A little preparation.

There’s more to it than you think.

Walking a second line takes some work. Not just on the street. But, inside. Inside the club, bar or house from which the second line begins. Sometimes I go inside. Sometime I don’t. Depends. Usually when I’m inside most people are happy to see me. After all, a little respect goes a long way.

This picture deserves to be opened up so you can see what’s going on.

If you look closely, you can see that the subject is in sharp focus. That would be the smiling woman with all those hands surrounding her. You would also see that one of those hands has a red-painted manicure. That’s a big deal for female second line participants. Since this second line is called “Women of Class,” dressing well is very important. Finally, there is the subject’s smartphone being held out in front of her. Care to guess why? It’s for me. Of course, I obliged. I’m in their house.

I’ve gotten to the point where so many second lines look the same. Sure, the colors of the day change. Rarely does anything else. Even the people. Especially the people. They attend second lines that aren’t theirs as a show of respect. Brass bands are the most interesting. Musicians play in multiple bands. All they do is change their shirts.

I like photographing second lines. As a friend says, they are like going to church. The sights, the smells, the good feelings are important to me.

I am a photographer first. I was trained to tell stories. I was trained to make pictures that are a little different. I was trained to edit, okay — cull — my work down to the best pictures. So, I try very hard to figure out different angles, different locations, different approaches. Usually, I fail. That’s okay. I think about baseball. Using old school metrics, the best hitters bat around .300. That means they made an out two out of three times. That’s fine with me.

It’s the one successful at bat I try to make count. Certainly, there is the decisive moment. A moment when most of what you are seeing, when somebody does something that is so good, so cool, so exciting, that you better push the button.

You’d better know the scene.

For a while it was a big deal to capture guys dancing on roofs. Now, everybody dances on roofs. Or, there is a very young trombone player whose mom sort of introduced him to the adults. That was unique. Now he’s everywhere. His mom used to stand near him. Now, she doesn’t. She knows that we’ll — all of us, musicians and photographers — will look after him.


I keep looking. Thinking. Watching.

One thing I know for sure. If I make one new picture. Or, the guy next to me does it, we’ll all be doing it within about two weeks. We are all on the same chase. It’s not really competitive. None of us care. Not like that.

This picture. I went inside where the ladies were getting ready. I smiled. I nodded. I made some pictures. A guy came up to me. I thought he was going to ask me to leave. That happens sometimes.

Not this time.

He asked for my business card. He is getting married and wants to hire a photographer. We’ve talked since. I asked “why me?’ He said that if I could walk into what is essentially a private session and not upset anybody I must know what I’m doing.  I didn’t quote him because those are my words. Turns out that he works with a lot of second liners. I’ll make him a good deal in exchange for access.

I’m not really a wedding photographer anyway.


A little dancing.
A little dancing.

Music and dancing.

That’s even more related than photography and music.

It’s odd scene. Another Memphis blues club. Along comes a wedding shower party. Out on the floor goes the bride to be. Fueled by adrenaline and probably a little whiskey, she lead the enter audience in about 30 minutes of fast dancing. Then her friends lead her away.

I’m not sure what the band thought. If you look in the back, one musician is playing a saxophone, another is playing a stand up bass. They weren’t exactly playing rock n’ roll. They were playing slow blues.

The picture. Slow things down and let your instinct be your guide. Sometimes motion blur makes the point much better than sharpness throughout. It seems that after about 15 years of digital capture a lot of photographers are thinking that way. One of the most popular lenses on Ebay is a Russian knock off lens that sells for about $40.00. The last time it was made was in the early 1990s. It swirls the bokeh. The picture looks and feels old-fashioned. Of course, it isn’t auto focus. That confuses some people.

Blues in Memphis.
Blues in Memphis.

Music. Pictures. They go hand in hand.

Both of them require a lot of work to get right. To get good. To do without thinking about doing. So much so that today Bob Dylan said,

“Everything worth doing takes time. You have to write a hundred bad songs before you write one good one. And you have to sacrifice a lot of things that you might not be prepared for. Like it or not, you are in this alone and have to follow your own star.”

There you have it. The same thing applies to photograph. There are no “ten tips to make you a great photographer.” You have to work at it. And, practice. Again and again and again.

This quote is taken from a long interview about winning the Nobel Prize. In The Telegraph. Of London. You can find it here. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/world-exclusive-bob-dylan—ill-be-at-the-nobel-prize-ceremony-i/

It’s the only interview anywhere about Dylan and the Nobel Prize. He talks about music. He talks about painting. He also knows his limitations.


I made this picture in Memphis. Tennessee. It says a lot about little clubs. Dives. Juke Joints. And, the musicians who work very hard to make their livings in them.

Resting in Central City.
Resting in Central City.

I made this picture about a year ago in Central City. How do I know without looking at the metadata? It was maybe six weeks before Fat Tuesday. I wanted to photograph the outdoor neon sign, but the bartender-owner invited me inside. I asked if I could take pictures inside. He told me I could photograph him and the bar, but it was up to each customer if I would be allowed to take their picture. Some said yes. Others said no. I honored that. Except for one woman who said no but kept leaning into every picture. I smiled and said, “In or out, but not both ways.” She laughed and said okay and offered to buy me a drink.

So back to my steel trap calendar like mind. Mostly, it’s rusty. But, I remember this because they invited me back on Fat Tuesday “when things really happen.” Okay. Maybe I’ll make it this year. Last year I was in the middle of never-ending traveling. I happened in there on a road break. But, I didn’t get to see Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras Day as foreigners from, oh let’s say Texas, call it.

The picture. Well. I pushed it a little. Well, a lot. I was shooting with an NEX7 which is a fine camera in available darkness. I pushed the ISO to over 6000. You can make a technically proficient picture at a high ISO like that, but your exposure has to be dead on. Balancing all these levels of light was a little tough and so the exposure wasn’t right on. Or, maybe nowhere close. So, I repaired it in post production using photo magic. That’s not a brand name. That’s what I call it when I get lucky enough to pull off something like this. Photo magic.


Okay. I’m back to normal. Whatever that is. I was wandering  around The Bywater when I happened to pass by Vaughn’s at the right time of day, with the right light. I’ve never been that lucky before. Usually, the light is too bright. Or too dark. But, just like Goldilocks’ porridge, this light was just right. So. I stopped and made a few pictures. Vaughn’s is a classic juke joint. Blues and jazz. Usually local musicians hold sway there on certain nights.

Pretty soon this guy passed by and didn’t mind being in the picture. In fact, we started talking about sports. This year’s Saints. That’s about the only pro team anybody in New Orleans cares about. The Christmas lights? No. This picture isn’t that old. But, the lights might be. For that matter, they might be twenty years old. Around there, anything is possible.

The picture. I was unprepared. I wish that I had a tripod. But, I wasn’t expecting to be there at that time. On the other hand, I rarely use a tripod. So. It probably didn’t matter.


The Greens
And, singing and on harmonica…
Ladies night out

Sorry about all those short posts. It was a travel experiment. Normally I take a laptop on the road. This time, I thought I’d test the capabilities of an i-Pad. The very first thing I read about i-Pad as opposed to laptops still holds true today. An i-Pad is a content consumer’s tool. A laptop is a content producer’s tool. There’s a lot I couldn’t do on WordPress using an i-Pad. But, A lot of new readers seemed to find Storyteller and like the few pictures that I published last week. You might have liked the shorter posts. If you do, please let me know. But, for me, I felt like I wasn’t telling you enough about the pictures or the back story.

Okay. These pictures and this place.

During our last night in Memphis, most bands were roaming Beale Street looking for a place to play. We found one in a little dive called Club 152. It looked like a classic place for me to work in since it had that blues bar feel to it. Unfortunately, the main stage lights were green. The very worst possible color for human skin. If we decide to do anything with this little section of a week-long take, I may have to really fiddle with these pictures. I may have to make them sepia or retro or grungy or something…  I messed with the Stacy’s picture — the harp player — and it looked pretty cool. But, it’s not quite ready for prime time. So, I published the one that you see. Anyway. Here are some shooting statistics. Over the course of six nights. I made 172 gigs of images. To put that in perspective, I use a 1 terrabyte portable hard drive on which to back up my work. Last week’s take is just under 20% of its capacity. 17.2 % to be exact. For one shoot.

What’s going on in these pictures? Eh, pretty simple. The bands sort of do a rolling jam. There is usually one anchor band and musicians drop in and out. In the top image, my friend Sammy Eubanks is playing his blue Fender Stratocaster. Note that. Blue. You wouldn’t know it from that picture. The middle image is Stacy Jones playing harmonica. At her young age, she has a voice for all time. Plays a mean harmonica and organ as well. The bottom picture is truly photographer’s luck. A young woman was having sort of a bachelorette’s party. It really had nothing to do with us. I guess the kids in Memphis are as lucky as the kids in New Orleans with all the great music that’s being played just about everywhere you look. That’s her dancing and wearing a read light. Her name is Kimmie.

The Sandpiper Music Club
Music. They say.

So. I went to an event in Central City early this evening. It in response to the shooting there yesterday. Mostly people were milling around at the shooting site. I made a few pictures. But, they are mostly for my project. I’m not so sure that they work on Storyteller. So, I’ll show you the sign that caught my attention and into the Sandpiper music club. I’ve been calling it a bar. But, I was wrong. It’s a music club. The second image was made from the inside out as I was walking out of the door. The door that is normally locked. The one that I was buzzed through.

The pictures were fairly simple to make. The painted sign on the door was one of those kind of “see the picture, take the picture” sorts of things. The outdoor neon light was a little more complicated. I balanced the sky, the neon and the unlighted sign. After looking at it, I decided to darken the sign during post production and that blew all my exposure work. Ah…