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.
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.
It’s the energy. In hot or cool weather, it’s the energy that drives second lines. It’s the energy that creates minor miracles for me. If you hear the music, smell the cooking, get pulled into the din, there is no way that you won’t come alive. You’ll sway to the music. You’ll dance. You will feel better than when you arrived.
Eventually, you’ll feel tired. But, it’s a good tired.
It’s a funny thing. When I first started coming out, I had no idea of what I was looking at. I just liked the color. The energy. The people. Eventually I learned a few things. I met a few of the people who make second lines go. Even so, I don’t know everything. I will always still be learning and meeting new people.
I do know the customs and traditions. At least I know them enough not to get in trouble. As I was told many years ago, if you are new on the scene present yourself. You have to know to tradition. You have to know the people.
For me, that’s the same thing as travelling to distant countries, whose traditions are not western. I read about people who get into all sorts of trouble because they compare our way of living to their way of living.
It doesn’t work.
I could tell you all sorts of stories about that. They never happened to me because I’m pretty mellow. But, the things that I’ve seen. Whew.
I’ll tell you one story. I was leaving Thailand, so I went to the airport to check in. Another American was at the window next to me. In those days you had to pay an airport tax. Today, it’s tucked into your airfare. It was 50 Baht. About the equivalent of USD $1.50. No big deal. The guy at the other window started yelling at the agent.
She was horrified.
Then, he started cursing the king and the corrupt country. Now the gate agent was pleading with me, with her eyes, to help.
I tried to calm him down. I told him what the price was in US currency. I told him that in Asia, screaming gets you nowhere fast. I told him that if he kept attacking the king there would be huge trouble
Trouble came in the form of two heavily armed Thai soldiers. They handcuffed him. They were about to turn on me when the gate agent told them in Thai language that I was helping her and I was being kind. The soldiers nodded and put their hands together in a “Y” to thank me and to apologize. Oh, “Y’ing” looks like folding your hands in prayer.
They took him away, kicking and screaming. I don’t know what happened after that. But to insult the King in Thailand is to bring all sorts of hell upon yourself. At that time, the king was loved by all Thai people. I knew him as a really good photographer and jazz musician. He played clarinet in a New Orleans style.
On the street.
Under his parasol.
Little trumpet player.
Smiles and parasols.
These are some of my favorite pictures from the Good Fellas second line that started on Earhart Expressway. You may be wondering if the name has anything to do with the famous aviator, Amelia. It does. We are a little flying oriented down here. Our airport is called Louis Armstrong, but the destination code is MSY, after an early aviator — Moisant — who crashed in a pasture and was surrounded by scarred cows. That’s where the airport is today.
I made these pictures by just walking around until the second line started. As I’ve said in the past, after a while the actual second line feels a little similar to earlier work, so I try very hard to make something different, or unusual. Of course I photograph the main event.
I invite you to open the little pictures. There is good stuff going on in each of them.
Day two. The Valley of the Silent Men second line in Central City.
I thought I would publish a few more pictures of the day. A good day. A happy day. And proof of a hot day. At least one picture, where my buddy’s wife is wiping his face with a towel.
Of all the pictures, I like the top one best. It’s a little subtle, but to me it’s one of those pictures that says a whole lot. From a technical standpoint I almost didn’t select it. The man in the foreground looked like he was buried in shadow. But, deep details in shadow is where digital capture just shines. I opened his face, and the man standing behind him, just fine. Should they be lighter? No. They are backlighted.
So now you know what it’s like to stand in the heat, with the entire second line snaking around in front of me after making its first two left hand turns. I will say that this picture was lucky. You know, photographer’s lucky. Look a different way and it’s gone. Think too much and it’s gone. Try to catch up and its gone.
How it looks on the line.
I told you it was hot.
The rest of the pictures. I wanted you to see — once again — what it looks like between the ropes with the first liners are coming out. I also wanted you to see that it really was hot. This man and I have been on the injured reserved listed for a while. He had shoulder surgery. You know about me. We were as happy as we could be to see each other.
And finally, the spiritual bling. On another day this would be a stand alone picture. But, I wanted to work it in with the rest of what I saw. Funny. This guy was walking with a cane. I sat down next to him because my hip was starting to ache. I needed another pain med. I took it, looked up and saw his chest. I asked if I could photograph it and he proudly answered yes. Then, we limped away from each other. My hip felt better in like 20 minutes. Nothing like extra strength Tylenol.
Seems like just about everyone came out. I saw folks that I haven’t seen in almost a year. I saw old friends. I made a couple of new ones. It was loud. There were great smells from vendors who were barbecuing. It was colorful. And, man oh man, it was hot.
But, it was all good.
The Valley of the Silent Men took to the streets almost on time. New Orleans time. The second line turned left, then left again and finally made its way to Claiborne. A lot of us were dropping out by that time. You know how I said it was hot?
It was really hot.
A friend of mine gave up when he felt a little woozy. I think that he’s finally growing up. Heh! He’d have kept walking — as I would — a year ago. When I got home I was able to wring my clothes out. Everything was soaked. Even my socks. I suppose that we’ll have to make a few adjustments until the weather mellows out a bit… in 24 or 25 months. Kidding. Always kidding.
The tuba starts it.
A quick pose on the line.
Little mister hits the line.
The pictures. You know that I can’t be in about five or six places at once in order to really tell a story.
So, I just made a little portfolio of what I saw. These are mostly just portraits. We’ll see what I find for tomorrow. The guy at the bottom is the flag bearer. He carries the banner of the Valley of the Silent Men. He’s somewhat prepared for the heat. And, the sweat. If I had any brains, I’d wear a wide-brimmed hat, a towel and carry a couple of bottles of water. There’s an issue with that. I try to travel light.
Maybe I’ll forego lightness and dress that part. The part of Lawrence of Arabia.
Louis Armstrong’s birthday second line is a wonder to behold. Just about every cultural group sends somebody to represent them.
This is one of the rare occasions that you can see social and benevolent societies, brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, Mardi Queens, a couple of Baby Doll krewes, a Catholic priest or two and a Japanese jazz musician who came from his homeland to play at The Satchmo Summer Fest and walk on our old streets… all at one time. In one place.
It was good. It was colorful. And, it was hot. And humid. By the time I was done and home, my clothes were not a little moist. They were as wet as if I had stood in a rain storm. Even that felt good. That kind of sweat sort of makes me peaceful. Besides, that’s what washing machines, dryers and showers are for.
So, here’s the deal.
I’ll start with this picture of Mardi Gras Indian Queen Mirlene. That’s just for today. Over the course of the next couple of days, I’ll publish little portfolios of what I saw.
There are two reasons for this.
I’m tired. And, peaceful.
Once again technology is not my friend. Actually, it’s the latest upgrade of OnOne that’s not my friend. I’m pretty convinced that it is designed for the advanced hobbyist photographer who takes a bunch of pictures, develops a couple of them and works on them one at a time.
It isn’t for someone like me who needs to cull, develop, process maybe 50 or so large file images and do all the work of sizing, converting from one file to another and so on. My RAW files are 96 gigs. That’s not the biggest. But, big enough.
I know when I call the tech folks at OnOne tomorrow, they are going to disagree and suggest my computer is underpowered.
Near as I can tell, the only photo/design software that is built for industrial use is an Adobe product. Like Photoshop. Or, Lightroom.
I had something else planned for today until I realized the date. Since so many of my later images are nature-based what else could I do? Luckily, I saved this picture. I made it earlier this week.
We are under a tornado warning with thunderstorms expected for the rest of Sunday. Worse, for me, I had a whole day of pictures planned. More tall ships. Westbank Super Sunday. A neighborhood second line. And, Bark at the Park. I couldn’t have gotten to all of them and done a good job. Still.
Now. Nothing. Nada. The tall ships likely won’t raise their sails. The Indians won’t risk damaging their suits. The second line might still roll. But, likely not. Bark at the Park — like The Krewe of Barkus, only brand new — cancelled their event yesterday because of weather predictions. They were right to do that.
I have plenty of stuff to do around home today. Spring cleaning needs to be done. I need to do a lot of paperwork including some billing… if the dogs want to eat. And, I’m experimenting with some things. Check out my signature. I’ve been thinking that my normal copyright watermark seems too formal and rigid. That’s fine for clients and business. But, not so fine for here. You can make water marks that don’t look quite so legal and still do the job.
I looked at some online. You sign something and the app makes a watermark. It costs money for this process. Yeah? Really? Why? All they did was borrow from Apple and Google who have their own picture storage and post production systems. You can easily make a signature watermark. It takes a long time. Maybe ten seconds. I did this one in Apple. My signature needs a little work. It’s missing the circle that I use to dot the “i” in Laskowitz, and a long slash in which I cross the “t” You know what they say. Dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s.” I didn’t this time. I’ll modify it next time. I’d also like to scrawl a copyright symbol in front of the date. And figure out how to change color.
Maybe next time. No. Wait. Next time is finished already. I replaced next time with today’s picture.
And, speaking of this picture. We’ve had some wonderful spring days. Cool in the morning. Warm in the afternoon. Great light. I’ve wasted many of them. I wasn’t going to waste today. Instead, it sort of wasted me. That’s the deal with nature. And, life. Use when you have it. You never know when you won’t.
They are like nothing you’ve ever seen. If you get a chance to go, you should go. They are spiritual. They are magical. And, the are colorful.
Keep in mind this is a very sacred event. Respect what you see. Respect who you see. And, pay your respects to the person who has just passed.
As you know, for me, the work is the prayer. I pay my respects by making pictures and documenting the scene.
I know enough to not get close to an Indian meeting on the scene — the Indians who have circled to discuss their roles on the street — and who may or may not know each other. And, I know enough not to get into anybody’s faces while I think I am doing my job.
Before the ceremony.
Singing him home.
This pictures barely scratch the surface of what happened on this day. A day of celebration of life for Big Chief Tom Sparks Jr.
A word about Big Chief Tom. He started walking in 1947. He was the oldest living Indian before he passed. He was 86 years old. One of the things you may not know about me is that I live by some old Chinese sayings. One of which is, “When somebody dies who is over 80 years old, you laugh.” That’s the literal translation. It really means that you should not mourn for too long. Instead, you should celebrate their life.
The pictures. Nothing new here. F8 and be there. The real technique is what I’ve learned from years on the street. Things like moving in front of people with a smile and a kind word. A building of trust so that the Indians don’t toss you out of the circle. I felt like I succeeded when one of the pallbearers handed me his phone, checked to see if I was still carrying it, giving me a thumbs up and finally taking it from my hand when his job was completed. Smartphones are worth everything on the street. He trusted me to hold it. He is the guy in the blue shirt carrying the casket a couple of pictures down. It’s a little thing. But, it’s a big deal.
It’s not always sadness.
And, so it ends. One man going home on a spiritual level. One Baby Doll walking under the interstate on Claiborne going to her earthly home.
It is a traditional night. A time when the streets all over the city are filled with Mardi Gras Indians. Uptown. Downtown. All around town.
For some people, like me, it’s the first time seeing the new 2018 suits even though they make their first appearance on Mardi Gras Day. Normally, I would have seen most of them on Super Sunday which is usually held on the Sunday before St. Joseph’s Day (and Night.) But, it rained. Or, so the weather folks said. There was rain early in the morning. That was about it. The Indians take no chances. The finery you see in this picture would be easily destroyed in rainy conditions.
This is sort of a teaser.
I was very, very lucky last night. I made a number of good images. That’s hard, working in the dark stumbling over our potholed streets in a large crowd of people who want to get as close to the Indians as possible. I’ll show them to you over the course of the remaining week.
The picture. You already know what I’m going to say. F8 and be there. Press the button a lot because you won’t know what you are going to actually capture. Don’t bother looking at your LCD to check. I think it breaks your workflow, but try doing it at night in a crowd. You’d get trampled even though the people around you will be trying to pick you up.
The most important thing about working this way, especially if you are new to it and it feels a little overwhelming, is to have fun. Move to the beat. Dance with your feet. Go with the ebb. The flow.
I’ll tell you a little secret. Most of you know about my hip and back issues. When I get going out there, they all disappear. It’s the music, the people, the sense of place that does it. And, from a more medical perspective — I asked about this — everything warms up, gets loose and stays that way until I cool down.