Looking forward.

New Orleans.

You don’t think of my city this way. It’s true. We are funky. We are old. We have many buildings that are well over 100 years old. Houses in the Garden District are 150 years old. My first house in the 7th Ward was built in 1837. It was the second common house that was built on a plantation that grew indigo. You know. The stuff that makes your blue jeans, blue.

First and foremost for most of our history, New Orleans is a port city. A business hub. People worked here to sell cotton, sugar, rice. They imported coffee and vegetables from South America. The Bywater, which has become gentrified and a place to go for dinner and to stay in Air BnB lodging, was the country’s chief importer and processor of coffee. And, bananas.

That’s all changed. But, we still have a pretty good-sized business district. These days a lot of former office spaces have been converted into condo and high-end apartments.

After all, our biggest business is tourism.

That’s kind of too bad. We’ve gone from making, and doing, to serving. That happened long before my time. I have no issue with that except… the local newspaper just published a study on salaries in the service industry.

Unless you have a name as a chef or something equivalent, the highest pay you’ll make is around $14.85 per hour. It goes down from there. That’s not good. Not in a city that has rapidly gentrified. Not in a city where most of the folks who are part of the culture that tourists come here to see can’t afford to live here. In a city where most of the folks working in the service industry have to have more than one job to afford the rent.

I know. I know. That isn’t limited to New Orleans. Some places have it worse. Much worse. Think about San Francisco or Los Angeles. I grew up in Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles. If we sold everything, I’m not sure we could go back to my home even if we wanted to. I’m not sure that I do. I think it’s crowded and traffic is terrible here. Think about the Los Angeles region. Sheesh. It would drive me crazy.

The picture. Not a drive by. But, a drive through. I was waiting for the light to turn green. The light you see towards the bottom of the picture. I decided that I liked what I saw so I made the picture. I’ve done that in the past as I passed through the French Quarter on the way to some place else.  I actually proved a point with this picture. An editor with whom I work wants me to photograph something specific. It needs a city-like background. She thinks of NOLA in the same way that so many people do. The funky, old French Quarter. I emailed her this picture. Now, she thinks differently. The funny thing is, if you are walking up Bourbon or Royal streets, you can see this if you just look up. Too many people are looking down into their hurricanes and wondering where the time went.

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Nature returns.
Nature returns.

Nature always balances things.

At least I hope so.

I made this picture while I was waiting for the second line to start. It’s one of those pictures that I made on my way to somewhere else.

Here’s what you are seeing.

The mowed lawn used to be buildings, as did all the foliage in the background. They were likely falling apart before the storm. After the storm, most of them fell down, or were demolished. The brick wall is actually part of the Sportsman Club, which is ground zero for many of the Uptown Mardi Gras Indians. And, the church steeple? It’s an old abandoned deconsecrated Catholic Church. The church, the school, the living quarters and a good-sized piece of land have been for sale for at least five years. It’s starting to be demolished from neglect.

I kept the colors a little muted today. They say that all art is autobiographical. Make of that what you will.


Reflections upon entering the city.
Reflections upon entering the city.

Reflections.

This is the view that you see as you arrive in New Orleans on I-10 from the West. Of course, you don’t always see it in quite this dramatic fashion. It’s all about the weather. And, light bouncing off of one building in the city’s skyline. The reflection. It is so strong that if you look at the highway just in front of the first car you can see very bright light on the road. That’s pretty strong bounce light.

The image is the result of timing. The sun was setting just after a big storm passed through the region. I was on my way to take a picture of some place else. When I saw what was happening right in front of me, what else could I do? I took the picture.

The picture. Well you know me. I took it through the windshield with the camera braced on the dashboard.  It is mostly the result of something very akin to “point and shoot.” Or, just plain old dumb luck. Luck that I made a pretty powerful picture. And, luck that I didn’t crash into another car or highway.

 


New Orleans from Algiers Point.
New Orleans from Algiers Point.

Yes. The headline says it all. From the other side of the Mississippi River. The picture was made from Algiers Point, looking at The French Quarter. Yes. The river in all its sunset glory. Golden, orange and purple. Yes. The river with a small ferry in the foreground and a long, long barge in mid-river. It’s a working river.

And, there’s the sky…

The picture. Just a little backstory. We are home for a few days after traveling a little too much. After reading the weather reports for the past few days and knowing that rain poured on the region for a day and a half, I knew that this sunset might be pretty amazing. But, it’s weather. You never know. The word to emphasize is “might.”

Anyway.

We got settled in, tossed the laundry in the machine, had a little dinner and headed to one of my favorite places during the summer. Point Algiers, located on the Westbank. It’s an interesting place. Not only is it actually a neighborhood in The City of New Orleans, but it is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Yet, it lies across the river from the rest of New Orleans.

So, the weather did what I hoped it would. The clouds started breaking apart and moving on. The sun started peaking through and below the clouds. The rest was easy. Nature did it. All I had to do was be there. F8 and be there. Standing in front of better stuff.


Glowing Central Business District, or CBD as we call it.
Glowing Central Business District, or CBD as we call it.

It’s art. I suppose. I had an assignment to photograph and architect just down the street in One Shell Plaza. As I was walking back, everything was just sparkling on our first sunny day after the “Great Ice Storm of 2014.” Wonderful winter light. So, I took my time getting back to my car and made a few pictures. It was one of those days when a too high in the sky sun looked good. I’m not sure what more to say. It was nature’s day. Not mine.

Yes. A little bit of post production to clean and darken things a bit on this one.

But, then I go an idea. Here it is.

Experimental. CBD.
Experimental. CBD.

I usually make a horizontal and vertical image of the same scene. This is the horizontal version with a lot more post production. I kind of like this version best. What about you?

I think it has a certain something. It certainly has a lot more post production. Wow! When I previewed it, WordPress’ compression software sure did a number on the coy. I wish you could see the original.


St. Mary's Assumption Church
St. Mary’s Assumption Church
St. Mary's Assumption Church
St. Mary’s Assumption Church
St. Mary's assumption Church
St. Mary’s Assumption Church

After I toured St. Alphonsus, my guides suggested that I take a walk around the corner and have a look at one of the working churches. These folks seemed to know what they were talking about, so I did. I checked in at The Seelos Center and they gave my very exact instructions for getting into the church. They told me that I could  only leave the way that I entered because all sorts of alarms go off and the police will come before anyone arrives to let me out. Okaaaaaay.

But, first. In case you are wondering about this Seelos Center place, here’s a little backstory. Father Francis Xavier Seelos worked constantly with the poor, especially children. He did it in Pittsburgh. He did it in Baltimore. In New Orleans he was the pastor of St. Mary’s Assumption Church during a time of a Yellow Fever epidemic. He cared for anyone who caught it. In time he contracted it too and died at the age of 48 in 1867. He was beatified in 2000, has been vetted and is on the very, very shortlist for sainthood. See? More saints come from New Orleans than just a football team.

Now, about this church. This particular church is the oldest of the three in the “compound, having been built in 1860. It is the German church. It was declared a historic landmark in 1974. That’s what history books tell you. There’s more. There’s always more. All of these churches were built by hand. The builders, artisans and craftsmen built these churches in whatever spare time that they had after they were done working on building the city. They were lovingly constructed and decorated by people who volunteered their time for something in which they believed.

That’s how I see these churches. It doesn’t matter what I believe. It doesn’t matter what anyone believes. Not to me, anyway. These buildings are all artistic wonders. The detail, workmanship and craftsmanship that went into constructing these churches is — in a word — amazing. That’s what I saw when I began to photograph them. That’s what drew me to them at first glance. That’s what these pictures are about. That’s what I will continue to focus on.


Late afternoon winter sun...
Late afternoon winter sun…

Obviously, I just love low light and cross light pictures. Winter light seems to work best for this because it is cleaner and more golden. When we have this kind of light in the summer, the light gets muddy because of the humidity.

Why?

A little optical lesson.

Water in the air tends to reflect color in the red spectrum. What is humidity? It’s water in the air that isn’t rain. When there is reddish light contrasted against a blue sky, guess what happens? You get a sort of a gray-blue sky. I can clean a lot of that up in post production. But, with exception of really messing with reality as I often do, I try to keep things pretty natural as I saw it. The key phrase is “as I saw it.” Why? No camera lens, sensor or processor can see what the human eye can see. The same thing used to happen in the good old film days.

With my eyes and brain… sheesh. There’s no telling how I see. Nobody knows. Not even me.

Anyway, this is a section of Magazine Street — the longest shopping street in The United States — that is way downriver in The Lower Garden District. I like to wander around Magazine Street but I like this section best. It’s funky and quirky. The people are a little more interesting to me. The cafes and coffee houses are a little more unique.

And one more thing.

I can walk to it from home. That’s more important than you might think. Magazine Street is old. It’s narrow. It wasn’t built for today’s traffic patterns. Between cars that are parked on both sides of the street, bigger vehicles than the street was ever intended for, and more people living Uptown than there have been in recent years, the street is one giant, rolling parking lot. It can take a very long time to get anywhere upriver from our house. There are alternative streets, but often I can’t remember where exactly the place that I’m going to is located, so I have to see it as I drive. I guess that I add to the problem.

Still, it’s Magazine Street and I wouldn’t change it.


A quick look at the "other" New Orleans.
A quick look at the “other” New Orleans.
Tall, but unused.
Tall, but unused.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m misleading you. Yes. New Orleans has a lot of interesting, rundown and abandoned structures and neighborhoods. We are called “the city that care forgot.” That’s just one of our nicknames. We are funky… in good and bad ways. Our people are interesting, unique and have character. We are made up of all sorts of working people; from blue-collar, to internet geniuses, to artists, musicians and chefs. The city is interesting to people from all over the country and world. We hold world-class events; Mardi Gras and Jazzfest among them.

But, but, but…

That’s not all we are about. We have a thriving business district with real, live skyscrapers. True, the overall area is not as large as oh, let’s say Dallas or Atlanta or Los Angeles. But, it is fairly vibrant.. It’s called the CBD. Central Business District. I’ll be photographing this neighborhood a little more in the next few weeks since my agency asked for pictures of it. Of course, they don’t really want it to be New Orleans. They want it to be “about a business skyscraper district.” Fair enough.

About the pictures. Here’s where the last laugh is on me. The building in the bottom picture and in the far background of the top picture is called the Plaza Tower. It’s abandoned. HA! It has not been used since 2002. There was a plan to convert it to condos, but Hurricane Katrina brought an end to that.

Some quick facts. It was built in 1964. It is 531 feet tall. Or, make that 45 stories. At one time it was the tallest building in the state, but that was eclipsed by One Shell Square which is also located in New Orleans. Unlike Plaza Tower, it is occupied. There have been a number of plans since the storm, but none have come to fruition. There are a lot of issues concerning asbestos, mold and other early 1960s construction issues.

But, if you must own it, opening bid is $250,000. I won’t tell you about the back taxes and remediation costs.