I was wondering just how many pictures of old couches, chairs and furniture would hold a readers interest.
I wasn’t sure what to do about it until I saw this scene.
It hit me.
A picture like this holds the reader’s interest in many ways. Not the least of them being the human need to understand the photograph. To study it. To spend some time with it. To let your brain grasp the details within the details.
The first couple of pictures that I made for the “Junk Project,” were mostly overall scenes. You look at them once, quickly, and you are done. You see everything that needs to seen in less than a second. They rely on color, shape and hue.
This picture relies on content. Subject matter.
This picture would work in black and white, as well as in color.
This picture is also harder to find. Even harder for it to find you.
If somebody wanted it for their wall, I work hard to convince them to use the horizontal version and turn it into wall paper. Something that is about twelve feet wide and eight feet high. Something that when you came home at night, you could stare at and forget the day. You’d mumble to yourself, “Oh wow. I didn’t see that before.”
Just like I’m doing now. That light bulb. They are expensive. It isn’t broken. What was I thinking?
Looking for subjects for my various projects — abandoned railroads, abandoned furniture, and unique examples of water — leads me to other places and things.
Like this one.
This is a gated fence, probably for road workers, that has been broken wide open. By itself, it’s meaningless. In the context of what you are looking at, it’s very dangerous. Beyond that guardrail in the mid-ground and in front of that bright grassy area, lies a two lane expressway. It’s an entry point where drivers are starting to put their foot on the gas pedal.
I’m was shooting from a residential area. Imagine if a child found this place. Or, a dog being chased by a child found this place. It could be a true tragedy.
I attempted to address it, even though his would be a great place to work during the blue hour. Deep blue, silhouetted trees, speeding cars. Wowie zowie. A picture in my back pocket.
The folks who maintain the road say it’s the property owner’s responsibility. The property owner says that it’s not on their property.
Crossed pointing fingers. Nothing gets done.
As a country, we are doing pretty well with that now. Aren’t we?
I told you about this yesterday. I made this picture in the Lower 9th Ward. Houses stacked on other houses. Houses stacked on cars. Cars completely left to die after the water finally receded.
The Lower 9th Ward was a vibrant community on the downriver side of the Industrial Canal. It more-or-less sat by itself away from the rest of New Orleans. It started out as small truck farms feeding the restaurants of The French Quarter. Most of the folks who resided there lived in old family homes, many of which were built between 1900 and maybe 1930. They were smallish. They were insured for replacement costs when they were built. The houses passed from family member to family with out a deed or proof of mortgage.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Without the proper paperwork, FEMA funds and LRA funds were unavailable to the people who just lost everything. They might be able to file an insurance claim and be paid at full value. But, a house built at 1,200 square feet that cost maybe $8,000 to build in 1920, cost about $200,000 to replace. The current family members didn’t have that kind of money. The original insurance had never been upgraded and they couldn’t qualify for Federal money.
The community pretty much died.
There was actor Brad Pitt’s foundation called Make It Right, who built maybe 40 new homes clustered around one or two streets. That didn’t make a dent. Worse, the very high end architects who volunteered to design energy efficient modern homes didn’t design houses for our very extreme climate. A number of them have serious issues. One was demolished because it couldn’t be repaired. Make It Right doesn’t seem to want to repair the others. As usual, the whole thing is ending up in court.
That’s the story.
Thank you all for your comments and good wishes. They matter. A lot.
I’ll post like I did yesterday when I can. But, producing yesterday’s post was very emotionally draining.
The picture. I saw it. I photographed it. This is a kind of photojournalism so I don’t tinker with it except to correct things like color and contrast. I do remember that when I made the picture it was so hot. So humid. We had one of those hot, hot summers. That’s what heated the gulf, which fueled the storm, which destroyed 80% of the city. Then, there was the smell. The stench of rotted everything. Of mold. Of the oil and chemicals that flooded everywhere. That’s what I remember when I look at this picture.
My Spotify playlist brought up a Mudcrutch song. Mudcrutch was the late Tom Petty’s first band. It had an Eagle in it, along with a few members of The Heartbreakers. It was a proto band. Petty decided to release an album of their music in 2006. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It helped us get through the early days after Hurricane Katrina when we sought refuge in New Mexico.
That one song on the playlist brought me to the album, which kicked my rear into gear. Time to start doing the final work on my dual book project, Abandoned New Orleans Books One and Two.
Off I went. Into the archives. I decided to go inside first. Into the buildings as they were, right after Hurricane Katrina. I also decided to let you see some of the pictures. Because? Because why not?
By the way, the line that caught me in that Mudcrutch album was, “”Lord, I’m just an orphan of the storm.” We felt that way.
Because it was still very hot when we returned to the city after the storm, I couldn’t work all day in my house. The heat and humidity was draining. I took breaks by driving around in my car. It had air conditioning It was the only way to get cool. I would stop and make pictures along the way.
Anyway, on to the pictures.
“Calling Buddha” is very close to me. I used to live in that house. It was the last place I lived before I bought the house in Esplanade Ridge. This house used to be in Lakeview. It’s gone now. I liked Lakeview well enough, but it never felt like New Orleans. It was safe and boring. The best thing about living there was that I could walk across the street and have a coffee. Later, I could walk across the street again and have lunch.
It was on one of my cool-down drives that I decided to look around in Lakeview. If you recall, there were two places were the levees completely failed. The Lower 9th Ward and Lakeview. The water blew through with such intensity that houses were lifted off their foundations. They were dumped on top of other houses. Cars were stacked on top of each other. It looked like a scene from the end of a war. Apparently, the house that I rented had been sold. The kitchen was completely redone. When I lived there, it had a 1950s look and feel. It was wonderful. If you look into the kitchen, you can see wooden Home Depot cabinets.
The backdoor was in tatters so in I went. I had to make pictures. If you look at the crown molding you can see how high the water rose. These folks were lucky the the house stayed on its foundation, which was a cement slab. The rushing, raging water turned everything this way and that. Yet, if you look in the kitchen, there are bowls on the counter just as they were left when the occupants evacuated. Ain’t that something?
After I settled in a bit, I started roaming around the city. I started looking in Central City a little bit. At that point a lot of the city was empty. It was fairly safe.
I took no chances. Like just about everybody else, I was armed. I remember walking into one of the few open restaurants in the French Quarter, looking around and thinking, pity the fool who comes in thinking he can rob the place. Everybody was wearing guns on their hips. It seemed to be the thing to do. Nobody gave anybody a second look. We shared the restaurant with soldiers from elements of the US Army’s First Cavalry Division and the 82nd Airborne, as well as police from everywhere and members of the Louisiana National Guard. Those guys were armed to the teeth.
Anyway, on one pass through Central City, I found this place. I entered through a broken wall. Somebody had been at work. Whoever it was started the hard work of rebuilding. I guess that person may not have left the city during the storm. A lot of poorer people couldn’t. They didn’t have cars. The busses slated for evacuation were parked in a bowl and were flooded over their roofs. Many of the survivors made their way to the Superdome and the convention center. Places that were supposed to be places of last refuge. They suffered there for days. Most of them were eventually bussed to Houston were they New Orleansized the neighborhoods they settled into. God bless ’em. Others were sent to places like Atlanta while the rest of their family was to someplace like Chicago.
The strangest resettlement happened to us. We rented an apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico. About a month after we settled there, I walked outside to see my 7th Ward neighbor who lived a few houses from ours. She was staying with her nephew who lived two doors down from our new apartment. If you ever wanted to see two people dance and hug each other, you needed to see us. We were so happy to be alive and know that each other made it. We proceeded to New Orleansize things and have a bar-b-que in the front yard even though we had backyards. Good bless us.
“The last three days the rain was unstoppable.” Another Tom Petty line.
I made this picture towards the end of the time of my giant house emptying. This time I was able to do what most of us dream of doing. I opened my old office window and threw my water logged computer into the street. How many times have you felt like doing that after your computer crashed for the third time in an hour?
I was looking around the 7th Ward, which had almost been entirely under water during the flood that followed the storm. I was looking into houses that were in a state of partial remediation, which meant that many of them were stripped down to the studs as a way of removing the Aspergillus Mold that grew everywhere in the flooded houses in hot and humid weather. My eye was caught by a little sparkle. I stopped. There it was. A chandelier, hanging by its wires. Something that said, “this is my house.”
There you have it.
We are two weeks from hurricane season. That always spooks me a little. Time to organize some things and buy extra water, batteries and canned food that we’ll never eat unless we need to.
We had God’s own storm early Sunday morning. So much rain was dumped on the city that everywhere flooded. Even our neighborhood, which never floods. Luckily, for us, it did no damage. But, plenty of folks lost their cars. Some water crept into their houses. We all want to blame the city, but not this time. We are city that floods. Time for a t-shirt.
Two more things.
This is long enough already. My publisher was wondering why I have such deep files of abandoned buildings. When I told him, they were stunned. They are based in England. They forgot. Or, barely knew. They haven’t seen my final selection. Just wait until they do. Heh, heh.
There are lots of people who emigrated here after the storm, after the second storm and after the last hurricane. They don’t understand. They think they city will just flood like it does when there is a lot of rainfall. The don’t understand that they need to make an evacuation plan, or figure out what they might need to survive for many weeks without power or running water. Even when I talk about buying supplies that’s for something on the small side. If there is an evacuation order, we are gone. Maybe Hurricane Katrina was a 100 year event. Somehow, with climate change, I don’t think so.
That’s my biggest change. A change in my personal viewpoint. It took my Storyteller break to help me see the difference. It took those days to help me understand that I’d better stop reading so much bad news. More importantly, I stopped reading viewers comments at news websites. Both sides are nuts. I’m not on either side. Most people seem siloed. The more you try to change them, the deeper they dig. They angrier they get. I’m not angry.
Who needs that?
Even though I don’t make New Year resolutions, I did kind of did make one. By all accounts 2018 was a disaster. It left everybody unhappy, depressed, out of sorts. Me too. A lot of that was well beyond my control. You know what I’m talking about. Some of it is within my grasp, yet I didn’t do much to fix it.
That can’t go on.
For me, personally, if I live my life feeling negatively I don’t get much done.
Let’s just use Storyteller as an example. I started worrying about my yearly numbers. Don’t do that. It starts a cycle of posting for one reason only. Reader views and likes. Those numbers add up to nothing. Instead of doing that, post your truth. Post your best picture whether or not you think it will be well received. Post your best story. Let it fly.
Stop overtly selling.
There are a couple of bloggers that I’ve just stopped reading. They wrote a book. In an effort to drive people to the book, they stopped telling their stories. Everything is sell, sell, sell. Lead me to your work. Don’t shove it down my throat. That’s sort of a rule among more sophisticated sales people.
Besides. Probably 20% of the emails I receive want to sell me something. Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram have become never-ending sales tools. Don’t drown me in it. My reaction is to never buy anything. We both lose. You don’t make a sale. And, I don’t know what I missed.
I’m not leaving social media unless personal security becomes a bigger issue than it already has. I want everybody to see my work. But, I’m not going to convince you to buy it. I’m not going to share most news events and I’m not going to get in what used to be called a flame contest. There’s no need.
I’d rather post about art. In all of its forms. That’s what I understand best. That’s what I like.
That said, this picture. I made it at a second line. The tuba, or sousaphone if you want to split hairs, was resting. It was waiting to be played on a long walk through Central City. I saw it. I photographed it.
You can look at the picture in one of two ways.
The instrument is busted up. The sidewalk behind it is busted it up. My city is busted up.
Or, it’s well-worn and repaired from playing a lot of music. The sidewalk is torn up because the city is 300 years old and that’s why a lot of us live here.
Yeah, sure. There is plenty to repair. The streets are potholed. The water pipes and pumping stations break down. Power fails.
Yet, one yearly statistic made me smile. The murder rate was lowest that it’s been in 50 years. That’s a start. A pretty big start. Hang on to that and build. Build a little more. And, keep building.
A little housekeeping. The new website/blog is about ready. I’m a little afraid to push the button. There are a couple of reasons for this. They all center around the unknown.
I have no idea what Facebook and Twitter will see through my distribution channels. I have no idea whether I can build portfolio pages from which pictures are sold or licensed. I have no idea about static background pages that are not the main page. And, I don’t know if I can post multiple pictures in one post. There is no going back once I push the button. I can’t know those things until I do that.
I suppose that I should jump and fix things on the fly. Nobody will die if I get parts of it wrong.
A trip through Central City reveals a place that is still falling down despite claims that New Orleans has recovered from Hurricane Katrina. To be sure, Central City was falling apart long before the storm approached. But, it wasn’t too long into the recovery process that people were starting to talk about the gentrification of the neighborhood. They said that it was the only place in the city that was above sea level that hadn’t been recovered.
It never happened. Sure, a smallish area near St. Charles Avenue was partially redeveloped. They got some new apartments. A new food court. A few restaurants and a couple of other things. That’s about it.
The rest of the neighborhood? Not much. There is some minor redevelopment. For the most part, Central City looks about the same as it ever did. Oh, the big Catholic Church that the diocese finally sold has a new coat of paint on it. I have no idea what it’s going to be. We thought it would make a fine recording studio. I doubt that anybody else thought that way.
I haven’t been spending much time there. I drop in and out for second lines, but that’s about it. I need to start haunting the place again. It’s been pretty much left alone and that’s enough for me. Besides, it’s funny to watch the porch sitters dive for cover when you drive by a second time. You can figure that out.
The picture. In spring this is one of those houses that will be covered in tiny, yellow flowers. That’s worth a second trip right there. Or, maybe even more trips. Despite its reputation for danger, I’m comfortable there. Often I’m greeted with, “Hey, mister photographer are you coming out for the second line on Sunday?” Go to a place long enough and people start to know you. Funny how that happens.
I saw the house and photographed it. The light wasn’t right. But, I liked what I had. Tinkering away I went. I literally made this picture. The original exposure was simply a component. The rest pretty much came out of my head. The title and caption are borrowed. They are lines from Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” The lyrics are a little ridiculous. But, they paint the scene. They give you the feel. The picture combines the two.
I have a way of finding these places. Repeatedly. Usually on the way to someplace else. This place happens to be on a corner that I know well. Once I realized where I was, I decided to have a look to see if anything has changed.
Nothing has changed.
Ever since the doors have been boarded up with four ply sheets of wood, I doubt anybody has been in or out of it. Before that, everybody — even me — went inside to check it out. But that was back in 2011. Or, 2012.
Not so much. Although I think some of street types probably could find a way into the rat infested building. The building with stale air. Into the interior where almost anything of any kind of value has been removed. And, sold to the local junk dealers.
I didn’t even bother to try to go inside. What would be the point? I just photographed the most graphic side of it. I like the Super Fresh Meat Market sign. And, the rusted ladder. Or, fire escape. Whichever.
I knew, when I made the picture, that I was going to work on it heavily in post to bring out its most forlorn features. I knew, too, that I was going to try to make it look like a charcoal drawing.
That’s it. It’s the internet-themed “Throwback Thursday.” So, I’ve thrown this one back. Into the street where it belongs.
Looking at the picture now I see a lot of squares or boxes. Sort of like a rough Mondrian. Only different.
I think that I might have some new work tonight. I have choices. I can photograph the start of the Christmas season with a bonfire in Algiers across the Mississippi River, but still in New Orleans.
I can photograph the Krewe of Krampus. This is their second year. The parade is for bad kids at Christmas. Like me.
My problem is simple. They both start and finish at about the same time.
I have to pick.
I’m inclined to work on Krampus because there are the big bonfires upriver on Christmas Eve. I know, I know. Christmas Eve. But, it’s fairly early in the evening and we can be back in time for revillion dinner. Maybe even midnight mass
That makes me feel better. But, not that much better. These are events I enjoy. I’m not going to rush back to post. You will see some pictures, but not immediately. These are all holiday events. Family events. Family first.
I kept going back. At first, every week or so. I had to know what would become of a once vibrant neighborhood of blue-collar people. While it is true that many people lost their lives out here, many more didn’t. It is still sacred ground. It always will be.
They were the rebuilders. The ones whose sense of pride and ownership brought them back to almost nothing day after day. They emptied their houses out. They removed pews from churches in hopes that they would dry out under our hot Louisiana sun.
Some even scraped away what remained of their houses in hopes that they could started rebuilding soon. Dump truck after dump truck helped them remove the remains and the debris. The home owners hoped to rebuild soon.
A community loss.
No place to sit.
It was not to be.
So many of the home owners lived in houses that were built by their grandfathers or their great grandfathers. When one generation passed, the next generation simply moved into the family home. There was no legal line of succession. Most homes were insured at, maybe 1920 replacement cost prices.
Without legal proof of ownership the residents could not qualify for anything. No FEMA funds. No LRH funds. No low-interest SBA loans. No nothing. Probably 90% of these people never returned home. They had no home to come back to. Their diaspora is far and wide. Many went to Houston. Many went to Atlanta. Some went further west. When we evacuated to New Mexico one of my 7th Ward neighbors family lived two doors down from us. Imagine our joy at seeing each other alive.
Yet many continued to care for their property. Even today. You’ll often see overgrown land with one neatly mowed and manicured property in the middle of that.
The best anyone did for this neighborhood was actor Brad Pitt, who founded the “Make-It-Right” organization. They built about 30 house. They used very famous architects who designed modern structures designed to withstand storms. They builders used modern building materials.
The new houses may have been designed to withstand a storm, but they weren’t designed to deal with our extreme heat and humidity. You have to live here to understand. Some are falling apart. One is in such bad condition that demolition permits have been filed in order to tear it down. Brad Pitt is being sued in order to force Make It Right to repair the houses.
And, so it goes.
The picture. They were made over time. For instance, the top picture was made a few weeks after the storm. The middle two were made a month or so later. The bottom picture was made maybe six months after that. I suppose the toilets attached to very strong plumbing will live on. I have no idea if the seat cover was there before the storm or added later. I prefer to think it rode out the storm.
I continue to return today. Usually once every three months. Beside the Make It Right homes, a few people have managed to return and rebuild. There are houses scattered here and there. Many properties are still as the storm left them. Worse for wear after rotting in the hot sun, and severe storms, over thirteen years. The rest of the neighborhood has returned to nature. Perhaps, that’s as it should be. This was always bottom land. Land so far below sea level that some streets leaked in the best of times.