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.
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.
Mostly, I’ve been posting faux nature pictures as they relate to the season. But, I downloaded an upgrade to my OnOne editing and processing software. I just had to test it. I had to take it for a spin. You know, kick the tires.
I remade an image that I photographed about five years ago. While I won’t be tinkering in this way with the pictures I select, I was able to start an end of decade project.
Remember, 2020 is not only a new year, but a new decade.
That started me thinking about the dawn of this millennium. That’s a story in itself. At least, I started that out properly, by standing on The Great Wall of China as the clock struck midnight. I’d like to say it was a sort of lonely experience which would have been perfect. But, there were more people — Westerners and Chinese — standing up there than at any Mardi Gras parade.
Back to this picture. I tinkered with my upgraded software for a couple of hours. It was two things. A learning experience without a sharp learning curve. And, a lot of fun.
If you ask me exactly what I did, I couldn’t tell you. There was a lot of back and forth. I actually think I went a little too far. I may reprocess it in a slightly more restrained way once I learn more about the software.
I remember submitting the original image to an agency. They were looking for something “spooky” for an ad campaign. They really liked this picture. They asked if I had a property release. I replied that I didn’t need one. The Art Director started to say something, but I cut him off. I said, ” I don’t need a property release because I own the house.”
Yes. I did. We did.
We bought it for pennies on the dollar because the entire back of the house fell off. Three stories just peeled off the house in one big sheet, which broke up when it hit the ground.
We applied for, and received, state and city grants. They came with two requirements. We can’t sell the house for ten years. And, we needed to place a historical plaque on the front of the house.
Flash forward four years. The house is restored to its former glory.
There are a lot of period pieces that have either been restored or internally modernized.
It’s painted using New Orleans colors of the time period, which are not as bright as you’d think. Around here you can go to any Sherwin-Williams paint store and ask for their color chip chart for a certain period of time. Pick the colors and they mix them to 1887 specifications. The year the house was born.
It is leased to a nice young family who treat it as their own.
This house is the anchor to a completely rehabbed, but not gentrified, neighborhood. What was once a run down and Katrina-flooded street is now restored. The people who live there are truly neighbors.
The city got a restored neighborhood. Young families along the street got new homes. Some rent. Some own. We got to test our general contracting and work skills. And, we own a lovely second property in an up and coming section of town.
I wanted to see just how some of my new approaches to layering would work on a human being. The only place I’ve used them is on nature pictures.
After poking around on my admittedly limited smart phone archive I found a portrait of a Zulu Tramp. I thought that would be a good picture on which to experiment. Zulus are normally very colorful without my help.
A word about Zulus, and Tramps.
To me, and many others, Zulus are the heart and soul of New Orleans culture. The actual krewe is much like their brothers who walk for the Young Men Olympians. They are focused on community service. The often offer scholarships to deserving young people who couldn’t attend college otherwise. They are made up of people from all walks of life. Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, very successful businessmen. And, so on. And, so on.
The Tramps. They are the men who lead the first parade of the day on Mardi Gras day. They start around 8am. If you want to hangout and photograph them, you’d better get there around 6am. You could get there later. But, the later you arrive the further away from the start you’ll have to park.
How important is their parade?
The mayor, no matter who he or she happens to be, leads the parade on horseback. Not to worry. The Zulus meet and greet the Krewe of Rex as the day rolls on. Ultimately, the mayor leads both parades.
When Hurricane Katrina blew the city apart, most of the Zulus were scattered far and wide. They couldn’t come home for the first Mardi Gras after the storm because many of them had no homes to come back to. After all, Katrina arrived on the last day of August 2005. Mardi Gras was scheduled for February 2006. Five months. Not much time to rebuild anything.
In their place came the real Zulus. Shaka Zulus. From South Africa. They rolled in a very limited parade. But, they would not be denied. There are moments about that first Mardi Gras after the storm, the will live in me forever. Seeing the African Zulus on the streets of New Orleans was one of them.
Then, there was the next year.
I was photographing from Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue, By this time, there was some recovery. Nothing was complete in any way. There were a couple of Canadian women standing next to us. They came down to support the city. I was telling them that if they got to see the St. Augustine Marching 100 that they were in for a treat. Just then, they came thundering through the cement canyon formed by the buildings along the route. I stood there, not making pictures. There was too much water in my eyes. I never thought I’d see them again.
That’s what I remember.
The picture. Seems a little bit of a let down. But, here goes. There are multiple layers embedded in the final image. I started out trying to enhance a nature picture when I got the idea to add a human being to my pile of layers. That’s when the work got good. If I did it again, I’d have a better game plan. I’d start with the face. I’d add two flower pictures and one sand picture to it and be done with it. But, no. I had to take the long and winding narrow way.
If you really want to know the steps, I’ll create a formula. It’ll be complicated. It will assume that you have the proper components in your archives.
This weekend and week is about as rough as it gets. First came Peter Fonda. I didn’t know him, but his work influenced me. Then came Nancy Parker. I met her once at the Krewe of Zulu on Mardi Gras Day. A true sweetheart. Next comes Governor Kathleen Blanco. I met her at some event. She helped rebuilt the city after the destruction caused Hurricane Katrina. She stood down the president when he wanted to nationalize the state in the aftermath of the storm. She was the aunt to a very good friend of mine.
It didn’t stop there.
My oldest friend in New Orleans died on Sunday. She had breast cancer. It was in remission until it wasn’t. She was 48 years old. She leaves a husband and a 12 year old son. They both adored her.
Today, I hurt.
I suppose that I’ll go to the celebration of her life on Sunday. From there I’ll go to the first second line of the 2019 – 2020 season. I wasn’t sure if I’d photograph that. I suppose the decision was made for me. My vision was clarified in no uncertain terms. You know, the people in the Mardi Gras culture call this, “home going.” I guess. It doesn’t hurt any less.
The picture. It’s old. Most of you haven’t seen it. It’s me. Today.
You know what I say. The work is the prayer. It had better be.
Sometimes pictures don’t make the final cut. They are close enough. I thought I’d show you a few from two second lines that missed the first cut… a little bit. Single Ladies. And the jazz funeral for Chef Leah Chase. I thought I’d stack them up all in one big pile. Didn’t Doctor John say something like, in New Orleans nothin’ is separate from nothin’?
He’s pretty much right.
Maybe a Sunday second line. The Perfect Gentleman roll for Fathers Day. At 3pm. The very hottest part of the day. This was the parade that just about killed me a couple of years ago. The temperature was 114 degrees on the street. The parade was supposed to roll at 1pm. It was postponed for some reason. First, to 2pm. Then, 3pm.
I took refuge on a very deep stoop, with about a dozen other people. I tried to stay hydrated. When the parade was organizing itself, I was standing on that very hot street. I realized that my vision was getting blurry. I felt like things were moving around in waves.
Some kind of heat thing.
I bought more water, sat down in a little bit of shade. I rested for a while and gave up. I walked back to my car, turned the air conditioning on and drank more water. I went home.
That closed my second line season.
That won’t happen this year. It’s nowhere near as hot. In fact, for us, it’s downright pleasant. It’ll get a little hotter by Sunday. I won’t be bad. I, like all, the rest of us, know what to do.
I really do like this new format. Funny thing about it. I was struggling to add the details. Like buttons. Social media buttons. Translator. And, like that. I found out why I was having a hard time. It was already done. Apparently, the minute that I activated this template, everything started to migrate. It just took a little time.
If there is something that bothers you. Something that I could do better. Let me know. This is still a work in progress.
Oh. The title?
Something Bob Dylan said about his infamous “Rolling Thunder” tour. He said there weren’t enough masks. That caught my attention since New Orleans is all about masking. He added, that when a man wears a mask, he’ll tell truth. Without a mask, he likely won’t.
Now, that’s something.
Zulus, 100 men strong.
Young single lady escort.
Alvin Coco prepping for a long hot walk/ alvin coco young trumpet player prepares to walk with the single ladies in central city, new orleans
I’ve come out of retirement from the street. Saturday’s events convinced me that there could be no other way. I came out for the Single Ladies Second Line.
It was hot. So hot.
It didn’t look like anybody was having any fun. Not, the ladies. Not the band. Not the second liners.
It was brutal.
After talking to a friend of mine today, I realized that we come out for a whole host of reasons. It really is like church. It’s great to see friends. And, we tell stories about what we did afterward.
Today, we walk again. We make pictures. After a week of mourning, we lay Chef Leah Chase to rest. At 2pm. The hottest part of the day. We are suppose to have some overcast. That might help. No matter. I’ll work as best I can.
I’m not even sure how to tell this story. It’s a story of greed. It’s a story of stupidity. It’s a story of loss. It’s the story of Ervin Mayfield.
Trumpet playing Mayfield was one of the pillars of the New Orleans jazz community. He is a Grammy winner. He is one of about five top trumpet players in a city that has a trumpet player on every corner.
In my picture, he is talking to his audience in Central City. He’s holding his instrument in one hand, and knowing him, he’s smiling as he talks to his musical fans. He is an outgoing guy.
Later, the roof fell in.
As it stands today, he has been indicted by the grand jury of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. It seems that he and his partner Ronald Markham, steered about $1.4 million from the New Orleans Public Library’s Foundation Board to themselves between 2011 and 2013. He also spent thousands of dollars in donations on travel expenses that were not connected to library business. He spent money on items like a 24 carat gold-plated trumpet that cost $15,000. Or, $2,000 at Harrah’s Casino, $23,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue. He spent thousands of dollars at big New York City hotels including a breakfast bill for over $1,300 for two people. That’s a lot of food. trust me. We like “hot cooked breakfasts.” We could never spend that much money in a hotel dining room.
This whole thing is sort of an old story, but the trial is coming up after many delays, so I thought I’d tell it to you. I’m sorry to do it.
It’s a New Orleans thing. Corruption and the city go hand in hand. Congressman Bill Jefferson was found to have $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He had no idea how it got there. He’s in prison. Mayor C. Ray Nagin — the mayor who went nuts on television in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — is in prison for fraud and a couple of other charges.
Corruption appears at every level. Once, when I first arrived in New Orleans, I needed a city business license. I was told it would take at least six weeks to process. But, the clerk said, if I needed it quicker it could be processed in one day with a fifty dollar cash payment to him. When I complained to his boss, he shrugged his shoulders and called it an “expediting fee.” Indeed. I expedited it right out of the city. I registered my business in Jefferson Parish, where it still lives today.
New Orleans has always been a rough port city. If you are “from here” you know the stories. You also know that many of those little illegal side businesses are coming to an end. If you read what I had to say about all the newcomers to the city you would think it is all bad.
There’s a flip side to that. They come from places where the city government actually works without bribes. Where potholes are repaired before they can swallow a car. Where the water company is actually efficient. Where people don’t worry about crime taking place in your front yard.
So, the very people who are tearing at the fabric of New Orleans culture are also demanding government transparency. There’s two sides to every coin, isn’t there?
On one hand, I want to protect our culture. The Mardi Gras Indians, the Baby Dolls, and every social and benevolent society matters to me. So do the street musicians, the brass bands and the kids who hope to follow them. It’s one of the reasons I moved to New Orleans, and one of the reasons I came back after Hurricane Katrina. But, I’d be willing to trade a little of that for a fully functioning city government. For safe streets. For solid infrastructure.
It must be my age. I probably didn’t think twice about most of this when I first arrived. Now, I do. I’d like to see our street repaired and repaired before I die. Of old age. At ninety. That’s 25 years. Is that too much to ask?
I forget stuff. Current research says that if you do that, you might be brilliant. That’s all well and good if you are young. But, if you are older…ho, ho, ho. Either you are just plain forgetful. Or, you are showing signs of early dementia.
I forgot these two pictures. You see these folks at almost every street event. They are selling something. Beads. Water. Jello Shots. Little cloths. I’m not sure, but some of them make a small living working one or two days a week. For sure, some of them supplement some kind of government aid. Like the guy in the wheelchair.
In case you’re wondering, people in this house bought some of the beads. They are well strung and very suitable for every outdoor event. None of us bought jello shots. Even if I drank, yuko. Way too sweet for me.
The pictures. Here’s a little thing that I do. I could make a fairly tight photograph. A facial portrait. To me, that’s meaningless. Sort of like making a full moon picture with no context. So, I use a wide lens. I like to see what’s going on in the background. I want you to see where I’m working. Where these folks are working.
I made these pictures a week ago. On Super Sunday. Even if my main subject — Indians — isn’t around, I am always seeing. Always working.