One night, long ago.

M

y thoughts brought me to a couple of places. As events start to close down I’ve been thinking about anniversaries.

This picture of a flambeaux during Mardi Gras is a great example of that.

It’s just a picture, right?

Maybe.

To me it means a lot. I was suffering during Mardi Gras 2020. I was at the peak of my back pain which was transmitting even more pain to my right knee. I walked up Jefferson Street to my usual pre-parade stop, CC’s.

The flambeaux were lining up. I stuck my camera through the line and made this picture.

I gave up. Thee pain was too much. I limped back to my car with a couple of stops along the way.

This picture is important. It was my last serious photograph before the pandemic forced the lockdown.

For sure, I’ve been making little pictures on dog walks and my own walks. But, I haven’t made a serious picture since February, 2020.

My doctor thought I was depressed. Well, gee…

I

have a theory. When something goes south, just about everything else goes to hell.

I knew it a long time ago. I know it now.

This week is four days old.

We lost Jazzfest. We lost the red dress run. We lost Action Jackson. We lost Rosy Guste.

All of that happened during our fourth CoVid-19 surge. The national infections are now just about 130,000 infections a day. Our hospitals are jammed. The two big hospitals in Baton Rouge are filled. They literally cannot take more patients.

Louisiana and the rest of the country are headed south. All manner of smaller bad things are starting to happen. What’s next?

Y

ou just never know. That’s what Action Jackson said to me when we first met.

He was right. Maybe more than he knew.

When you photograph second lines every Sunday to get to know many people.

Photographers cluster together and chat. We get to know each other. We are happy to see each other.

One photographer was Roy Guste. I knew him as a photographer. Once, when his car was broken down I gave him a ride.

There was more to him.

He studied cooking at Cordon Bleu. He was the proprietor of one of our famous old restaurants as his dad was before him. He wrote ten books about our food, traditions and cooking.

He was very well known to the food culture of New Orleans.

I never knew. I wonder how many of the photographers on the line knew.

Roy Guste died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He was 69.

RIP.


Flambeaux portrait.

Flambeaux. New Orleans is steeped in traditions. I could go on forever, but let’s limit it to the subject at hand.

Once up on a time in the last century twice removed, many streets were not lighted. Black men lit the streets with flaming torches. They worked for tips. They made enough money that there were waiting lists to join the groups. The money was a good part of their income.

Today, there are still sort of informal waiting lists because they still make reasonable money from the tips as they walk the parade route. Of course, the price of tips went up.

The guy in the photograph pretty much posed for me. I gave him five dollars. He expected a good tip and I didn’t think twice.

Make no mistake, this is hot dirty work. Even though the torches have changed a lot and the fires are controlled and inspected by the fire department, the oil which a sort of a jelly, pops and crackles. It drips on the carrier.

Most people hand the tips directly to them, but some just toss coins on the street. Imagine holding the torch and stopping to pick up the money.

Then, there is the route. It’s about twelve miles long. Do you think that you could carry a hot, heavy torch for twelve miles? I’m pretty sure that I can’t carry it twelve feet.

Of course, this is a no parade year. These guys, along with many, many others, are losing a lot of money. Sometimes, there are different online events held to raise money for unemployed workers.

I doubt anybody thinks about these guys. Or, just about anybody who helps the parades roll. Hourly workers and contract workers don’t get paid.

Despite the creativity of many New Orleans people, somethings just won’t get done. This is one of them.

Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay mighty. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Look after each other. Eat your spinach.

Night photography. I say that I made my career doing it.

After years of practicing night work I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

It’s really a matter of doing it over and over until the technique becomes second nature.

If you struggle to make picture, guys like this know it and walk away.

They would rather make money than stand around waiting for some photographer to figure out to take the picture.

These days, because of digital photography, night photography has gotten easier.

I usually set the ISO at auto because the camera’s light meter is far more accurate than the photographer picking an ISO.

My goal is to work at a shutter speed of 1/250th or higher. I don’t care about the f stop as long as I can make a good exposure.

Of course, the flames of the torches light up the immediate area so that proper exposures are easy to make.

The rest was done in post production. A strange thing happened to the subject.

The subject’s eyes are tack sharp. By the time WordPress compressed the image his eyes were made a little soft.

Aaarrrggg.


Not like winter.

Winter. Not winter.

No. I’m not gloating. I just feel lucky. After being in the cold north for a bit and coming back to NOLA, I realized just how good we have it. In late fall, winter and spring. The rest of the year is hot, humid, sticky and generally miserable. We all try to leave.

For a little bit.

With climate change and all that it implies right this minute, I have no clue where to go to cool off in the summer. Just about everywhere is hot. Oh sure. There is dry heat. After a while that just feels hot. If you happen to be in the high desert, the temperatures drop at night. That’s something. At least. The very least.

For right now, this picture is fun. I made it yesterday. After being in the cold for a few days, just seeing the flowers made me feel good. Even better, they are fresh blooms. These aren’t the last of dying flowers left over from summer.

Okay.

Housekeeping. Part two.

I told you yesterday that I made my decision. I’m staying here at WordPress. I’m sticking to that because today starts the billing cycle for next year on both sites. I removed my work from Squarespace and closed the account. I reupped here. Doing it prior to the very last second gave me a break. My year starts today but lasts until May 18, 2020.

WordPress congratulated me.

My next step is to turn this into a .com instead of a .org. You won’t notice the difference. From there, it’s off to the races.  WordPress says that they have a new photography oriented basic template that is more along the lines of what I want. I’ll check it out and go from there.

Things may be a little wonky here for a few days or a week or so, while I make changes to Storyteller. Hopefully, it won’t last long. At least for the basics. I think this will be an ongoing project for a couple of months. You’ll see little things, tiny things, change over that time.


Fire in the sky.

Another night.

Another amazing sky. I’m lucky to see them. That’s what you get when the dogs demand their last long walk of the day at around that time. You get to see some cool stuff.

Which reminds me.

I have friends, and colleagues, who think the only time you can take a picture is when you travel or are at some event. I keep trying to tell them that pictures are all around. Just open your eyes. Especially if you are used to photographing events. For those guys, my work lately would be like the empty space between a couple of notes in a song. By doing this, you let your main work breath. For those of you who only make pictures occasionally, you don’t have to go to Paris or Greece to take a picture. Take a walk around your neighborhood. Photograph what you see. Talk to your neighbors. Let your dog pee on a new piece of dirt. Just sayin.’

That’s it. My lesson for the day. I’m not really talking to you. Well, I am. But, I’m reminding myself. For when I get a little grumpy. But, that’s another story.

The picture. Oh yeah. That. Outside and be there. Let the camera do most of the work. Do a little more in post production. On Snapseed. Oh, did I tell you? Snapseed’s (well — Google’s) last upgrade added something called tools.  You can do some things with one click. More importantly, it saves your last setting. Ooooooohie. Now, I didn’t even have to think. Which is the whole point of art. Or, baseball.


In the Mission District.

California.

I make a big deal of being born in Brooklyn. I make a bigger deal about living in New Orleans. But, I spent most of my time in between living in California. I grew up there. I went to high school there. I went to college there. The earliest days of my career started there.

California always tugs at my heartstrings.

Now it’s on fire.

Wildfires are big, fast-moving, dangerous things. Usually, they burn large sections of uninhabited countryside. Maybe a few buildings are involved. Maybe structural loss is numbered in the hundreds. Some people lost their property but not their lives.

Not this time.

One of the fires burned about half of a small city. Santa Rosa. Structural loss is numbered in the thousands. Eleven people have died there. The land around Napa and Sonoma —  California’s big wine region — has been either been burnt, or has heavy smoke damage which makes the surviving grapevines unusable. After all, nobody wants to drink smokey Cabernet. It takes about five years for a grape crop to mature to the point where it is ready to pick, let alone age and bottle.

That’s in the north. Above the Bay Area. In the south, a wildfire sprang up in Anaheim Hills. A big fire. One that is very near to large population centers. You have to understand, that a good part of Southern California is wall-to-wall people from Los Angeles to San Diego with a break at the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton. I forget how far east that stretches. I know that people commute from Riverside to Los Angeles in order to work and to be able to afford housing. That’s a long drive even without the parking lots that they call freeways.

Here’s the thing. Wildfires, in most cases, are nature’s way of keeping brush under control. As one firefighter said about the Santa Rosa fires, “nature starts them and nature will extinguish them.”

What’s different?

People. I’m not here to talk about population control. That’s way, way, way above my pay grade. But, I can say without any doubt that fires “seem” more dangerous because we are in their way now.

Same thing with all of the hurricanes and earthquakes. You can say that the many hurricanes we’ve lived through these last few months are due to climate change. Maybe they are. But as I have said in the past, it’s hurricane season. What do you get in hurricane season? Hurricanes.

Hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes. They are part of a normal cycle in nature. We are too. But, now we are in the way. The wind blows, we are there. The land burns, we are there. The earth shakes, we are there.

Short of something unthinkable, I’d suggest that we recalibrate our thinking and come up with some plans to redistribute ourselves and to come to grips with the fact that we aren’t the kings and queens of earth. A lot of people way smarter than me talk about this. Good for them. I’m pretty sure that the time for talk is way past. It’s time to do something.

The picture. I made the original in San Francisco’s Mission District. Then I did my usual. Tinkering, tinkering, always tinkering. My first version looked way too eerie. So, I remade it into something more palatable. For me. Heheheheheh.

 


Flambeaux captain.
Flambeaux captain.

Yes. Alligators.

I’m up to my butt in them. I made a lot of pictures yesterday. Maybe too many. That’s to be expected when you work about eight hours photographing Lundi Gras. I’ll share them with you over the course of this week. For now, it’s all I can do to download them from my cards and look at them quickly. And, process and fine tune one of them.

Let me add. Yesterday was a fine day. I’ll work for a great day, today. Yes. Work. You know what I think about just hoping. That ain’t enough. You have to work at it.

This picture. It took a while. The flambeaux have been monitored carefully this year. Not for anything that they might do wrong. But, that fire you see is hot dripping fuel. There hasn’t been an accident in years. But, as the parade crowds keep growing larger in our narrow streets, the fire department wants to make sure that half of Uptown isn’t burned down.

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all.


Dawn's fire in the sky.
Dawn’s fire in the sky.

This getting up early in the morning thing does have its benefits. This is one them. Golden light so powerful that it illuminates one side of a tree that would normally be silhouetted in a composition like this one.

I’m not even sure what more to write. This is something you just enjoy.

I could say that I am building a very nice collection of early morning pictures. Accidentally. Maybe I am building enough imagery for two books. “What the Dog Saw.” And, “The Dog’s Morning.” Both potential books would be thin, inexpensive and very brightly colored. By the time I got them completed, it would be just in time for Christmas/Holiday sales. Can you say stocking stuffer? Hmmmm…

Now. Don’t get excited. Some plans just evaporate like water on the ground in a humid climate.  They tend to do that with me lately. What can I tell you? I live in a recovered swamp.


Flambeaux on the Mardi Gras Parade route.
Flambeaux on the Mardi Gras Parade route.

Flambeaux. In the old days, these guys lighted the way. Imagine a Mardi Gras parade with little no street lights.

Today, they are a big part of the parades, but they are ceremonial and dance to earn tips and a small salary. They are among the hardest workers during Carnival.

Imagine this. Carry a natural gas fuel tank on your back. Carry a hot, gas dripping lighted torch suspended by a belt around your mid-section. Walk and dance. For around five or six miles. Tell me you can do that.

New Orleans. Mardi Gras 2015


The road.
The Road.

Hmmmm.

I keep writing about New Mexico. If you go back to my very earliest posts here, on Storyteller, you’ll see that’s all they were about. Those posts were transferred from eBlogger. I wrote many of them when I lived in New Mexico.

New Mexico?

The storm. Hurricane Katrina was a big game changer for everybody. 80% of New Orleans was destroyed or at least water-logged. My house sat in 6 feet of water for about six weeks.  It was sold “as is” rather than put money into a house that I never wanted to return to. That worked out very well. First to Lake Charles, Louisiana which was a gate way to Texas and back to New Orleans. And, then… well that wasn’t going to do it when “real life” resumed, so it was off to New Mexico. I thought I always wanted to retire there. It was a great move… for a couple of years. It took a long time to heal from the trauma of having life ripped apart in about two days. But, I started getting bored. And, there is something about New Orleans. We started spending holidays there. Thanksgiving. Mardi Gras (Yes, Mardi Gras is a holiday), Christmas. You know. The usual.

Eventually. I knew it. Home was calling me just as it does everybody who finds their way to New Orleans. I guess we — as in all of us who call the city home — miss a lot of very unique things about the place. Some good. Some not so good. Here’s one of the worst. A new report was released sometime this week. I saw it yesterday. We are 26th in the world. At what you ask. We are the 26th most dangerous city in the world. Only two places behind Detroit and they went bankrupt. Some of the other places you may have heard of are located in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan.

Oh well.

Yes. Moving on has crossed my mind.

These pictures. It must have been about three weeks before the planned move back to New Orleans when I heard on the radio that there was a big fire burning south of Los Lunas, New Mexico. I haven’t really covered news events in years, but I thought that there might be an opportunity to make some more general statement kinds of pictures about the region and the environment. So, off I went.

You can’t miss a wild fire burning in New Mexico. You can see the smoke for miles. Sheesh, a fire burning in eastern Arizona fills the sky above Albuquerque with smoke.

I made these pictures and a lot more on that four-hour day trip. The move took place and I forgot about these pictures… until last night. I was working with a new version of some photo manipulation software and noticed that it could dig deeper into my files than the previous version. So it dug and I found this work. I’ve never understood how people come up with “lost” anything. Musicians released collections of newly discovered music. Photographers do it all the time. I thought that I was fairly buttoned up when it came to my files and how I locate them.

Apparently, I’m not. I’m no different from anybody else. Thankfully. Whew…. that was close.

Burned Trees.
Burned Trees.

Big Sky
Big Sky