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.
These flowers are for all the children who have been harmed in any way from this almost constant spate of mass shootings. They are for those who died in their places of worship. Two safe places that are no longer safe.
Seeing the pictures of the children coming out of their school with their arms raised yesterday, just about broke me. It’s true. We are seeing this on an almost weekly basis. My prayer for myself is that I don’t become jaded. That I don’t get so much into myself that I don’t see the pain in others. And, that once in a while, I see the joy in others.
These days it seems like seeing joy is getting harder and harder to find. That isn’t right. Children should be nothing but joy. Oh sure, they have their meltdowns. Even that is a kind of joy. It’s part of their growth. However, when I talk to little ones, they seem to have a kind of resignation in their voice. They talk about their active shooter drills. They know that, not that it might come, but that it will come.
That’s horrible. It makes me so sad. My eyes are wet as I write.
I know that we can’t go back in time. But, the worst thing I feared when I was growing up was my parents wrath for doing something I shouldn’t. Even that was gentle.
I don’t know what to do. It’s well above my pay grade. I know that we can “vote the bastards out,” but can we change the trajectory that we seem to be headed on? I think that comes in small steps. Maybe be running for office in some teeny tiny election. Fix what we can fix. Hope that it moves upward.
An old friend of mine tweeted yesterday about wanting some big things to be fixed. Now. I replied, “run for office.” She thinks I’m kidding. I’m not. She’s smart, talented, a life long learner. No. She won’t fix the issues she wants fixed. But, she can fix something.
I’m really sorry about this. It seems like one long rant or vent. It’s not. It’s my thoughts after a really bad day. I thought I had problems. Nah. Mine didn’t even register on any scale.
The picture. Dog walk. She found this place. I just did what I always do. No lesson to share except keep your eyes open.
And, the fine folks at WordPress removed the spell check function. Yeah. We are all perfect writers.
It came to a close in New Orleans on Tuesday. It comes to a close for me, here on Storyteller, today.
Despite my aches and pains, I had a good time. I made some memorable pictures, at least to me. And, I kept the volume low. That means I’m not machine gunning. I’m not over shooting in hopes of making a good picture. And, I didn’t over post.
All of that is important. For those of you who read Storyteller to learn a little bit about photography please think about that. To those of you who read me for some other reason, I hope you enjoyed the pictures.
We are now headed towards Uptown Super Sunday and St. Joseph’s Night. Both are huge Mardi Gras Indian, or Black Masking Indian, events. Yes. I’ll be at both of them. They take place in 8 and 10 days.
These events still excite me.
Apparently, they excite people from around the world. I’ve been photographing them for a long time. Each year they are more and more crowded.
A year or so ago, as I was backing up while photographing a tribe making their way to the main parade, the spyboy pointed behind me. I turned around and saw a wall of photographers making pictures. Everyone of them was decked out in very expensive gear. They were not the usual folks taking pictures with their phones.
They are part of the debate about what photographers actually owe Indians if we license a picture with them as a subject. The “foreigners” take their pictures and disappear into, well, who knows? Indians claim that their images are sold for thousands of dollars and they never see a dime. I don’t know about that. It’s been my considerable experience that much beyond the region and very few people care. It’s true that a friend of mine had a gallery show at UCLA and that I sold a couple of pictures to The Jazz and Heritage Foundation, but that’s about it.
At any rate, while the local photographers bear the brunt of the comments, we also pay the Indians 30% or our net profit. I do. And, I give them prints if they ask for them. Fair is fair. If they don’t let me photograph them, I have no pictures.
This picture. A sleeper. I almost didn’t notice it. It really is a decisive moment. I saw it and just reacted. I know that it was cold and the young Indian was just trying to arrange her clothes to keep her warm. However, I’m claiming this is her reaction to being told that last Tuesday was the last day of Carnival. And, that she would have to wait for another year. How many sleeps is that?
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.
If it’s Sunday there is a second line being walked somewhere in New Orleans.This one was Good Fellas. The King of Kings division was walking for cancer awareness. Even though they didn’t say it, I’m pretty sure that they lost a member to cancer.
I know. I said that I was dropping out of the second line business. I said it was not for any reason other than time allotment. That’s true. I forgot that it is my time. I can use it any way that I like. More importantly, as a friend of mine says, it is like going to church. Miracles do occur out on the street. My hip and back stop hurting. I move freely. I dance to the music. I can keep up with the parades, which are usually moving pretty fast. I have no idea why. But, it happens every time.
So why shouldn’t I go out?
They didn’t exactly trust me.
I’m not going to stretch this out. Maybe two days. This one, featuring the children waiting. And tomorrow, a few scenes from the reason I came out. The second line.
It’s back to archive pictures, with a break for Halloween and probably another break for another second line. For once, Storyteller is starting to take shape and form. That’s intentional.
The pictures. I walked into a beauty salon where the King of Kings was preparing to walk. I asked one the leaders if she minded. She just wanted a business card. I decided to focus on the little ones. The children. The toddlers. Their eyes were focused on me. That was great. I knew, while I was making pictures, what on first post would be. That is rare. I didn’t even make very many pictures, once I knew my intention. I worked slowly because slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
That’s why I published these two pictures of a little guy, who is starting out young, making his way down the stairs at the Good Fellas second line, last Sunday. This is probably his first second line. His confidence will build as he prepares year after year.
This is probably the last of my pictures from the event.
There is another one on Sunday. The big one. The Young Men Olympians. This one will be about a million divisions long and will take at least four hours to complete. It’ll probably sideline us with some kind of heat related ailment.
Oh well. We do it for the stories we can tell.
Smile. It’s good for us. For me, I lost two photographers this week who were mentors to me in my early days. My work is influenced by them, even now. My thinking is influenced by them. That’s why I figured out where to stand so I could photograph both divisions of this second line.
One passed from cancer. The other slipped and fell in his backyard. He hit his head. He lasted a few days and then… gone. I’m alright. It just means that I have to work very hard this weekend. You know why.
On the other hand, a photographer called Burk Uzzle is getting a lot of photo press. If you don’t know his name or work, you should. Especially if you are a photographer. You can go to his website at http://www.burkuzzle.com and check him out. His way of thinking is inspiring. His work is inspiring. His website organization is inspiring. I don’t know him personally. I knew his brother a little bit when I worked in North Carolina. Burk is the real deal.
The pictures. I was waiting for the social clubs to come out at the base of the stairs, rather than on the bridge itself. Aside from positioning myself to be in two places at once, I was shooting into heavy back and side light. I knew, for the children, that the crowd would for a natural scrim against all that extra light. At least, I hoped. Turns out that I was right. Thankfully.
You’ve seen it in the past. It’s an image from a Central City second line. You saw it in color here. In black and white on Instagram. But, never like this.
I opened this picture by accident. On a huge monitor. I started looking at it. Really looking at it. The image isn’t how I saw it in the past. For one thing, there is a lot of extra information in the frame. It isn’t needed. For another, I always saw the young man in the foreground with his sunglasses falling down his nose as the main subject. In this version, he’s just part of the darkened outer frame of the picture. It’s all about the eye. Almost in the middle of the picture.
As I said, “at least in this version.” Pictures — like music — teach you how to make them the longer that you work with them. A friend of mine once answered a writer’s question about a particular song changing from the album to what it became played live, on stage, by saying “play a song 500 or 600 times and it will teach you how to play it,”
Here’s what I did. Let this be a lesson to y’all. Let this be a lesson to me. Or, at least, a reminder.
One reason to work in RAW and with a fairly larger sensor size is because the picture is easy to crop and still have a fairly large image when you are done. There is a certain amount of flexibility and freedom working this way. You do the work after the fact. That’s just one reason.
So. (Once again)
I cropped the picture. I took out extraneous background information. I drew your eye into the center of the frame, in order to see the eye in the center.
I tinkered with the color. I made the picture into some kind of old fashioned monochrome rather than just pure black and white. Or, my usual vibrant color.
I burned and dodged the image. Again, to pull your eye into the center of the frame.
Then I softened the edges of the picture. I bet you know why.
Finally, I added a little vignette. To — imagine this — further draw your eye to the subject’s eye.
A lot of steps. Steps that were mostly learned in a real live wet darkroom, making prints. It was a lot harder and more time-consuming back in those old school days. It was worth it. If nothing else, working that way taught me what to do in the digital world. It taught me about production economy. And, picture culling skills.
After all, why make 20 marginal pictures of something when you can make one really great, storytelling image of the same thing? Don’t self edit in camera. On the scene. Or, the street. Or, even in your car. You can’t see much on those itty bitty camera lcds. Wait until you are culling them on your computer monitor. Look at them at once in one place. On a big lcd. Pick the best one or two. You’ll be able to concentrate your post production to just those few images. You won’t rush. You won’t try to get everything done in a few minutes. You’ll take the time to make reasonable corrections and enhancements.
Sometimes, it’s better to look along the edges of the event. Things get more interesting there. So do the pictures.
I’ve long said that for those of us who work second lines on a regular basis that our pictures look about the same. Oh sure, there are lens selection differences. There are post production differences and choices. But, the content — which is king — looks very similar.
I’ve been listening to two pieces of advice. One in the form of a quote. The other in a conversation with a sort of mentor.
The quote is musician Neil Young’s. He said it right after he had a couple of big hit albums in the 1970s. His work was becoming too middle of the road for him. His record label, promoters and publicists wanted more. The same kind of work, only slightly different. It made a lot of money. But, money isn’t everything. His response was to kill his pop career with three albums often referred as the ditch trilogy. They weren’t bad albums. But, they weren’t what was expected of him. In doing that he said, “Whenever I get too close to the middle of the road, I head straight for the gutter where things are more interesting.”
Well, that’s a bit harsh.
But, it is a good way to look at things that are getting a little too common. Yes. I photographed the second line as I normally would, but I paid closer attention to the edges. I wasn’t looking for the “normal” edge pictures like guys dancing on roofs or porches. That’s easy stuff. See it. Press the button. I was looking a little deeper. For smaller moments.
Those of you who seem to be right on my footsteps when you read this stuff can thank me when you see me. You know who you are. You can’t buy me a beer since I don’t drink. But, I accept cash. I’m fairly nondenominational. Bigger denominations are better. Oh yeah. One of you gets a pass…you don’t care what I do. Heh!
The second bit of advice came from someone who I think has been to New Orleans maybe twice in his life. But, he works regularly for Nat Geo Soc and is a Magnum member. These days he is producing his own books, which actually sell for big dollars.
That said, he reminded me that what I’m really doing no matter how artfully I try to do it, is documenting something that won’t be there in the future. I’m holding on to something special. I’m making pictures for future generations. Then, he proceeded to “hit me up the side of my head.” He told me to work harder. Longer. Forget this smarter nonsense. Make pictures. Post them here. There. Everywhere. Make books. Market them. Get the work out there anywhere that I can. As often as I can. After all. Life is short. Very short.
I keep telling myself that. Sometimes, it takes another voice to do the job. This time I listened. Because time fades away.
This picture. I was walking down one side of the second line. After a black SUV rolled by slowly, I decided that I want to be on the other side of the street. For no apparent reason. When I started walking along other side of the SUV, I saw these sisters. I saw the younger one first. Then the other one popped her head out of the window. She likes the color lavender. Check out the her phone case and her fingernails. She looks a little taciturn. No worries. She isn’t. Once I started keeping pace with the SUV, she started laughing and talking to me.
One more thing. It appears all this advice is working. I’ve been photographing everything that moves. And, some things that don’t. If you are reading the full version of Storyteller, look at the Instagram picture. Just my pool. Looks like a different place. If you’d like, please follow me there. I’m laskowitzpictures. I work really hard to post very different pictures than the ones I show you here.
This time it is the CTC Steppers. With everything being normal. Or, as normal as these events ever are. The social clubs danced. The brass bands played. The people walked. And, the photographers took pictures. In the normal way. With everybody getting in each others way. But, that’s the joy of it.
This is the last second line until after Mardi Gras. You’ll see pictures from this second line today and tomorrow. If the mule doesn’t kick the bucket and the well doesn’t run dry, you’ll see Friday night’s Mardi Gras parades on Saturday afternoon or night, depending on where you live.
I doubt that I’ll venture into the French Quarter this weekend for any reason. Not only does the Mardi Gras parade season begin, which means a flood of tourists. But, the NBA All-Star game is held this weekend. This means even more tourists. Everything turns expensive. Parking lots that normally charge $10 will charge at least $25 for the day. Parking on the Quarter streets will be very limited. My “secret” spots in the Treme will be taken. Uber will convert to surge pricing. Using them for two miles may cost about $37. Hotels will mark their rates up by at least 250% and will want a guarantee of at least three nights. Restaurants. Ho, ho, ho… that’s why I eat where I live. Uptown.
The picture. Close to the ropes. I tried real hard to keep the general scene in the picture with a little glimpse of a semi-decisive moment. You know, his eyes. Post production is limited, but I’m working on making my work a little more cinematic.