of the tweeters are women. They are not yet satisfied. They feel like Magnum and Harvey are getting off way too easily. They feel like photographic gatekeepers are essentially a good old boys club.

A reckoning is coming.

I’m sad and a little bit hurt, not because of the oncoming discussions. We all need them. I’m sad because I know this kind of thing has been going on for years. I don’t know it directly, but there were whispers in the wind. It wasn’t just with Harvey, but with all manner of photo influencers.

In Harvey’s case, he was always sort of a cowboy. I had no idea he had gone as far as he did. This hurts. His advice mattered.

I suppose it’s true. You must separate the art from the artist.

I only have one question aside from what was he thinking? What is a 76 year old man doing chasing 25 year old women?

Oh, I know why.

And, that just sucks.

I don’t usually cross post. This picture first appeared on Instagram which is distributed to Facebook because they are one company.

It’s slightly elderly from Super Sunday 2019, the last one we’ve had because of the pandemic. I doubt we’ll have it this year because it is just too soon.

Those folks who have already looked at it bear with me. You are going to look at it again. Sorry.

This may be one of my best Black Masking Indian (Mardi Gras Indians) pictures. It’s good because I managed to be inside the picture.

No matter how you try, it is very hard to do. My advice is to take a couple of years and get to know the players. Then, they MIGHT part for you to work your way inside. They might not.

There is very little post production used in the picture. There didn’t need to be. Those Indian suits are as you see them.

I’m sorry to say that it was guys like Harvey who taught me to see and work this way. That was all good back then. Today? Not so much.

Stay safe. Stay mighty. Get your jabs. Be good to each other.


Rest in Heaven.

Reflecting.

That’s what I’ve been doing.

I had a long post planned for today that I’d written and ready to go. I had to change it. The city’s culture bearers are in mourning tonight, as am I.

Black Masking Indians

You might know them as Mardi Gras Indians, but they prefer the name Black Masking Indians. Even though they are part of the Mardi Gras Culture they stand alone as Black men and women who mask to honor American Indians.

There’s not a lot of events at which you can see them. Mardi Gras, St. Joseph Night, three Super Sundays, Jazzfest and a few special events where they may be performing. If you’ve never seen them, you should. They are as important to this city as any one single group.

The news broke.

Big Queen Kim Boutte passed. At first that’s all we knew. The news started flowing around the streets. Finally NOLA.com published the story. Two nights ago there was a shooting in New Orleans East. A man and woman had been shot as they were leaving a funeral repast, a wake for those of you who don’t the word repast.

At the time, I thought that it was just one of many shootings in the East. I was wrong. I knew the woman died.

She was Big Queen Kim.

Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

I’ve met a lot of people on the street. Most are good people. Kim Boutte was the kindest person I’d ever met out there. There was one time at a parade – i can’t remember which one — that I made a couple of pictures of her suiting up.

When I reached her she asked for a favor. Could I bend over so she could use my back for a support while she pulled on her moccasins? Of course. She did that, gave me a kiss on my cheek and we went our own ways. Big Queen was her title. She was tiny.

That’s how it is.

We would see each other from time to time like we all do. We were always happy to see each other.

Now she’s gone.

She was killed by our violent street culture that seems never to improve.

The Picture

I made this picture at the festival for Louis Armstrong’s birthday. Most of it take place at the jazz museum near the Quarter, but this event take place after the jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Treme. The heart of jazz. Just about every group represents. You’ll see first liners, brass bands, Zulus, Indians, Baby Dolls and folks you haven’t seen in a year.

There she was, playing a cowbell. You know, “It needs more cowbell.” I made a few pictures. I circled around and we almost collided. We said hi, and I made more pictures while she danced.

That was it.

Rest in peace, power and in heaven, Big Queen Kim. You’ll be missed.

Stay safe, Have a good thought for our friend.


Keeping It Real

A lot of thought.

Art, in its best form, is supposed to make a connection. It is supposed to make your viewers or readers feel something. A lot of people have been doing that to me.

A friend of mine lost her dog last week. The dog was old and it was time. She wrote such an elegant blog post the it took me three tries to read it without tearing up.

Padma Lakshmi has a new show called, “Taste the Nation.” She picks up where Anthony Bourdain left off. It’s a food show only in that food is the point of understanding. She interviewed her mom while they were cooking together. Her mom is talking about how she came to America. Both mother and daughter are fighting back tears. A vision came to me. I could see my little Polish grandmother cooking and teaching me how to cook. In a railroad flat. In Brooklyn. Whew.

I was reading a column by The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell. He and I go back aways. We knew each other when we were journalistic pups. He wrote about teamwork and how you get there. The example that sticks most is about The Washington Nationals who won The World Series last year. They were invited to The White House. Some went. Some didn’t.

When it was time to start playing baseball and defend their world championship, they checked their politics, egos, race, spiritual beliefs and everything else at the door. They became a team. His working theory is that we, as Americans, forgot how to do this. We must defeat or control the Coronavirus. Everybody is walking to the beat of some other drummer. In order to win we must check our political beliefs, our racial beliefs, our spiritual beliefs and our anger about everything, at the door.

If we can’t do that, this country may not survive. There. I said it.

I said that I wouldn’t be talking about these outside issues. I would only focus on photography and art.

Nuts.

Outside influences are what propels an artist to make new, and maybe, better art.

Pictures

I suppose that you can write around a group of pictures to influence their meaning. I’m not doing that. This group of pictures is about one of the few times New Orleans comes together and acts as a team. Second lines and Indian events.

Making the photographs was easy. I made pictures of what I saw. I didn’t do very much to them in post production because this work is kin to photojournalism.

There are a couple of pictures that I’d like to talk about.

In the photograph called “all joy” look at the woman with the giant hoop earring. When I lived in the 7th Ward, she was a little girl who lived a few houses down from me. When we saw each other, we grabbed each other and started hugging and laughing. Caring.

In the photograph called “Paying Respect,” I photographed Black Masking Indians greeting a frail looking man on his porch. He is a retired Indian. He’s about 90 in the picture. The Indians stopped, danced and chanted for him. Respect.

It’s those feelings that I hope you feel when you look at the pictures. Open them up. See the details.

Stay safe. Stay mighty. Enjoy every bowl of gumbo.


Wildman in an artistic mode.

It happened again.

I got a little bored last night so I started playing with another human being in post production. This time, it was a Mardi Gras Indian Wildman who I photographed on the Westbank for their Super Sunday.

As I recall, it was a busy Sunday. There were two second lines on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. One was Uptown, the other downtown. There was also the big Westbank Super Sunday.

The picture is a couple of years old. At least, the base picture of the Wildman is that old. In those days I had more energy. I photographed both second lines and drove across the Crescent City Connection and found the parade route at just about the right moment.

Finding anything on the Westbank is a big deal for me. I get lost the moment I cross the river. And yet, there is a wonderful New Orleans neighborhood called Algiers Point that I just love visiting. It looks like Uptown New Orleans, but it isn’t. There is also a great Asian grocery store called Hong Kong. I’ve been there many times. I count my blessings if it doesn’t take me more than fifteen minutes to find after I’ve gotten lost and driven around in circles.

Anyway.

The picture.  The base image is the Wildman — the guy with the giant bones and skull in his hair.– who protects the Big Chief. The rest of the pictures that make up the background are images that I’ve made along the way.

Pro tip number one. Never delete anything. You just never know. There are backgrounds hiding in your archives. Besides you can study the out takes to learn something about your mistakes.

Pro tip number two. Make sure whatever background image you choose stays in the background. With most editing software, you can move the second image forward and back.

Once you positioned the two or more images, then go back into the editing software to smooth out the look and finish the image.

I have no idea how long it will take you. But, you shouldn’t rush it, While downloading, backing up, adding meta data and developing images can be a chore, this process should be fun.

As I once wrote, I gave up video games to learn how to do this. This had better be fun.


Young child waiting to deliver.

The night before the big day.

My photographic plans changed. Drastically. I learned that Big Chief Monk Boudreaux was getting married at noon, Mardi Gras Day. Fat Tuesday. At his home. In a flurry of texts I also found out it was open to the public. Everybody was welcome to attend.

That changed everything.

I wanted to photograph the Zulus as they opened the day at 8 am. I planned to head to Treme to catch the end of Skull and Bones. And, then to chase Indians until they arrived at Kermit Ruffins’ club near the I-10 overpass.

I photographed the Zulus. I looked around for a bit. Had breakfast. And, waited for the big moment. On my way, I almost got trapped outside of the box by a huge truck parade. But, Google voice came to my assistance. I worked my way into the box and there I was. Big Chief’s house.

A few terms. The box refers to everything inside the parade routes. A truck float means that semi trucks pull trailers decorated for Mardi Gras and are filled with people as opposed to the floats pulled by tractors.

The wedding started just about on time, which is to say it was early by New Orleans time.  After the wedding there was a big second line. Or, some kind of line. It worked its way through a large part of Central City.

I made a ton of pictures. Way too many pictures. That’s okay. It fulfilled my wish list and then some.

I left the scene at about 2pm. Mardi Gras 2019 was effectively over for me. Funny thing about that. As much as I grumbled about “having” to photograph it, I feel oddly sad. Like something left. Like someone left.

Because of Christian Lenten schedules, Mardi Gras 2020 is about 357 days away. Not even a whole calendar year.

I think I know what’s making me feel nostalgic. I am pretty sure this is my last working Mardi Gras. I sort of say that every year. This time my back and thigh issues slowed me way down. I had to take breaks just to let my pain calm down. So I could walk some more. Luckily, many people were very kind. I sat on their stoops. I sat on their porches.  I sat on a searchlight trailer. Their owners asked if I needed anything. They told me to sit. They brought me water.

So, this may be the end of the trail for the kind of high intensity walking that is needed to photograph these events.

Besides, recovery time was ridiculous. If I worked for two or three days in a row, I need to sleep as long as I could. And, I needed at least two days to recover. That has nothing to do with my heart or lungs. They seem strong according to my doctor. Instead, it has everything to do with my back, hip and legs.

If leaving the Mardi Gras scene comes to pass at least I went out on a high note. Usually I don’t like most of my pictures. This time, I liked most of my pictures. Never forget that I’m my own harshest critic. Also, I had a good run.

So, the Mardi Gras Day wedding of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. It’s a big deal. He’s the closest thing we have to a chief of chiefs. He’s well-known throughout the city. He’s 77 years old. He was born on Pearl Harbor Day on December 7, 1941. He lives Uptown in Central City. I suspected that a lot of Indian tribes would come out to pay respect. They did. They joined his own tribe, The Golden Eagles, for the ceremony and the second line. It was grand. It was colorful. It was majestic. I walked as much as I could and then turned back.

This little Indian is the ring bearer. I’m pretty sure the crowd was too much for her. It was almost too much for me. For most of us. Since it was outside, everybody crowded to the front. You wouldn’t do that in a church. Somehow, I made my way to the front. You know,  photographer’s luck. That wasn’t easy. The ground in his yard is uneven. There are little holes. There are bits of concrete from a building that was Katrinaized. But, I got there. I made pictures of everything. I even managed to make pictures of the moment the marriage happened.

No worries. You’ll see them. The rest of the week, meaning through Saturday, is dedicated to Mardi Gras pictures that you haven’t seen, including the grand wedding. I’ve only posted one picture today because I have to dig out of the last three weeks of Carnival. My schedule for today and tomorrow, looks impossible. We’ll see.


Wildman John and masking.

I forgot what I was doing.

With all the sadness during the early part of the week I just lost my head. Well, you know… I started working on a photograph that I made of Wildman John at Super Sunday in Central City. Somewhere in the middle of that I realized I wasn’t working on a Halloween picture.

Doh!

Make no mistake. This is not a Halloween picture. It’s about culture. Perhaps one of the most important and deepest cultures in the city. This isn’t some guy putting on a costume and makeup for Halloween. This is part of this man’s life. Of our life.

No political commentary today. Although that fun never stops. Now Congress might see their way to banning bump stocks on semi-automatic weapons that mimic fully automatic weapons.  Gee. Ya think? I guess they got permission from the NRA to even talk about it.

The picture. It started it out in bright color. But, I’m seeing things differently these days. I tinkered sort of backwards into more monochrome. Works for me.


A little experiment.

Tinkering.

Sometimes it’s best to just do whatever it is that you do. So, I did it. I try to do something photographic every day. Sometimes, I don’t actually make a new picture. Sometimes, I so some experimental post production. Sometimes, I read about photography. Sometimes, I continue the never-ending work of archive organization.

I’ve done a little of everything in the last few days. I’m mostly staying home and working on stuff. I started this picture last night. I finished it this morning. The two-day workflow wasn’t because what I was doing was hard. It was mostly because I wanted to let the first bit of post production sort of marinate overnight. I didn’t really think about it. It just sort of wandered around my brain.

And, this came out.

Along with a very weird dream. About a smudge pot. The house in which I grew up. And, my dad ignoring the smoke pouring out of the house and mowing the lawn. Don’t even try. It’s beyond explanation.

Anyway.

This is a portrait of a Mardi Gras Indian, or a Black Masking Indian, depending on your point of view. I made it last Super Sunday. In Central City. The picture started out in color. It was a pretty good picture.

Could I leave well enough alone?

Oh no.

I just had to mess with it. In terms of software, it’s a combination of things. Stackable. Snapseed. And, Efex Pro. That may have been overkill. Sometimes, the process of one steps all over another one.

Oh. I’m reading a book at the same time. It’s called “Gene Smith’s Darkroom Sink.” It’s one of a series of research books on the life of the legendary photojournalist, Eugene Smith. It’s a mix of photography and music. That’s a story in itself. And, it’s about Smith’s loft on the 6th Avenue in New York where the who’s who of jazz musicians gathered in the late 1950s and early 60s.

Luckily, the author doesn’t take himself too seriously. He wrote at one point, that it was a good thing Smith had a career because it gave him (the author) something to do for the last twenty years.

There you have it.