Some days you eat the bear. Some days the bear eats you.
Yesterday was one of those days when the bear won. After four years of battling colon cancer, an old friend of mine passed.
We went to college together. We worked in newspapers for many years. I left them. He did too. Everybody does. Printed newspapers are a dying breed. Worse, they’ve always eaten their young. To advance you have to move on and on. And, on. Eventually, you find a home. Either you move out, or you get moved out. In his later career he taught. I edited and published.
That’s only a small part of the story. All of our stories are individual. But, they are the same.
So is the final chapter. I suppose we all knew that his time was short. But, when it came, it seemed unexpected. It seemed sudden. Like bricks falling from a storm-blown building, they hit us in the head.
Our Facebook pages lit up with remembrances and expressions of sympathy. Your know that I’m not big on social media. Any of the platforms. I use them because I have to, not because I want to. I usually discuss my thoughts and emotions here. On Storyteller. Whatever drifts onto my social media pages is accidental, not intentional.
Anacleto or Michael, depending on what point of our lives intersected, was a helluva a photographer. In the past, he led Los Angeles Times photography teams on coverages of things like last night’s Emmy Awards. That’s probably not all that important.
This is what is important.
He was Yoda. Quiet. Positive. Gentle. A leader without trying to be. Even as the end drew near and his family came to see him, to say goodbye, he made the group portraits. He simply said, “‘Tis the season of reunions.” To a person, everyone who posted yesterday said that he made the world a better place. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years. You know. Life. Distance. But, there is giant hole right now. In the world.
It’s not. It’s what happens when you mix jazz with photo editing. Things go a little crazy.
I made this picture in Albuquerque. New Mexico. It was one of the first serious pictures that I took with my iPhone. It was an early model. And, it was the back up to the back to the back up. I ran out of storage space and batteries. If you know one thing about me, I have way too many SD cards and even more batteries. It was just one of those days.
So. I tinkered with this last night. And, even more today. It’s not what you are thinking. I just ran out of energy to keep going. I stayed out of energy this morning, which should help explain why this post is later this morning.
It’s not just that.
I went for a walk with the dog who sees stuff. While a lot of people around us in other regions are suffering, we in New Orleans are having a fall day in summer. Temperatures are in the high 70s or low 80s. Low humidity. And, a gentle breeze. When we got to this little park, she sat down. She looked at me as if to say, “there is no way that I’m leaving.” Grass, cool sunlight, a breeze. What could be better? So we hung out.
The picture. A combination of all that processing software that I’ve been using. Again. I’ve been asked what exactly I do. I don’t know. You just sort of have to play around until you like what you see. Lighten it a bit if you are going to print it. Darken it a bit if it’s going on a monitor.
Not only did I make this picture during normal daylight hours, but I used completely different production software.
Two reasons. I do like to experiment and tinker. But, my usual software, On1, has some new downloaded upgrades. The company seems to be struggling when it comes to new products. Especially with new upgrades. In this case, not only did the updated software crash their own system, but it crashed my computer. Three times. I kept thinking that if I reboot everything, the new upgrades would settle down.
I’ll contact them tomorrow. I know what they are going to say. It must be your computer. Funny, that. It’s powerful enough for their software, the hard drive is fairly clean and the other software works just fine. The fix will be to remove their software and reinstall it. I don’t think so. Not this week. Downloading their base software is very time-consuming. I have a few thousand other things to do.
A while back, Google gave away the Nik products. That’s right. Gave away. As in free. I knew there would be a catch. For a long time, there wasn’t. Eventually, Google said that they would no longer support it, which meant no new upgrades. But, the software works flawlessly. And, they say it will continue to work as is.
I haven’t messed with it much. But, this morning I decided I would give it a try. A long try. I’d like to say there is a learning curve. But, there isn’t one. It’s as intuitive as it could be. It’s faster than On1 or even any Adobe products. There is also some flexibility that nobody else provides. The really cool thing is that it’s not all one giant app. It’s organized into separate apps so that one is all the special effects, one is sharpening, one is black and white conversion. And, so on. This keeps them all working fairly quickly. My computer is not trying to run everything at the same time.
It’s still free to download.
The picture. Another one that I made while I was waiting for the Eclipse. A perfect little stock photographic image. A nicely exposed St. Louis Cathedral. Blue Sky. White puffy clouds. A nice old New Orleans wrought iron fence. My agency friends should be happy with this one.
It’s also a really nice, gentle, glowing, Sunday picture.
“Well, it’s hard to believe. So you get up to leave. And you laugh at the door. That you heard it all before. Oh it’s so good to know. That it’s all just a show for you. ” — L.A. / Neil Young 1976
I awoke this morning with the weirdest feeling.
Early this morning, the second of four statues commemorating the Confederate era was taken down. Once again, the city started work at about midnight. By 5am, the statue and base plate of Jefferson Davis was trucked away to some unknown destination. Some city warehouse. This doesn’t feel right. Not in the dead of night.
Don’t misunderstand. I am no fan of the succession. Of our Civil War. At the root of it, no matter what anybody says about states rights, was slavery. And, the right to own another human being. Granting freedom to those slaves took a lot of the South’s monetary worth. Reconstruction, after Lincoln was assassinated, was brutal when it didn’t need to be. I think many of the officers who served in the CSA should have been tried under the Uniform Military Code of Justice. But, Abraham Lincoln was smarter than I and pardoned just about everyone.
That said, times are changing.
There have been semi-violent exchanges between both sides. By extremists who don’t even live in the city. They should all go home. Let us, who do live here, work it out. Hell, I never gave the monuments a second thought until all of this started. Now I do.
Taking down these four monuments are being done for the most base of reasons.
Our mayor, of whom I am a fan more than a critic, wants to play on the national stage. He may want to replace his sister, who until 2016 was one of our senators. He may have bigger aspirations.
Generating the kind of publicity that he’s garnered over the past two years has certainly gotten the nation’s attention.
There is talk of him being a presidential candidate in 2020. Yeah, right.
While the problems that I write about from time to time — broken streets, broken infrastructure, a higher per capita murder higher than Chicago’s — are certainly not entirely his fault because they well pre-date him, he hasn’t done enough over his two terms to alleviate that. If he can’t manage a small city, how can he manage a nation?
My belief is simple. If you are doing the right thing for the right reason, you shine a light on it. You do it in broad daylight. Not in the dark of night.
So. I feel weird about the whole thing. Very weird.
And, I said Storyteller isn’t a political blog. Heh!
I suppose that the outside drives the inside in art. After all, you can’t make art in a vacuum. I haven’t been to any of these sites yet. At least, not after the protests started. I think it’s time for a visit. I know where a number of city storage facilities are located. I think I’ll poke around a bit today. Maybe the Jefferson Davis statue is hiding in plain sight.
Seems like I’ve heard it all before.
The picture. You won’t believe this, but it was made on an older iPhone. At the time the sensor and processor could not handle the extreme light in the picture. While I cleaned it up some in post production, most of what you see was made in camera. Er, in phone.
I took a bright and glowing image back few steps and made it almost monochromatic. This is the first time that I’m sure of the changes. I’ve lived with the bright version for a long time. That’s what’s in my head.
No matter. I’m just sort of playing.
The picture. And, this place. It’s located in Albuquerque. New Mexico. It’s a former church that’s now an art studio. The original church moved down the street. It’s modern, bright and… boring. This place in much more interesting.
After his early super success, Neil Young needed a break. As he famously said, “when things get a little too middle of the road, I head straight for the ditch where things are much more interesting.” And, so the “Ditch Trilogy” was born. Three albums. That the general public didn’t understand. Or, really like. He didn’t care. He just wanted to make music.
During my time in New Mexico, I poked around just about everywhere. I found this little abandoned church on a side street. The parish, itself, had moved just down the street. An artist lived in what was originally the church. I passed by again and again. Finally, the winter light was amazing. I took this picture.
That’s the thing. Maybe a little lesson. We all like to travel. At least we say that we do. Right now, I’m a little burnt on traveling. That’s another story. I’ll get over it.
Usually, when most of us travel we don’t stay in one place long enough to get to know it. We are there for a couple of days. Maybe a week. We have a mini bucket list of things to see. To do. That’s great and all of that.
We really don’t get the feel for a place. We don’t learn the ebb and flow. For a photographer, almost every good picture we make is really just a matter of luck. Of timing. Sure. We can game the trip a little. We can work at the ends of the day. Dawn. Dusk. The light is surely better then. We still don’t know the place. That just takes time to settle in. To be there. Just to be.
That’s when the pictures get good. Really good.
Here’s my suggestion. For photographers and non photographers. The next time that you get the urge to roam, go some place that isn’t so far from home. Or, fly to one place. Hang out there. Make pictures if that’s what you do. Relax if you aren’t a picture maker. I’m pretty sure your pictures will be better. More meaningful.
For those whose prime mission is not to take pictures, you know that feeling of needing a vacation from your vacation? You won’t have that feeling. You’ll return home relaxed and smiling.
San Francisco de Assis Mission Church. In Rancho de Taos. New Mexico.
I received an email about a gallery show. One of the featured pictures was of this place. Makes sense. As locations go, this is one of the most famous in the country. The church has been drawn, painted and photographed for many years. By everybody. Famous artists. Ansel Adams. Paul Strand. Georgia O’Keeffe. Artists like that.
The email reminded me of this picture. I made it after a long day of chasing pictures in the back county. I eventually made my way to Rancho de Taos. The sky exploded.
One night I was talking to my friend, Chesley Thompson. She’s a Southerner. Born and raised. She has family all over the south, especially in Mississippi and Louisiana. She’s a school teacher. An incredible school teacher. Just ask her former students. I met her at UNO when we were both working on post-graduate classes. Among many other things, she is the mother of my god-daughter. She and her husband think I have some sort of magic about me. Or, at least I’m responsible. In some way. After all these years, they still haven’t learned. Heh!
She started telling me stories about her family and growing up in the south. They were really good. Not only did they help me to understand her a little more, but they helped me to understand the place that we mostly call home.
She’s a little nervous about publishing this. She doesn’t do this often. In fact, this is the first time she’s written this down on a piece of paper. Or, on a computer screen. She has a ton more stories to tell. I hope that I have the honor of sharing more of them with you. That’s her call.
It took me a little longer than normal to get this story together. She wrote it. I couldn’t photograph it. It was just hard making pictures that even came close. Sheesh, I’m really a city boy. I’ve never even seen a turtle in the wild. Watermelon patch? Don’t you go the grocery story and buy them? Then, I took a break from Storyteller. There were some family changes… all for the better. We grew. And, as John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
But, here we are. Finally.
A watermelon story from Chesley…
Sometimes stories just need to be told. They swell up and pop in your mouth and the next thing you know, they are filling the room with bubbles.
My daddy was raised on a farm but as he was the baby of the family, he was often told to stay out of way so he wouldn’t be underfoot. All the time he was looking for something to do, he was really wishing he could be elbow deep in some greasing of tractor parts or some other integral part of really farming.
On the farm, my grandfather set aside a vegetable patch for anyone interested, primarily my green-thumbed grandmother, to grow food for eating. Nowadays we’d call this a collective garden but then it was just known as the Patch. Mrs. Galloway from the next farm over tended to the pole beans. Lucy Lacey planted marigolds all around the edges to keep the bugs away and because she loves all flowers. The tomatoes were pampered by everyone and Jesse grew the best, sweetest watermelon anyone had ever tasted.
One long, slow summer day when my daddy was once again shooed away from the real work, he decided that one of Jesse’s watermelon’s would be really refreshing after the sun went down and everyone was sitting on the back steps talking about what they would be doing in the morning. So, being the thinking kind of boy he was, Daddy decided that watermelon would be even better if it were cold. No large ice drifts being available in middle Mississippi in the heat of the summer, Daddy decides that cooling it down in the pond was the next best option.
However, there was a small problem. The pond was all the way at the other end of the gravel driveway from the Patch. But this didn’t deter Daddy one little bit. He picked the biggest melon he could find and just rolled it up the driveway to the pond. He sank that sucker in the deepest part of the pond where he knew the water was the coolest, buried it in the red Yazoo clay that constituted the bottom of that pond so it wouldn’t float to the top and proceeded to attempt to stay out the way for the rest of the day.
Quitting time rolls around and Daddy was in the orchard picking a boot box full of green plums—that’s another story for another day—- but he fails to see all the men walking up the path. He doesn’t get to see their faces and hear their amazement at the huge swath of gravel missing from the middle of the driveway. He completely misses all the talk of a giant turtle grading the way from the Patch to the grass near the pond; about how darned big this thing must be and about what a good dinner that will be when they catch it.
When he finally sees them and remembers his surprise for them, he scrambles down the trees, dives into the pond and rubs all the clay off this now very cool monster melon. Just about then, it dawns on him that this thing is too big to carry, even the 20 yards to the car port steps. So, doing what he knew worked for him, he put it down and rolled it.
After the men had picked out the gravel stuck in the rind, and laughed themselves to crying, they ate the best watermelon God ever put in the path of boy trying to show his worth.
Legend says there’s still a turtle crawling around out there, somewhere.
It was a church. It’s about to be a restaurant and cocktail lounge. This neighborhood was flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It’s coming back very nicely, even if some of the buildings aren’t coming back exactly as their original architects and builders intended. This will be a very pretty place when it’s done. Maybe even sort of a landmark.
The pictures. Easy. The light was wonderful. Meter properly and away you go. Large white expanses of highlights can fool the light meter if you aren’t a little careful.
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