Way inside.

Memorial Day. If you’ve been around for a while you know what I think. There is no “Happy” to Memorial Day. There are only thoughts of those who never made it home. Those who paid the ultimate price. For freedom. For your hot dog. For your hamburg.

Generally, I feel guilty.

Instead of a flag or cemetery picture I thought that I would post a picture of pure light, pure color. A picture once made in New Mexico.

It’s the food stands at one of the International Balloon Fiestas. In Albuquerque. New Mexico.

That’s not what this post is about. It’s about going deep inside. Finally. Ironically, on a day the we mourn our war dead. My war dead. Your’s too.

It started as a dream. A dream that won’t let go. A dream that’s come back to me four times on two different nights and mornings.

The dream that began in New York. I was returning from a trip with a bunch of other people. The vehicle was so filled up with stuff that I had to stand outside and hang on to he back end.

That was just as well. When we got into the city traffic was so backed up that I just jumped off and walked faster than the cars were going. I needed a way out. I came to a hole and I jumped into it.

No comes the wired part.

I started walking down, down, down. I walked past piles of junk. I walked past abandoned vehicles. I walked until I came to the bottom where everything was just a brownish-gray mud.

I made my way to the surface slowly. Very slowly. There were broken down and used up military vehicles. Some people were working on them. They ignored me. I watched them. The tanks and cannons weren’t blown up. They were used up. They no longer ran because they couldn’t be repaired.

I eventually came to the surface. I was covered in mud. I was gray. I was brown. I went to a locker and changed into newly washed clothes. They were old fashioned dungarees. I had to pass through a sort of check out where I was sent onto the street… in Los Angeles.

I started walking. I knew where I wanted to go. Home. Home was in Long Beach. I started walking in that direction. I passed through all sorts of neighborhoods, all of them run down and broken. The people looked mean but ignored me as I walked.

Eventually, I came to a river…

I awoke.

Making this picture was easy. Maybe, too easy.

Slow the shutter speed down. Set the aperture for F 5.6. Stand tall so that everything doesn’t move. Hit the button.

Done.

Keep things clean in post production and everything is golden.

What I can’t figure out is how my dream lead me to this picture. Or, was it the other way around?

I think the grays and browns lead me here. No matter. There is more of the dream to come. Maybe you’ll find out. I’m still not sure that I did.

Maybe it’s just my reaction to so much drab color. After all, this picture is the antithesis of that. It’s all color.

And, it’s simple. As simple as gray and brown, but the other way around.

There is one thing I sort of understand about my dream. The worn out tanks and cannons come from reality.

The Nazi Germans built a couple of huge tanks. The Tiger and the King Tiger. Allied armament couldn’t penetrate them yet they were defeated.

There were three reasons.

The US armed forces sent five smaller M4 Shermans to attack them. Four were blown up. The fifth got through and was close enough to destroy them.

The Tigers were gas guzzlers. Something like eight gallons to the mile is what it took to move them.

Worse. After about 10 miles they needed an overhaul. They broke down in the field of combat and needed to be repaired.

They were used up.


A little graffiti.

Yesterday, a great musician and a sweet and kind man died.

Fats Domino.

There have been tributes written from all over the world. Because, at the heart of it, he started rock n roll. Without him, the guys who came a little after him — Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and even The Beatles — might not exist. At least as we know them today. It started with “The Fat Man”  a song that was a reworked of a drug user’s song called, “The Junker’s Blues.” It rocked. It rolled. His music only grew from there. His legend did too. You can read that all over the internet today. There’s no point in me rehashing it.

At the heart of him was a New Orleans man. A 9th Ward guy. He lived there. He built his very modern mansion there. And, his last studio was there. Yesterday, the media of which I was one, descended on those old buildings. Local television stations used the studio as a prop for the evening broadcasts about his death. I was gone by the time that they got there, chasing other things and places.

I took the time to drive around the 9th Ward with a friend. So many changes. So many passings.

And, that’s what I thought about.

Passings. The past couple of years have been rough if you like music.So many have passed on.  On personal level, they’ve been rough because a lot of my old friends have left the planet. Or, gotten very sick. As I drove around the 9th Ward, I saw so many changes. More buildings rotting. Things still falling down.

But, there was more.

Things were getting better. The rotting strip along St. Claude Avenue is being restored.  Many homes that were storm damaged and left for dead have come back. Including one that I’ve posted here a couple of times. The one with the destroyed interior and American flag hanging in the background. I almost couldn’t find it. It has been restored to its proper shape. Painted in the “right” colors.

Even though I documented the rotting of that lower end of New Orleans in the past, I’m happy to say that I liked what I saw yesterday. I didn’t get to stay long, but I’ll be back. There’s a lot for me to do.

And, that’s a good thing.

This place. Club Desire. History tells us that Fats Domino first played some in a little bar in the Desire area called the Hideaway. As he started to gain a little fame, he moved to Club Desire, which was a very well-known club throughout the segregated 1950s, 60s and 70s. Eventually, it fell out of the “chitlin’ circuit” and then fell out of use in the late 1970s except for occasional events. That was an unintended consequence of desegregation. Black musicians could play in what were White clubs. There was no need to take a 45 minute streetcar ride out to the ends of the city. Hurricane Katrina about tore Club Desire apart. It was finally torn down last year. The Hideaway hasn’t existed in years.

Goodbye Club Desire.

Rest in Peace, Fats Domino. You certainly made my world a better place.


Dead head.
Dead head.

We tried. We really did.

We even moved Halloween to an earlier day. It didn’t help. We did our little rain dances. Big storm coming.  It was too late. That didn’t help.  Nothing could. Nothing would.

We brought out our voodoo practitioners. Bitten. We brought out our social aid clubs. Chewed on. We brought out our Mardi Gras Indians. Eaten. We brought out our Mardi Gras krewes. You don’t want to know. The brass bands? They are still marching. To a very different beat.

New Orleans is now a zombie city. We are in the hands of the walking dead. Where is Rick when we need him? I think he’s headed to Virginia. Like that’s gonna help.

Seriously. Have you ever noticed? All this zombie stuff takes place in the south. What’s that about?

Happy Halloween.

They took over everything.
They took over everything.

Zombie head
Zombie head


Seriously dystopian.
Seriously dystopian.

Sometimes.

I use events and locations as representations for other events and locations. I’m very opportunistic that way. I took this picture while I was photographing New Orleans Halloween. When I saw it, I knew the subject would be fine for a Halloween picture. But, I knew that it would be better suited as something that fits into my dystopian collection of pictures. So, I held on to it. I worked on it this morning. I tried to make it as “end of days” as possible in post production. I suppose that I could have gone farther. But how far is too far?

Then.

There is this dystopian thing. A friend of mine and I have been having a discussion of what has been an ongoing trend toward mediocrity. It started with what she calls the mediation of a certain place. I read a long piece that she retweeted and learned a better term. At least it is for me.

Cupcaking.

In the piece that I read, it was used in this way; “The cupcaking of New York.” It means that something that was once hip and cool has been made so marginal that what was once hip and cool is now so common place that it has lost the thing that made it special. It is further hurt by all the people who want to be hip. Cool. They don’t want to live their lives. They want to live somebody else’s life. They want to be what they aren’t. They try to take pictures. The try to play songs. They open “foodie” restaurants. They concentrate on stuff like hot dogs, bagels, hamburgers, donuts and, of course, cup cakes. They want to do this without actually taking the time to learn the skills and gain the experience necessary to make something really great. What used to be called, “paying your dues.” By the way, there is nothing wrong with wanting to do any of this stuff. Just put the time in and learn. And, try to remember, these three particular subjects — pictures, music and food — are relatively blue-collar jobs. They take a lot of work. There is nothing cool about them. There never was.

Here’s an example. The other day we stopped for bagels and coffee. This little place features Montreal-New York bagels. A brand new term. I didn’t even know there was a thing called a Montreal bagel. What is that? I was born in Brooklyn. I know what good bagel is. I know what it isn’t. Sure enough, this thing was terrible. It was flat and tough. And, there was enough salt on it to fulfill a week’s work of sodium maximums. I could go on, but this isn’t one of those blogs where all anybody does it rant. It comes close…

So.

Back to dystopian. That’s the trend now. It started with some quality work, like the cable show “Walking Dead.” Or, Cormac McCarthy’s book and film called, “The Road.” That was good stuff. But, he can write. Now every indie author who can’t find a publisher and editor pours dystopian work out by the barrel onto every possible indie distribution site.  They say that all of this disruption is good. I ask simply, for who? Most of the indie books that I’ve tried to read are unreadable. They are poorly written. Plot lines wander around and around. They haven’t been edited for content, form or even typos. The same thing happens with music. With photographs. You can’t find the good stuff for the garbage. The saying is “too much noise, not enough signal.”

Jimmy Iovine, the great music producer, one time manager of Bruce Springsteen and now Apple employee after selling Beats Music to them, was  quoted as saying that because there are no gatekeepers today, “90% of the music out there shouldn’t have been recorded, but it is.”

I agree. Same thing with pictures. And, books. Most art. Certainly with food.

So. Once again back to dystopian and this particular picture. I made it the best way that I could. I really don’t want to publish mediocre pictures. There really is way too much of it out there already. Just look at Facebook. Or worse, Google +.

Oh well.


Interesting tagging in The 7th Ward.
Interesting tagging in The 7th Ward.

Your guess is as good as mine.

I really have no idea why there is an elephant painted on the side of an abandoned house. Sheesh. I’m not even sure if I could find it again to ask. I was going home from the Katrina memorial second line when I decided to take the long way just to see what I could see. The very long way home. I sort of just cruised around turning left, or right, or passing around the block because there are a lot of one streets around here. It makes no sense now. It made sense at the time. After all, that’s where all the pictures are hiding. And, the light was right. Obviously, I wasn’t disappointed. I found an elephant.

A what?

Well. Not a real living and breathing elephant. But, a nicely rendered cartoon style elephant painted on the side of an abandoned house. Huh? Why? Where? How?

So. I stopped. Nobody seemed to be around so I couldn’t ask questions. You know. Like, “Why is there an elephant painted on the side of this house?” I did walk around the house though. The front of the house had a Katrina cross painted on it. Oh, you know the ones. I’ve written about them in earlier posts. Just to refresh your memory, when early responders came from out-of-state, they did a house-by-house hard target search for survivors or worse. They spray painted a cross. In one corner they painted the date, then their unit number, then their findings — alive or dead. And finally, an animal count. Again, alive or dead. Then they encircled the whole thing with more paint. Most are gone now. Some are faded. Some have been turned into a kind of shrine.

I’m sorry to report that somebody died in this house. That’s what the cross told me. That’s confirmed by the red sign in the grass. Sacred ground.

Here’s where my guess might be better than yours. By looking at the side of the house, I’m guessing that a relative began to rehab it after things started settling down. I’m also willing to bet that his or her heart just wasn’t in it. See that orange wood? That shouldn’t be there. Or at least, all the holes should be sealed. Once that is completed the yellow wood-like boards are applied, either to the studs which have been insulated, or over the old wood which has been properly sealed. That didn’t happen. The wood over the windows? That looks like hurricane protection that never came down. It’s sagging now. Around here, you either have storm shutters or you nail pieces of plywood to the window frame when a big storm is on the way.

It’s been 9 years. The house is slowly starting to fall apart. The old paint is fading. The new paint is growing mold. The yard is over grown. Somebody painted an elephant on the building. All of that is just physical stuff. I just hope that the biggest loss is beginning to heal.


An all too familiar sight in New Orleans.
An all too familiar sight in New Orleans.

It started a few days ago. We were walking to the area in which the Indians were assembling for Super Sunday and their massive second line parade, when I happened to see this scene. I had to stop to make a few pictures. I think you all know what this means. I wish that you didn’t. No child should die in a blaze of gunfire in some drive by shooting. I cannot imagine the pain this child’s family feels. Maybe, I have a sense of it. Two years ago or so, when I first started working in Central City, I happened upon another scene that was very smiliar to this one. That time, the child’s grandmother was sitting on her stoop sipping a cup of coffee. I did what I always do. I asked her if she minded if I took a picture and she shook her head no. As I focused and composed I watched her eyes. They were dead. No glimmer of hope. She looked at me, but didn’t see. My companion and I sat with her for a while. Mostly we didn’t say anything. What could we say? But, just being there mattered.

So.

Today. The morning started by me listening to Neil Young sing a song called Thrasher. It was from a YouTube fan video from the other night’s concert in Los Angeles. He hasn’t played that song live for about 35 years. The lyrics are nostalgic and some kind of change. It’s very dystopian. I wasn’t going to publish this picture today, or maybe not ever. But, after listening to the song I just had to. I’m not sure exactly why.

The picture. I think that the content is strong on its own. But, I wanted to make the picture as nasty and dirty as I could without going too far. I wanted to put my emotions into the picture. After all, this scene should make you feel two emotions. Sadness. Anger.

 


Signs, Symbols and Sacred Ground.
Signs, Symbols and Sacred Ground.

The caption just about says it all.  But, let me explain it a little further. A descanso is a small piece folk art that is placed on  a spot where somebody died. It is a memorial. It is generally home-made by people who loved or cared for the person who lost his or her life on that spot. Usually it is a car or motorcycle related death. I first started seeing them in New Mexico maybe 25 or 30 years ago. I usually try to stop and photograph them with a special kind of reverence that you give any sacred ground. The word usually is key. Sometimes they are found in places where I can’t stop, or that if stopping might possibly add me to the list of traffic fatalities.

The picture? I made it on the day that I was chasing clouds and rain. I wrote in my hub pages blog that you shouldn’t limit your focus to the subject that you are photographing because it just closes down your vision and you might never pass that way again. It is very important to me that I stop when I see something interesting even if it is only to make a record shot which will direct me to go back there again. I also wrote that for the first time I probably made the kind of picture I always hoped that I would. Once again the picture taught me how to take it. What did I do differently this time? I did what I do with events and parades. I got in the middle of it. The thought of doing that never occurred to me. I’m not sure why it did this time. But, it did.

In case you are wondering, I have no idea why I am drawn to this stuff. I photograph cemeteries as well. I’m sure that there is some kind of global consciousness thing going on. I’m not even sure that I know what that means.


L9009
Rain on my windshield as I passed by the levee.

L9006
Unpaved streets lead to nothing.

L9005
More bleakness and reminders of broken lives.

These three pictures are the last of my Lower Ninth Ward visit. I have a few more images from that day, but it’s getting to be time to move on. Not to worry. I’ll go back again. And again. And… again. I’m not sure what more I can add to this post. I think, once our traveling settles down, in about three weeks, I’ll start working harder in Central City and out here. In the Lower Ninth Ward. These are stories that need to be told. Need to be documented. Need to be photographed. There. For those of you who keep saying a book, a book, a book… maybe there is one.

The pictures are pretty documentary. Find the subject. Make the exposure. Make the picture. In post production, I try to find the color palette and other modifications to bring the proper feel to the pictures. That’s about it.


Well. The title’s a nick name for New Orleans. It seems to fit the city’s old cemeteries. They are cities. Of the dead. This one is across the street from Commander’s, a restaurant that is known the world over. It is Lafayette Cemetery Number 1. It was established in 1833. Assuming you can actually find space, it is open to anyone. There is even a Confederate general buried there. It is a reasonably safe cemetery to visit unlike some of the city’s other burial grounds.

The picture. That’s another bit of luck. I made it on the same early evening as I made the picture of Magazine Street that I posted yesterday. Some evening, eh? I’m lucky if I make a picture like that every couple of months, let along two in one night. Photographer’s luck. On another night, I might have made a left, instead of a right turn. This picture might not exist.