The decoration was hanging on my tree. I saw it. I photographed it. I had my way with it. I turned a digital photograph into something that looks like a painting.
I think it works. Does it?
The more I look at it, the more it looks like one of those old-fashioned Christmas cards that my parents used to send during the holiday season. I think that they came in packs of ten for something like $4.99. Maybe less.
I told a friend of mine who I rediscovered through the wonders of Facebook, that between editing my archives and this being “the season” and all, I was on some kind of strange journey through my past. By the way, I grew up with that guy. His family lived across the street and about 6 houses down from mine. Now, THAT’s something.
Even the name conjures up all sorts of meaning. Cowboys. The West. Freedom. Big food. Big hair. Big hats. I’m pretty sure that most people think don’t about space aliens when they think about Texas.
I found this interestingly shaped house when I was traveling around Texas back country. I didn’t stop. I didn’t ask. In retrospect, I should have. Knowing my ability to work with all sorts of people, I might have even been invited inside for a quick look around. But, really? This scene was enough for me. How often do you see something like this?
I once showed this picture to a friend of mine. A Texan. I said something like, “this explains everything.” She replied, “what the hell do you mean by that?” Texans take their state and their mythology seriously.
Sort of like New Orleanians do.
Many of them are in a serious uproar about the removal of the first of the Confederate statues. Me? I think all things must pass. Especially things memorializing a very dark chapter in my country’s history. I say grind them up and turn them into gravel to repair the potholes on my street.
But, that’s just me.
I’m not a native New Orleanian and that’s been made clear to me. I can fix that. I own property in Brooklyn. New York. I was born in Brooklyn. Maybe it’s time to reclaim the neighborhood of my birth. I’m not sure I want to live in a place where three statues memorialize traitors and slavery. And, the so-called natives support that. Oh wait. One of them said he was indigenous. I didn’t know that he came from Native American ancestory. You learn something every day. Around here.
Rant over. He said. With a smile.
The picture. Oh, the usual these days. Film. Photo paper. Scan. Tinker with it until the result is unrecognizable. Then show it to you. I think I like all the stuff that I added to the sky. The picture appears, at first glance, as if it was made on another planet.
With different eyes. This is the first picture I saw. I took it. I wasn’t going to publish it. Yet. But, in an exchange of emails with a dear friend of mine, she was talking about ordinary people. It struck me that this picture might just be part of the new normal. So, I thought…
Then, a Neil Young song came to me. This one.
“Two out of work models and a fashion slave. Try to dance away the Michelob night. The bartender poured herself another drink. While two drunks were watchin’ the fight. The champ went down and he got up again. Then he went out like a light. Fightin’ for the people.
But his timing wasn’t right. The high rollin’ people. Takin’ limos in the neon light. The Las Vegas people. They came to see a Las Vegas fight. Fightin’ for the people. There’s a man in the window with a big cigar. Says everything’s for sale. He had a house and a boat and a railroad car. The owner’s gotta go to jail. He acquired these things from a life of crime.
Now he’s sellin’ them to make bail. He was rippin’ off the people. Sellin’ guns to the underground. Livin’ off the people. Skimmin’ the top when there was no one around. Tryin’ to help the people. Lose their ass for a piece of ground. A patch o’ ground people.
He was dealin’ antiques in a hardware store. But he sure had a lot to hide. He had a back room full of the guns of war. And a ton ammunition besides. Yeah, he walked with a cane. Kept a bolt on the door with five pit bulls inside. Just a warnin’ to the people. In case they might try to break in at night.
Protection from the people. He’s sellin’ safety in the darkest night. Tryin’ to help the people. Get the drugs to the street all right. Tryin’ to help the people. Well, it’s hard to say where a man goes wrong. Might be here and it might be there. What starts out weak might get too strong. If you can’t tell foul from fair. But it’s hard to judge from an angry throng. Of hands stretched up in the air.
Vigilante people. Takin’ the law into their own hands. The conscientious people. Crackin’ down on the drug lord and his bands. Government people. Confiscatin’ all the dealer’s land. The patch o’ ground people. A new Rolls Royce, a company car. They were racin’ down the street. Each one was tryin’ to make it to the gate. Before employees manned the fleet.
The trucks full of products for the modern home. Were set to roll out into the street of ordinary people. Tryin’ to make their way to work. The downtown people. Some are saints and some are jerks. That’s me, everyday people.
Stoppin’ for a drink on their way to work. Alcoholic people, takin’ it one day at a time. Down on the assembly line. They keep puttin’ the same things out. The people today, they just ain’t buyin’. Nobody can figure it out. They try like hell to build a quality in. They’re workin’ hard without a doubt.
But the dollar’s what it’s all about. Lee Iaccoca people. But the customers are walkin’ out. The nose to the stone people. Yeah, they look but they just don’t buy. The patch o’ ground people.In a dusty town the clock struck high noon. Two men stood face to face. One wore black and one wore white. But of fear there wasn’t a trace. A hundred and eighty years later.
Two hot rods drag through the very same place. A half million people. They moved in to pick up the pace. A factory full of people. Makin’ parts to go to outer space. A train load of people. They were leavin’ for another place. Out of town people. Down at the factory they’re puttin’ new windows in. The vandals made a mess of things. And the homeless just walked right in. Well, they worked here once and they live here now. But they might work here again.
The ordinary people.
They’re just livin’ in a dream. Hard workin’ people. Just don’t know what it means. To give up people. They’re just like they used to be. Patch o’ ground people. Out on the railroad track they’re cleanin’ ol’ number nine. They’re scrubbin’ the boiler down. She really is lookin’ fine, a beauty, that number nine. Times’ll be different soon they’re gonna bring her back on-line.
They’re gonna bring the good things back. Hard workin’ people. They put the business back on track. The everyday people. I got faith in the regular kind. Patch o’ ground people. “
And, that’s the story. Three weeks of travel and I came back to this. Oh yeah. She saw me. I smiled at her and gave her a couple of dollars. Somehow I knew that just wasn’t enough. It’s what I could do. At that very moment.
A wise man was telling stories to me
About the places he had been to
And the things that he had seen
A quiet voice is singing something to me
An age old song about the home of the brave
In this land here of the free
One time one night in America
— David Hildago/Louis Perez – 1987 (Los Lobos – By the Light of the Moon.)
Okay. Usually I know something about the pictures that I publish on Storyteller. Not this time. Everything confuses me. I know this house was under some pretty deep water after Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans. This particular area is located on the river side of the Lower Ninth Ward. This side was heavily flooded, but not completely devastated like the other side of The Lower Ninth. These are guesses. But, I suspect when the owner was able to return, he started to remediate his house. He must have decided to display his pride and patriotism. So he hung an American flag. You know, that sort of “don’t tread on me” thing. Something stopped him in mid-stride. I walked through the house. The back-end burned after he took down the inner walls. That may be what caused him to stop. But, again. I’m just guessing. The other confusing thing about the picture are the house’s inner walls. Those thick boards are barge wood. In the 1700s and early 1800s, barges were floated down the Mississippi River to bring supplies and people. At the time, there was no way to bring them back up river so they broke the barges up and used them for building wood. It usually found its way into many early homes. My first house in New Orleans was made of barge wood. It was finished in lathe and plaster. But, it was built in 1834. This house is much newer than that. There very earliest that it could have been built was during the very late 1800s. Maybe 1890 or so. By then, houses were framed in a more modern way. And finished with lathe and plaster. The barge wood in this house was covered with finishing wood.
More research is required.
The picture was one of many I made when I walked through the open door. I’m very careful about investigating old buildings. They call this an UrbEx picture. That Urban Exploration. Normally, you take certain precautions when you do this. You carry a flashlight. You usually bring a buddy. You dress in work boots or shoes. You wear thicker clothing. You make sure that your cellphone is with you. Just in case. But, that’s for walking through big buildings. Buildings like old factories. Train Stations. Hospitals. But, you can see the width and depth of this house. That narrow door opens into what was a kitchen area and then into one more back room which could have been a bedroom. There is a bathroom near the kitchen. That’s it. I was pretty sure that I didn’t need to take all of the normal precautions. The rest was easy. Point and shoot.
In New Orleans we like color. I love color. You know that. This is a bit much. I was tooling around one day in Lower Ninth Ward, on the river side. This part of the area was not completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the breach of the levees as it was across Claiborne Avenue on what we would call the lake side. Buildings and houses were flooded here by very deep water. But, they weren’t ripped off their foundations. The weren’t broken in two. And, they weren’t torn apart.
However, it did take the residents a long time to either remediate and rebuild their property, or sell their damage houses.
When people finally did get moving on their houses, strange things started happening. Since many people were not insured for replacement value of their homes, they had to work with what money they managed to cobble together. The rebuilt cheaply and they bought what they could at discount prices. At a time when there were no discount prices. Often you see it in the exteriors of the buildings. Bright paint. It’s not so fashionable, so it doesn’t cost as much as more trendy colors. And, check it out. This yellow house, which at one time may have been a grocery store, bakery or some other local shop, is not the only bright building in the picture. Right next door on our left is a bright blue house. Look in the background to the right. Red houses. It looks like this neighborhood got a special deal on primary colored paint. It doesn’t really matter. These folks rebuilt and moved back home. They are tough people. Very tough people.
The picture. It just had to find the house and make the picture. And, expose it properly to bring out the saturation.
This house in known as the Teddy Bear House. It contains over 11,000 teddy bears from the collection of Ricky . He opens the house for tours for two days during Christmas Season. Tickets cost $10 and benefit the Krewe of Armeinius. What does that krewe do? I don’t know really.
Here’s what I found on their website. They were founded in 1969 and, has for 45 years, held a lavish and satirical gay carnival ball on the evening of the Saturday before Mardi Gras. I had to chuckle as I read their website. The event is “strictly formal, tuxedo and long gowns. Cross-dressing allowed, but no costumes.” What are these people thinking? This is New Orleans. During Carnival Season. How can you not wear a costume?
Anyway. For the general public, balcony seats are available for $20 If you are invited, there are two level of tables. One for $550. The other for $800. What’s the difference? It looks like more booze. Again, this is New Orleans. These are donations, by the way. It looks like this year the theme is “The Sons of Tennessee Williams.”
Apparently, Mr. Lenart is a graphic designer. That explains why this house is done up so nicely and so well.
Anyway. Again. This house is located behind a really pretty piece of land on which a public library is located and a block or so away from St. Charles Avenue. I made the picture at one of my favorite times of day. Dusk. Just as the sun went down but the sky hadn’t turned to black. The rest was easy. F 3.5 and be there. Ha! You thought I was going to write F 8 and be there. Didn’t you?
I’ve been looking for the right window and the right tree for a long while now. I finally found it. This is what I call a little picture. It’s not a detail. It’s not something big and bold. It is something that you walk by and might not even look at twice. But, it speaks volumes. It’s warm. It’s nostalgic. It feels like home.
I’m not sure that I have much more to write about it. I’ve published a lot more bolder images during my twenty-five days of Christmas. I’ve published some images that I like a lot. But, this one sneaks in and steals my heart.
Technical details. There aren’t many. I probably should have made the picture using a tripod, but time was a-wasting. So, I braced myself as best I could and pushed the button. This was, without a doubt, photographers luck. Sheer luck. Every frame around it was motion soft.
I’ve written some about The Bywater. It was a shipping and manufacturing hub. Blue collar workers lived there. It feel into a period of decline and now is being gentrified by the latest wave of New Orleans immigrants. Hipsters. They are pouring money into the area. They are opening restaurants, cafes and small shops. They are buying housing stock and renovating it. But, they didn’t buy this house. This house is a family property that has been owned by the same people for years. You can read more about The Bywater in an earlier post.
I like this picture most of all because of the Palm Trees. It is indicative of where we live. In the humid sub-tropics. Christmas lights and Palm Trees what more could you want? Well. Snow, for one thing. Or maybe just a little cold weather. It was 80 degrees today. But… heh, heh, heh… wind and rain coming tomorrow. The high by Friday should be in the low 50s with the lows in the mid 30s. I’m excited. I might actually get to wear a light jacket.
The picture. This is not f-something and be there. Lots of light metering to keep the lights and sky balanced. There is a funny thing. I must look like I belong in front of these houses. For the third time, I’ve been asked, “is this your house?” Nah. We’re buying a house in The Garden District. Not this house.