The picture is the thing. That’s what I say. No matter what happens make your picture.
A wise old professor used to say that sometimes the hardest part of making a picture is getting there. He’s right.
Even if you are working in your own city that is still true.
When I photograph a Mardi Gras parade, I leave home which is very close to the parade route, at least 90 minutes ahead of starting time.
If I wanted to work from St. Charles Avenue (Where the tree streetcars run.) I could simply walk a block and half and be there.
I like to work from the start of the parade where all the little pictures are. Krewes preparing. Marching bands rehearsing. Paraders hanging out. Everyone loves to be photographed and that’s what I do.
But, getting there is hard.
The backstreets are already being jammed up by buses carrying the parade participants.
So, I leave very early.
There is a natural parade line break point on my street. I drive through the crowd when the stoplight changes. I head upriver on St. Charles, I drop down to the parade starting point behind it.
Now, I’m approaching the parade from downriver. I get as close as I can and start looking for parking. Because I arrive early, I usually find a space just about where I thought it was be.
I walk to CC’s coffee house, order and sit. Because I’m usually by myself a group of NOPD sits at my table. I ask them questions about the parade and they ask me questions about cameras.
Knowing them helps on the parade route.
Keep in mind, I do all of this so…
I can find a parking space.
There was a year when I worked eight parades at night. I parked in the same space for eight nights.
Day parades are different. If you are photographing a big one, you might have to arrive at 8am for a noon start.
It’s a lot of work.
Compression. A lot of photographers use telephoto lenses to get closer. I work closer and use them to produce compressed images or graphic shapes.
That’s what I did this time. I crowded as much as I could into one picture.
Working at night both helps and hinders. It forces you to shoot wide open at your widest F-stop. That’s good in this case.
It hinders you because you can’t always get a high enough shutter speed to protect the image from motion blur.
Sometimes that’s a good thing.
If the subject is in sharp focus while everything is moving around them that’s a pretty good picture.
Usually, the whole thing is a crap shoot.
It helps if you’ve been doing it most of your career and know how to compensate for some of it.
The biggest trick is to always shoot about three frames. Bam. Bam. Bam.
The first and third frames are usually out of focus or have too much motion blur, but the middle frame will be sharp and the image you hope for.
That all has to do with the body’s natural motion. Tense. Relax, Relax too much.
Stay safe, Stay strong. Stay mighty. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Look after each other. Stay relaxed.
Light and color. Rather the lack of color. I always say that when you have to explain the picture that you didn’t do a good job.
I guess I didn’t.
It’s two members of the Krewe of Cleopatra dancing in the street. I guess what I really like is the movement passing through the very muted color.
That brings me to this little nugget.
We have reached a point where many artists of all stripes are not doing the work for the works sake. They are doing it to breakout, to make a lot of money, to attract a crowd.
I saw that during the half time show during the Super Bowl. The Weeknd might as well phoned it in from home. Oh, wait, what? He didn’t?
He’s a good musician. His music isn’t exactly my style, but it’s good. It does remind of the old days, when Smokey, The Temps, and the Supremes (Yes, I know. We lost one today.) ruled the air waves.
You wouldn’t have known that on Sunday night. It may have been technical issues, but that gets no pass from me. When touring musicians can get the sound right on the same day they go on stage, surely the Super Bowl techs can get it right in a week.
I heard a very weak and flat singer. For many younger musicians the Super Bowl halftime show is a chance to break out into audiences they might not normally access. He didn’t do that.
I was excited. For years the half time shows were performed by the ancients of the music industry. I suppose after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, they planners wanted to play it safe. After all, who wants to see a half naked Paul McCartney?
This all dovetails into my original premise. Doing it for the money doesn’t really get you there. Doing it for your art leads to edgy work, breakthroughs and — wait for it — big money.
That just wasn’t the intent. Expressing yourself honestly and authentically was. That’s one of the reasons that I intentionally stay away from gear reviews. There are websites that began as blogs that talk about gear. They have company sponsorships, they receive gear to review, they get paid for promotions.
I’d like all that stuff too. But, I’d rather stay close to my vision.
Besides, I’m not a gear head.
The right hand column. It’s the technical column. I suppose today’s will be fairly short.
There just isn’t much to what I did. Come to think of it, there rarely is much to my work.
I’m a fairly simple photographer. Even when I use assistants and lights and remotes, my pictures are simple.
I found the picture in my archives. It was made in my usual style. It was bright. The motion was fairly defined.
When I removed the color the edges blurred to become unrecognizable.
When I finished the work I thought, wow, that really works.
On here, not so much.
There’s a technical reason for that. Just like Facebook, WordPress squeezes the hell out of the highlights and shadows. That’s what we are seeing here.
I usually do work arounds to account for that. I thought that I did. Apparently, it isn’t enough.
Oh well. It’s that perfection thing again.
Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay mighty. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Look after each other. Don’t squeeze your highlights.
That’s what second lines are really about. Of course there is music, paraders, social and benevolent societies, food and drink. The real point is to say hello to friends. Some who you saw just yesterday. Some who you haven’t in seen in a long time.
It’s the hug and smile that makes this picture. Nothing else.
It is my job to work close enough that I can make a fairly powerful picture, and far enough away that I don’t disturb them. The debate about consent rages on. I’m out of it. I have only one question to ask. If I had stopped these two men to ask their consent, would I have caught such a wonderful moment?
That’s my job as a photographer. To make powerful photographs. I’d go so far as to say when I photograph faux nature images that I’m not doing my job.
I made this photograph on the Ninth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in Buras, Louisiana. All that followed in the next weeks and months is history. In about two months, we’ll be acknowledging the 15th anniversary of that hellhound.
So much has changed.
Change is the only constant, they say. They are right. We are currently dealing with another hellhound. This one is harder to photograph. It’s invisible to the naked eye. It’s more deadly. There is no place to run. We don’t know when it will end. Or, if it will end.
Really, all we can do is deal with it. We can learn to manage ourselves. Today, I had my first haircut since mid-February. I needed it. It was also the second day my salon was open. I had to think about it. Still, I went. We were all masked up. There was sanitizer in an auto-dispensing machine. For those customers without masks there were free masks.
When I was searching my archives for a suitable picture, I thought about all of that. Even though we were honoring the storm dead, we were also celebrating life. As usual I just made my way to the front of what was forming up to be a second line.
The three men directly behind The Dancing Woman of New Orleans — Julie — are unmasked Mardi Gras Indians. Or, as they prefer, Black Masking Indians. I probably should get you used to reading that. Eventually, they lead a second line through out The Lower 9th Ward. It pretty much was a day of celebration after first mourning the people who died when the levees broke.
That’s also our shared history.
Stay safe. Enjoy every bowl of red beans and rice.
This was probably the last second line of the season. The weather turns too hot and humid to walk after the first week in July. We resume during the second week of September.
The joyful dancing woman and I had been flirting photographically for the past couple of weeks prior to my making this series.
She knew that I was there to make pictures. I knew that the man in the pink shirt is her husband. She introduced us. At the time, they were a family of four. She’s in her mid-thirties. Doesn’t look it, but she is.
I haven’t seen in them in a while.
If we ever get to come back out, hopefully I’ll see them and their children.
It’s funny about doing this street work. You meet people, say hello to them every Sunday and when second line season ends you go your own way. After a two month break for the hottest time of summer, if you are lucky you see them again.
Photographing second lines is hard work. Working in the middle of one is like being in a rugby scrum. You trot, back peddle, dodge and weave. You walk a long way. If you do it right, you’re tired, dripping in sweat and a little bruised.
That’s my fun.
I stopped some time last year. The pain was too much. If I got loose enough, if I swayed to the music, if I ignored the pain, I could get by. Walking back to my car was an exercise in misery. So, I stopped.
I missed them terribly.
I said that I was done with that project. I said that here, on Storyteller. I was kidding myself. I decided to photograph this season. My pain was relieved. I don’t know whether to be grateful or angry. Even though my hip and back are a thing, they weren’t causing the pain..
It was bursitis. I could have been pain free almost two year ago.
God laughed at my plan.
Along came the virus.
No second lines.
It’s hard to know when they’ll return. They have to be one of the biggest super spreaders.
We, in New Orleans, have started our celebrations for Carnival. So, that’s in my head. It’s also a way to get out of a dark place. The one that is influenced by the real world as opposed to the fantasyland that we live in on a daily basis.
I also realized that because of the way I publish multiple pictures some of you might not have seen them. There are also a lot of you who are new to Storyteller. You’ve never seen them. You should see them.
The pictures on this page were made during Mardi Gras 2019. That was the year I mostly spent my time at a Mardi Indian wedding on Mardi Gras Day. Enjoy.
I didn’t plan it this way, but today’s post is all about the next generation of Mardi Gras Indians.
The top picture may be the most important. Queen Tahj is a senior at Tulane University. She is truly becoming the leader of her tribe, while paying the utmost respect to her Big Chief. She is starting to change the look and feel of Indian suits. Her’s are lighter. Easier to walk miles and miles. This suit pays homage to the women in her family, especially her grandmother. She is so popular that when the time is right, she could possibly become the chief of chiefs. At a young age. And, assuming her career doesn’t take her away from New Orleans.
The rest. Wow! So many young Black Masking Indians. Most are unofficial, but their interest is already there. The little girl playing the tambourine in two pictures is so sophisticated at about 5 years old that she asked to see my camera’s LCD monitor to see how she looked. Figures. Her dad is a big chief.
You know the rest about the pictures. F/5.6. Be there and shoot.
Me? I’m better. What I believed was something terrible, was a relapse of a cold that I thought I’d defeated. I’m far better today. Tonight is St. Joseph’s night. I’ll go out again. And, probably get sick again. Oh well. Life is short.