Turn and frayed.

T

he original image is ancient. I was playing around during a snowstorm in New Mexico. It was one of my picture a day images.

It’s shredded newspaper.

Everything came together at once. I need to make a picture and I had a new shredder that I wanted to test.

So, I shredded up a lot of newspaper and made a few pictures.

This was the result. Something huge for your wall. Maybe even wallpaper. Of course, your house would have to be able to pull it off. I’m not sure what kind of house that might be.

I’m thinking something very modern, all in white except for one wall. This wall. The one with shredded newspaper as wallpaper.

I make no claims about being an interior designer. My idea of covering walls is to fill them with framed art until there isn’t any more room and then rotate pictures in and out. The goal is to keep much of my work off the walls as possible.

After all, I know what my work looks like. I want to know what your work looks like.

I used to do some trading here. I thought we were doing a simple transaction. Mine for yours. Yours for mine. I didn’t work out that way. I’d send mine. I never received yours.

So, I stopped dong that. The experiment failed as most do here. I’m not sure why that happens. I have my theories, but I’ll leave that alone unless you really want to know and ask.

A

s I look at this picture a lot of memories come flooding back.

I’m one of those unfortunates who remembers everything.

Sometimes those ghosts are friendly. Often they are not.

Today is one of those days when they aren’t friendly. The biggest memory is why I moved to New Mexico in the first place.

We are a little over a month from the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina changing life as we knew it in New Orleans.

I’d wanted to retire in New Mexico. That would have been a good thing. It wasn’t good because of the way I went there.

I wasn’t done with New Orleans. I missed everything about it.

I remember my first Mardi Gras there. A parade was held in Old Town at the plaza. I got all excited.

What a come down it was. There was one cart that was supposed to be a float and a few people walking with it.

Luckily, it was held on the Saturday before Mardi Gras Day. I hopped on an airplane and got back to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras Day.

It was glorious. Most of us hadn’t returned to the city yet. The city was in shambles. The parades were small. The Zulus had been scattered to the four corners of the country. Somebody paid for The Shaka Zulus to come from South Africa to replace them.

But, man did we celebrate. We were alive. As Mardi Gras Indians say, “Won’t bow down. Don’t know how.”

That’s what’s in my head today. I don’t know why. I suppose that it’s a kind of PTSD that comes and goes whenever it feels like it.

It’s one of those things that inspires me to say, “Control is overrated.”

It is.

You must be wondering about technique by now. There really isn’t any. Shred all the newspapers you have in the house and take picture of the remains.

That’s it.

A perfect picture of the newspaper industry as it stands today.


Broken and battered... the Lower Ninth Ward.
Broken and battered… the Lower Ninth Ward.

I’ve been posting a lot on various social media sites. This is an effort to step up my  online presence. I’m not sure that it really matters because nobody really wants to do anything with pictures except look at them and, er, “borrow” them. Looking at them is great. “Borrowing” them is not. I’m telling you this because I’m all turned around. Pictures that are normally only published on Storyteller have now been posted first on Google+ and Twitter. Given that I’ve been sick as hell, I’m very disorganized. But, tonight things clicked into clear focus — no pun intended — and I realized what a mess I’ve made out of my normal publishing order. Oh well. Stuff happens.

That’s the long way of telling you what’s going on. It’s also a way of saying that for me, Storyteller has to come first. It’s my informal online portfolio. I send people who are interested in working with me here, even before I send them to my website because Laskowitzpictures.com needs a refreshing. Seriously.

So. Some of my friends on Facebook will be seeing some of these pictures twice since I posted them there first. Sorry about that. I’ve just got to get this thing back into order. I’m like that. Very OCD. Sometimes.

Enough of that. Let’s talk about this picture. I made it on a very stormy day. It is a side of the hardest hit and flooded Lower 9th Ward. This neighborhood, or should I say sub-neighborhood, was once jam-packed with houses. The Lower 9th was a very vibrant neighborhood. Families lived there for generations. Now. Well, you can see. It’s pretty dead. It’s reverted back to nature. On this very far side of the neighborhood the only creatures that have come back are reptiles — yes, alligators — and snakes and other wild critters.

Please don’t misunderstand. As you move towards the river some houses are coming back. The houses are very well designed. Hip. Cool. Very modern. Maybe too modern. Very colorful. Like Disneyland. They were sponsored and paid for by actor Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation. Other people have joined in, as well. The buildings are spread out with lots of room to breathe, but it doesn’t feel right. At least, to me. But, that doesn’t matter. Some people get to come home. Most don’t. They live in Houston.

Yes. I stepped on this picture pretty hard in post production. I wanted to make it gritty and grimy. And, broken and abandoned. Torn and Frayed. Shattered. I want you to see what I feel. Now, here’s a caveat. I’m not sure that people should return. This land is so far below sea level that the streets leak as a routine event. Some streets are so buckled and broken that it would be easier to drive on some rutted desert dirt road. At least you wouldn’t meet a passing alligator.


Somewhere in the Seventh Ward.
Somewhere in the Seventh Ward.

The whole place looks burnt out. It isn’t. It’s just a little wet from a late storm. But, it was pretty heavily flooded during and after Hurricane Katrina. This neighborhood sat in flood water from August 29 until sometime in mid-November. Just about like my neighborhood.  I have no idea what was in that water, but I don’t want to find out. I had my old wet darkroom stored in an out building. Everything was destroyed. But what concerned me most was the stainless steel film developing tanks. They were well designed to handle chemicals. Most photo process chemicals are pretty mild and benign, but if you process color film, some chemicals are strong. When I found these tanks, they were corroded and eaten through. In seven weeks. All officials denied the existence of anything harmful in the flood waters. Really?

Obviously, this neighborhood hasn’t recovered yet. Maybe a few people are living there now. But, I’m sure it is a ghost town compared to pre-storm. About this chair? And, those bricks? Likely, somebody hangs here. Maybe a couple some bodies. But, not on the day that I stopped by.

Not much to taking this picture. I decided to use the three-legged chair as the main subject, shoot with a real small aperture so that there is a lot of sharpness in the background to give you a sense of the neighborhood.


Even though I'm focused on Holly grove this week, so many neighborhoods in New Orleans look like this picture.
Even though I’m focused on Holly grove this week, so many neighborhoods in New Orleans look like this picture.

I always hesitate publishing too many pictures that look like this. I’m afraid that I’ll give you the wrong impression of our city. I realized that I really can’t. New Orleans is divided in many ways. Financially. Culturally. Historically. Racially. By neighborhood. By streetcar lines. This was reflected by the neighborhoods that stayed dry in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The media dubbed the dry neighborhoods, “the sliver by the river.” That was about right. 80% of the city was flooded and pretty much destroyed. You could drive from an unflooded neighborhood to one that was under five or six feet of water and immediately tell the difference. It was like somebody drew a line across the street. Some neighborhoods have come back. Others have not. In terms of land mass, I’d guess that about 40 or 50% of that 80% have come back entirely. Even with that, there is something called the “Jack O’ Lantern Effect.” You can pretty much guess what that means. Even in rebuilt neighborhoods, there are blighted gaps.

There are other numbers too. In Central City, where I work a lot, I’ve been told that 70% of the standing housing stock is uninhabitable. The numbers look higher to me in Hollygrove. In The Lower Ninth Ward, those numbers are irrelevant. A better number would indicate how many acres have just reverted back to nature. I guess I should ask a passing alligator or snake. Yeah. That far back.

So. Numbers. I am using these numbers to justify my obsession with broken and abandoned stuff. For those of you who have suggested that there is a book in my future, these neighborhoods are where the book lives. But the story isn’t just about falling apart structures. It’s really about the people who live there. And, those who work there. I’ll show you some of the people I’ve met along the way in future posts. At least until November comes to an end.

This picture. Content means a lot… everything actually. Post production manipulation is just a way to emphasize my point. If I used my usual bright and energetic color it would just confuse you. It would introduce an upbeat element to a picture that isn’t upbeat. Don’t feel alone. It confuses me too.

I learned a lot of my composition in Asia. You’ll notice that many of my pictures pretty much have a semi-rigid design. Horizon and internal lines are lined up and straight. The main subject typically falls on a vertical grid line. Very clean. Very structured. For these pictures I’m changing that. The neighborhoods seem skewed and out of alignment. Their lines aren’t straight. If they were straight once, they are warped by the storm, age, the heat, the humidity and a general lack of care. So, my pictures shouldn’t be composed following straight lines. Or, even on a designer’s grid.

Now you have an idea of my visual intent. Make sense? Any of it?


Sort of red, white and blue.
Sort of red, white and blue.

When I saw this scene, I first saw the red graffiti. Next, I saw the couch. Finally, the wall. What I was seeing just seemed to click into my brain. Red. White. Blue. What a weird visual statement. But, it was real. Once I started working on the picture in post production, I saw something else. It is tattered. Torn. Frayed. Beaten up. This month’s recurring theme. The neighborhood is all of those things too. It’s rough there. I’m not talking about crime. I’m talking about the physical state of the neighborhood. Hollygrove. I’m going to explore there just as I do in Central City. For some reason, as rough as Central City is, it doesn’t scare me. Hollygrove does. I’m not sure why. Likely, I just don’t know my way around. Or, it’s something else. 

If this picture is dramatic, it is the result of my experimenting in post production. As I’ve written, I use a plug-in or standalone called OnOne. It was originally designed for wedding or portrait photographers. Later, it was discovered by those of us who don’t make our livings shooting those kinds of pictures. After a while, I learned that I could make my pictures be what I wanted them to be. It was off to the races. In a few weeks, OnOne will release their latest version. It is already around in beta form. This time, they are taking advantage of Adobe’s cloud only version of Photoshop and the general unhappiness that came with it. They are releasing a fully functioning stand alone version of their former plug-in that will make Photoshop unnecessary for many of us. Since money matters to most of us, I should mention that is nowhere near as expensive as Photoshop. 

Storyteller and on. It really is a work in progress. Taking the advice of a couple of my long-term readers, I “fixed” the body type. I made it bigger and a little bolder. I think it is easier to read now. White type on a black background can always be a little tricky to make work. But, the original tiny text size really hurt the readability. Unfortunately, even with the “custom” package that WordPress offers, there are limits. Storyteller is at those limits in terms of body type. 

 


An abandoned "foodstore" in Central City.
An abandoned “food store” in Central City.

This is about it for my experimental series. I have one more picture, which is of a man reworked in this style. It seems to be quite powerful. I’ll show that to you tomorrow. Then, it’s time to move on… at least for now. As you may recall, I’ve been working on a long form project in Central City, New Orleans. It’s been sort of stalled, even though redevelopment progress  hasn’t stopped. There are new restaurants on both ends of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, There is a large redevelopment plan coming to fruition on Claiborne Avenue which should provide new shops, a real grocery store and other small businesses on the lake end of the neighborhood. Me? I haven’t worked that as much as should be. But, that’s coming to an end and back I go. That said, one of my biggest issues with the pictures I produced is that they were made in my usual colorful way of working. That seemed to be at odds with the actual content.  You know. The color palette isn’t appropriate for the content.

So.

This bit of experimentation seems to have set a stage for reprocessing the images that are already made in the neighborhood. It’s also provided me with a guide for going forward. Not a blueprint. Blueprints seem to be set in cement too much. My work sort of flows. It depends a lot on what I see. And, how I feel.

This picture may take my experimental style a little too far. I’m not sure I need to scratch the image to drive home the point. But, the faded color works. At least for now. Aside from the new development, most of the neighborhood is still the same. Torn and frayed.  70 % of the housing stock is still uninhabitable. Too many drugs on the street. Too many senseless deaths. I believe that will change. But, it’s a generational thing. I certainly won’t be around for that. So, I can only document what is there. Right now. The things in front of me.

What is this place?

The content is really simple. It’s an abandoned “food store.” That’s a local name, or maybe a Southern name, for a mom and pop grocery store. Prices are usually high because the owners can’t get large distribution deals like your local Winn-Dixie or Kroger. So, they buy from local wholesalers or worse, from big box stores like Costco or Sam’s. By the time they get done marking up their goods, they cost far more than any bigger store would charge. But, for people without transportation, or enough money to buy in quantities like most of us take for granted, these little stores are a life line. They also cash checks. And, sell old school items that you can’t buy anywhere else. Unfortunately, they are usually run by people with no business training or real grocery store experience so they don’t last. They close their doors in the middle of the night. Whatever stock they have left is just abandoned. Eventually, the old store is broken into, pillaged and locked up again. And broken into again, and again…

Oh. If you’re expecting a solution on this page, I have none. I just know that things aren’t right.


The neighborhood. Torn and frayed, but not broken.
The neighborhood. Torn and frayed, but not broken.

So. I’m back working in Central City. When I follow my “rules” of making pictures, it seems that even the most abandoned, torn and frayed places look somewhat attractive. And that, my friends, can be a problem with this kind of documentation. A big problem. Unless you open this picture up and look at it carefully, how bad does this neighborhood look? It doesn’t. I suppose that part of it is in my post production. But, I have a problem. I want my pictures to be the best that they can be. Sometimes, that means I go too far — way too far — for documentary work.

Anyway. This picture was made at the river end of Hoffman Triangle. In fact, at the time at which I made it, I didn’t even realize that I was already standing in Hoffman Triangle. It wasn’t until I saw all the painted up houses, that I realized that I had stumbled upon the every place for which I was looking. You know, there are no “Welcome to…” signs around this neighborhood. This building seems to sum up the neighborhood very well. It’s abandoned now. But, it was a social club. A bar. And, a mechanic’s shop. At one point, I think the mechanic sold used cars. Probably those cars that he claimed using a mechanic’s lien.

The picture, itself? I’ve been experimenting with a lot of strange angles. Doing that seems to add to the bleakness of the scene. You’ll see more of that in later posts. There is also a lot of work done in post production, since I wanted to give the picture a special feel… sort of a combination of hot summer, golden light and the sense of abandonment.