et. That’s what late June and July are in Southeast Louisiana, wet. If we aren’t getting a lot of rain, the skies are gray and the air is very humid.
So far, we’ve been lucky. The temperatures haven’t risen above 90 degrees except on two days and that was the high. If we didn’t have the humidity, we’d have some pretty pleasant days.
I was coming out of The French Quarter, waiting for a stop light and saw the scene in front of me. I turned off my wipers to let the water build up, raised my camera to my eye and what should happen? A businessman walked in front of me holding an umbrella.
That’s photographer’s luck.
If I hadn’t been out and about this wouldn’t have happened in front of me. There would have been no luck involved. There would have been no picture.
As one photographer says, “If you want better pictures stand in front of better stuff.”
You can’t stand in front of better stuff while you are watching your 72 inch television.
I wasn’t exactly standing, but I put myself in a position to make a fairly good rainy day picture.
Stand in front of better stuff.
n the left side I told you my theory of making pictures. Go outside and put yourself in front of better stuff.
That’s my photo making theory.
What I really did was make a loop from the Garden District through a bit of Treme and into The French Quarter.
As I left the Quarter, I drove through the CBD and part of Central City, where I turned, crossed the streetcar tracks and went home.
That took me a couple of hours. I could have driven faster, but what’s the point? I wouldn’t see anything. You know, that better stuff.
I think I made a total of six pictures that I liked well enough. And, this picture that I like a lot.
Development and post production was easy, taking care to sharpen the raindrops.
Streetcars are considered to be a huge tourist attraction. With the proper pass you can ride all over the city. You can catch a ride somewhere near The French Quarter and head Uptown on the green cars. They are not air-conditioned. Or, you can can catch the red cars, which are newer and air-conditioned. You can ride to Mid-City, City Park and now downtown.
At any rate, as a tourist, you are not trapped in The French Quarter, nor do you need to rent a car.
Locals use them too. Some people commute to work on them. Some people use them to do what you would do with a car. Garden District people who don’t want to deal with parking near the Quarter ride the green cars from somewhere along St. Charles Avenue to the point at Canal Street where they make their turn around. Walk across the street and you are in the Quarter.
The picture. Archive editing continues slowly. The last couple of posts have been pictures that are headed to the New Orleans collection. Looking at the copyright and the bare trees in this picture, you can probably surmise that it was made in very early 2016. Usually our coldest months.
You know, that time right after the sun sets. When the light is so blue. This is also a style in which I used to work. Impressionism. I’m taking a journey into my past. That’s right. I’m going back there.
I used to do this a lot. I kind of made this a signature style in mid-career. But, it was mostly film based. It evolved out of working in the streets and feeling the need to keep moving. Even in days that seemed less violent than today, a guy with a bunch of cameras and a tripod is an easy target. So I tried to keep moving. And, the ISO of most slide films was relatively low. Relatively low? Did I just write that? We were shooting slide films that might have an ISO of 50 or 100. So. In this kind of light we might have been working 1/4 of a second at f5.6. Something like that. There faster films, but lower ISO usually meant higher quality.
Along came digital photography.
Early digital cameras didn’t allow for much more flexibility in terms of enhanced ISO. If you turned the ISO up much beyond its native speed, you introduced a lot of noise. Stuff that looks like grain. Most of the time it appeared in shadows. It was mostly heat induced by the image processors of the time. Other things happened. Like the infamous purple fringe, which is what happened if you shot in backlighted scenes. Like I do.
Today’s digital cameras have what seems to be unlimited ISO ratings. There are some of the newly released bodies that can push the ISO to well over 100,000. You can turn night into day. If you wanted do to that. That’s a good thing. I think. It also introduces the potential to crank the ISO up to over 500 even in bright daylight. Cool. Everything is sharp. Or should I write, every damn thing is sharp?
That’s where I was. What I was doing.
We watched a series of videos on Amazon Prime. About Impressionism. It didn’t take much longer than about of half of the first video for the dim lightbulb in my brain to switch on. I had drifted away from the work that makes me who I am. At least from an artistic standpoint. Yeah, sure. Clients may still want every picture sharp and looking like a photograph. That’s fine. But, my own work can be whatever I want it to be. That’s where I’m headed. Back to the past.
One more thing. For you.
All of what I wrote is why many of you use all sorts of filters. On Instagram. In camera settings. In Photoshop. Or, whatever post production you choose. It’s likely that you are starting to look at your digital captures and are thinking that they look too sterile. Too clean. So, you are trying to make your pictures look a little more like they did when you saw them made on film. Or, on analog as the digital folks say. That’s a good approach. But, you can start by turning your camera’s ISO down. Way down.
There’s nothing like a little blue hour, wet streets and warm glowing lights in the background to make a place look enticing. If I was really working for — oh, let’s say — the tourism board, I’d clean up the foreground. There’s lots of trash there. One way to do it would be to just pick it up. But, that takes a lot of time and light is fleeting. Or, I could have retouched the image and spotted that stuff out. Much quicker and rain wouldn’t fall on my head.
But, that wasn’t my purpose. I was there to document the rebirth of the city. That new hospital, remember? I wasn’t trying to make this street look good, or bad. Yeah. Sure. I want my pictures to stand out. But, to a point. At least for this project. Eventually, I will offer a lot of the pictures from this project to one of my agencies. Then… no trash, no copyright notifications. Maybe not even the VW Beetle. Oh yeah, none of those power lines in the top right. Yes. I like to make power lines part of the picture since they are so ubiquitous. When they work. In this picture, they really don’t work. They need to come from some place and go to another place. They don’t.
Which brings me to… A lot of the work I see all over the internet.
Because we aren’t paying for film and processing, taking a lot of pictures has become the norm. We just push the button. We don’t think. We probably take way too many pictures. Then, we share them all over the place. I’m not exactly sure why. Most of those pictures that are sloppy at best. Many are under or over exposed. Many aren’t even in focus. I’m convinced that some photographers do not understand their cameras. They just point. And, shoot. That also means I doubt they are noticing the little things. The power lines. The foreground details.
I once asked a photographer who was having an image exposure problem what his histogram data told him. He was working with a high-level Nikon prosumer camera body. Something like a D7000. He replied that his camera didn’t have a histogram. Huh? Until you drop down to the most basic of compact cameras every camera has a histogram. I don’t use that data often. But, it’s there when I need it. Especially, when I’m having a problem.
That’s just one example. I could go on. But, that’s not the point.
The point is really to learn about what you are doing. Practice it. Practice it some more. Practice so much and for so long that all the stuff you do to make a picture becomes so ingrained that you don’t even think about it when you do it. It’s part of you.
Gear too. Learn about what it can do. What it can’t do. How to work around what it can’t do.
Study your work. Study great work that came before you. Compare it. Contrast it. Learn from it. If your pictures hold up well, then show them. Post them. Invite comments. If it doesn’t hold up, well…
Be ruthless with your own work. That’s really what it takes.
Streetcars. One of the reasons that visitors to New Orleans come here. Mostly, they come for the French Quarter and mostly Bourbon Street. But, more adventurous souls like to roam around the city. There is plenty to see and do. They can tour very easily just riding the streetcars. The older cars — green — run along St. Charles Avenue through most of Uptown. Eventually, they meet up with the Canal Street red cars, which are air-conditioned, in two locations. It’s a great ride. For tourists and those of us who live here. Many local people use them to do the same things people do in their hometowns. Commute to work.
The picture. Easy. Simple panning exercise. Keep the subject sharp, let the background blur. Shoot at dusk with a little bit of rained soaked streets and there you go. It helps a lot to use a lens that is about medium length. Maybe 70 to 85 mm.
That’s not all.
It’s opinion time. For you.
What do you think of the redesigned Storyteller?
The actual template looks very little like this. I like it more than what you are looking at right now. But, WordPress doesn’t make it easy to actually customize the template. Sheesh. I want a bigger main picture. Looks simple. Type in the pixels you’d like the picture to be on the long side and hit save. Yeah. Right. It falls back to the default position every time. On the other hand, it does help with the issues that I identified. It’s open. Airy. Modern. Clean.
I suppose that if I wanted to start an entirely new blog, the template would look exactly as I saw it on the demo. But, I don’t want to do that. It also tells me that WordPress is likely not the place for my commercial site. There are a couple of options that are much more functional and easier for people like me — non coders — to use.
I owe you all an apology. I haven’t been telling many stories lately. My efforts have been half-baked. I’m not sure why.
Yeah. It’s been un-Godly hot. Many of us have been talking about it. It’s a different kind of heat than we are used to. There is a second line on August 23rd. A week or so from now. The season is starting. Already. Seems like it just ended. I was talking to a photographer friend of mine about it. He’s like me. He’s out on the street every week. He’s not looking forward to it. I’m not either.
But, that’s not it. That’s an easy excuse.
I’ve just been in a weird funk. I feel like I’ve lost a little of my mojo. I can work when I get paid. I can’t work for myself. You tell me. Which on is really more important? There seems to be a lot of that going on. Some of my blogging buddies have been talking about writing blocks. Some took a break. A few took a break saying that they would return. They’ve yet to return.
I’ve been also sort of denying a few things. We are two weeks away from the ten-year anniversary of something that changed my life. My city’s life. Just about everybody’s life who lived in New Orleans. I lost a house. I relocated to New Mexico for a time. I came back. Some of us did and some of us didn’t. For those of us who returned, so much changed. For a while that was okay. But, then it wasn’t.
My way of dealing with the decade anniversary of the storm making landfall at Buras, Louisiana on August 29, 2005, was to ignore it. But, that’s not possible. There is no media outlet in world that is letting this pass without publishing as many stories as possible about it. My hometown newspaper, which has morphed into NOLA.com, published a story that contains a database of every possible story that they published about Katrina. They should. They worked throughout the earliest days of storm recovery. They were journalistic heroes. The New York Times has been publishing at least three stories a week about New Orleans and our recovery. The Chicago Tribune chimed in with an editorial written by an idiot — yes, that’s the only way to describe her — saying that Chicago needs their own Hurricane Katrina to serve as sort of a reset button. Yes. The Tribune is backtracking. But, still… I would never wish a storm like Katrina on anybody.
Anyway. My friend and fellow photographer, George Long, posted something on the local photographer’s group on Facebook about this place. It is the New Orleans Katrina Memorial. He asked if we knew it existed. I certainly didn’t. But, as you already have learned about me, there’s a lot I don’t know. There are things I discover that people have known about for years. Oh well. Perfection is for angels.
I decided to go there yesterday. I decided a lot. In about ten minutes. Here’s some of what I decided.
I went to the memorial at around noon. The worst time of day to work. And, around the hottest part of the day. I want to feel the heat of the day. I wanted to feel what it felt like during the summer of Katrina. Nobody was there. Just me. I want to make you feel it too. Light shouldn’t matter. Deal with it.
I decide to photograph the memorial through my eyes. There are traditional ways to photograph these things. There is also a more personal way. I chose the latter way of working. I need to do that more often.
I put myself back on a picture a day schedule. For 14 days. Two weeks. I will post my own memorial to the storm. Everything you see will be a day old. At most. You will see it the way I see it. The pictures will all have some storm reference. I will take you back to places you may have seen in the past. Maybe not. That’s a lot of work. It’s worth it. For me. For you.
On August 29th, there will be memorials all over the city and region. I don’t know which one I’ll photograph. But rest assured, I’ll be there. Somewhere.
All of those points are a real change in my thinking. You know that if you been reading Storyteller for any length of time.
Okay? Good? Any ideas?
So. These pictures. First, I didn’t mess around with them most in post production. Mostly, I’ve corrected contrast, highlights and shadows. I’ve helped the color. But, that’s it. This is more like photojournalism, Magnum style. One more thing. I didn’t touch or move anything. You see what I found and photographed.
I found the stuffed animal almost right off. Somebody left it as their own memorial. It hasn’t been there long, but already mold is starting to claim it.
The second picture is a very short version of the Katrina story. The things to know about this place was that it was given birth by the Coroner of New Orleans. Every funeral home helped out. There are 21 unidentified bodies here. There are an additional 62 unclaimed bodies buried. That makes a total of 83. Nobody knows why some bodies weren’t claimed. Likely, they belonged to families who had no idea what happened to their kin. They probably still don’t know.
The third picture is a summer picture. The wreath is faded. Grass cuttings have been spewed onto the memorial stone. By the way, there are no names on these stones.
The fourth picture is about me. Dried flowers and my shadow. I think I said it. This is personal.
The fifth picture is a study in contrasts. Pine branches are evergreen. They grow forever. Supposedly. The stuff in the background is left over from either the storm itself, or, from the building of the memorial. I’m not sure which one. There was nobody around to ask.
The sixth picture is the memorial logo on the memorial fence.
Not to worry. Not every post on every day will be this long. Or, anywhere near this long. I just had a lot to tell you today.
A huge, nasty storm. Sideways pouring rain accompanied by high winds that were measured around 120 mph at the airport.
It came fast. It came hard. By about 9:30 am the skies were dark. The light in the house looked like the light you see at pre-dawn. By 10:30am, we lost power. So, I did the only thing I could do. I hit the streets looking for pictures. I didn’t have to look far. The pictures found me.
What did Rumi say? “The thing you seek is seeking you.” Well, it found me. Not to worry. I’m fine. I think everybody is fine. I haven’t read or heard that anybody got hurt. At least as a direct cause of the storm.
The damage? Well, freight cars fell off the long, rickety and almost ancient Huey P. Long bridge about 100 feet to the ground. Many streets were flooded. A lot of trees were knocked down. There seems to be some signs blowing around. The airport closed. Not only were the wind gusts much too strong for anything to fly, but they lost power just like the rest of us.
Personally? Well, the pool has about one-third of one of our big trees lying in it. I called a professional for that. Our street flooded over the sidewalk. But, that’s it. The flooding created yet another huge pot hole at the corner. But, we are used to that. Our veggie garden is in shambles and if we don’t dry out soon, the veggies well rot because of — get this, California — too much water. My biggest personal loss? I had a big golf umbrella. You know the ones. Huge. Could probably keep four people dry. Well, a strong gust of wind turned it inside out. Usually, that breaks an umbrella. But, oh no. This umbrella just didn’t break. It exploded into a billion pieces.
All in all, it wasn’t so bad. We have all been through worse.
Why did I go out? I’ve been laying back too much. Getting too comfortable. That needed to change. Besides, you can’t shoot pictures if you don’t hit the streets. Well, you can. But, that’s not my style.
That’s what we call them in New Orleans. As in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Yes. There is a street named Desire. There is a neighborhood named Desire. And, once upon a time there was a street car line that ran through the French Quarter, through the Bywater and towards the lake in the 9th Ward. Ain’t der no mo’. Every now and then the tracks reappear when some of the pavement breaks away from what is usually cobblestones underneath it.
This one is a red street car as opposed to a green streetcar. Aside from running on different routes, the red street cars take advantage of new technology. They are air-conditioned. The green ones are not. During our summers that matters. Especially, since New Orleans is not Disneyland. Tourists love riding these streetcars. It’s a great way to see a large part of the city. Streetcars look like they belong in some Disney-like place. That’s also great. But, they are real live public transportation. Commuters use them. To get to work. To make groceries. To get places if they don’t have a car. I use them. I walk two blocks from home, hop on one, get off on Canal Street and walk to the Quarter. No search for parking. No paying for parking. In the heat of summer, air conditioning really matters to people who live here. I suppose that it does to our tourists who can’t imagine living here all year round.
The history of streetcars. Ahh… that’s long and involved. Let me just say this, when I arrived in New Orleans there were no streetcars on Canal Street. At one time maybe eight or ten lines converged on Canal Street. The tracks were all torn up and replaced with buses. Then somebody got the bright idea, “We need a street car line on Canal Street.” Again. So, one was built there at about ten times the cost of the original lines. Not long after, Hurricane Katrina arrived and flooded Canal Street and the car barns and motive power sheds that we just newly completed. So. While the tracks remained, everything else was rebuilt. Again. I think the Feds helped this time. I don’t remember.
This picture. Dusk. One of my usual drive-bys. Or, drive-throughs. I helped it out from a color standpoint. I made it more intense and bluer. That’s how I saw it when I pressed the button. That’s how I made it.
When I write Storyteller, it’s usually late in the evening. I usually listen to music. It falls into what has become a sort of trendy genre. Americana. It’s all over the place. Most senior musicians say, after hearing that they now fall into this “new” genre, “Oh, I’ve been playing that for years. It just never had a name.” So. Tonight, I’m working to Neil Young’s “Greendale.” It’s a ten-year old concept album about a strange little fantasy town called… “Greendale.”
And… I’m still into “Grunge City.” This is a picture from Mid City. A lot of Mid City was torn down. After the storm. A lot of it flooded, But, that wasn’t why. The City, the Feds, FEMA and the VA decided to build a cutting edge medical corridor. Two new hospitals. A teaching hospital. Research facilities. It’s a mammoth 24 block area. Most of the existing housing stock was torn down or moved… see my posts about Hoffman Triangle. But, some original buildings remained. They may have flooded, but they were solid stock. However, the constant pile driving, hammering and work is tearing them down by accident. This is one of those buildings. Every time that I see it, it looks worse. Eventually, it’ll be torn down. Or, it will fall down on its own. By the way. It’s across the street from all of this work.
The picture. Mostly I let nature — or the construction crews — take its course. I added a little to it because, well, where would this series be without my adding stuff?