Lafayette Cemetery No. 2

Into the deserted city of the souls.

That’s where I went. Or, as we know it, Lafayette Cemetery No. 2 in Central City. Often as I drive around going from one place to another, I end up going to someplace that I know well. Someplace where I know there is an interesting picture waiting for me.

This is one of those places.

The picture has an interesting genesis. The cemetery was closed, so I thought that I would just stick the camera’s lens between the bars. That wasn’t doing it for me. I backed off and saw that tire laying by the curb. That was just the counterpoint that I needed. The city is old. The city is broken. The city is trashy.

Settle down. It’s my city. I can say that.

The original exposure was almost black and white. I added a lot to it in post production. I helped with the tone. And, the feel. It’s a little moody now. And, spooky too. Post production is an amazing thing. The picture was made at about 3pm. That’s a time when I don’t like to work. My editing apps helped a lot. As usual, I made the post much more complicated than need be. This is my fourth try. I finally had a good feel for the picture and it had a good feel for me.

Coming up. I’m trying to make some “Christmas in New Orleans” pictures. Our Christmas is unique. My agencies want the pictures. Of course, the skies are overcast tonight. The temperatures are cold. The minute the sky clears around dusk I’ll be out there.

One more thing. I’m a little worried about the all-seeing dog. She hasn’t wanted to go for her usual long walks. She’s eating well. Sleeping well. Playing a little inside. With a bazillion dogs, as you might imagine, we have a good relationship with their vet. I sent him an email. He asked a couple of questions, including her age. She is ten-and-a-half years old. No worries he said. She’s just starting to show her age. A little. Just like me. Her person.

St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

Cemeteries. A lot of people like to photograph them. I’m one of them. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I like to use them as a base photograph for something else. After all, where can you find a place that’s sacred, moody, mysterious and spooky? All in one? You just have to work at the right time of day.

Like anything photographic, I think that you just want to feel, and not think about the subject too much while you are making the pictures.

But, but, but…

I also believe that you have to make a loose plan that outlines your goals. Often times, I just sort of stumble onto pictures. That’s not always an effective way of working. If you are seeing well, you can make a bunch of good pictures in about a half hour. Or, you might spend all day looking, but not seeing. The result is predictable. No pictures. A tank of gas wasted. Time wasted.

My preferred way of working is by assignment, or self assignment. That doesn’t mean that every picture has to be planned. In fact, it shouldn’t mean that.

It should mean that you’ve picked a location based on your interest. Or, a subject that you enjoy exploring.  It might mean that you’ve done a bit of research. You might know the area’s history. You might have talked to people who spend a lot of time at your soon-to-be-photographed location. And, who might understand the subject better than you do. They might even become part of your picture story.

From the  technical side, you might have planned for the light and shadows. You know, the time of day in which natural light helps make the picture better. You might bring allied equipment like strobes and reflectors.  If you want maximum sharpness and depth of field you might also bring a tripod.

Depending on your planned location, you might also bring other people. Maybe just a friend to watch your back. Maybe an assistant who understands photography and can make your life easier. And, maybe a fixer who takes care of everything needed to allow you to be in the place you want to work. This person, understands your photographic needs, speaks the local language and English and can deal with the proper paperwork.

Please don’t misunderstand. On most self-assignments, I’m just exploring. The only extra person I might bring is the one who watches my back. The other two assistants that I mentioned are really for a paid assignment work.

The one thing you don’t want is a map of tripod holes. That’s a joke. You know, that’s when you try to find the exact place where a great photograph was made so that you can copy it. Make your own pictures. Always.

This picture. I made it a few weeks ago on St. Joseph’s Night when the Mardi Gras Indians rolled through the streets of New Orleans. Even though I knew the kinds of pictures I hoped to make, I also knew from experience that if I parked my car on the street that divides the two sides of the cemetery I might get lucky and make a couple of unrelated, but good pictures.

I did make a few pictures worth looking at more than once.

This ought to help you understand the notion of “photographer’s luck,” which is really a mix of experience, talent and situational awareness.  It paid off nicely. I made the “sunset, crosses and telephone poles” picture that many of you liked. I made this picture, along with another that I haven’t shown you yet. Unlike the first picture, this one took a lot of work in post production to make it look like my vision. The vision in my head.

That’s my story. I’m sticking to it. I’ll answer questions though. I’ll always answer questions.

Down in the graveyard.
Down in the graveyard.

This is inspired. By this year. 2016. Soon to come to an end.

I’m not even going to list the things that happened this year. Most of them were bad. You know what they were. It seems like the bad news never let up. One thing after another. One person after another. One musician after another. One horrible event after another.

I hate to sound cynical. I read a lot of posts and tweets. A lot of people are hoping for a better year. Next year. In 2017.

Why would that be? Why should things get better because we hope for a better year?

We were inspired by the word, “hope” eight years ago. Some things did get better. For a while. As musician Neil Young wrote, “You can’t eat hope.” Then things got worse.

You can’t hope without doing. You can’t say that you’ll try without doing. You know what Yoda said. “There is no try, there is only do or not do.”


Let’s all do something. Whatever it is we do. Let’s do it.

As far as the “famous passings” go, to everything there is a season. I’m going to miss those musicians who left us this year. We have their music. They live in their songs. If we do what we do, we’ll live on too.

In case you haven’t figured out what event brought on this post… Godspeed John Glenn.

Bikes at Lafayette Cemetery No. 2
Bikes at Lafayette Cemetery No. 2

I often return to the scene. Of the crime. Remember the dusky, blue hour picture of Lafayette Cemetery No. 2 that I posted two days ago? I took this picture the next day on Super Sunday as I was leaving. I saw the bikes all lined up in a row. I took a couple of steps back and pushed the button. Just that quick. Just that simple.

Happy Friday. Happy Weekend.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 2.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 2.

I need a break from Mardi Gras Indians. You do too.

This isn’t a complete break because I made the picture on St. Joseph’s Night while I was looking for the Indians. But, it looks like a break. That’s what we need.

Here’s what happened. When I work around A.L. Davis Park in Central City, I like to park on one of the streets that divides Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. into two blocks. I knew the indians would be gathering at a neighborhood bar that is back by the biggest orange light. So, I parked. While I was organizing myself and my gear, I happened to look up. This is what I saw.

A couple of things.

When you work on the streets, situational awareness is key. In all honesty, I didn’t just happen to look up. I was watching my own back. Because. The best surprise is no surprise. And, I did a lot of post production on the picture. I wanted it to be moody, and a little cinematic. I also wanted it to feel a little lonely even though a crowd of people was walking down the street maybe 75 yards away from me.

It’s all about perceptions. Right?

Tumbled grave markers.
Tumbled grave markers.

New Orleans cemeteries.

People come from all over to see them. They are part of our heritage. They are a part of the landscape. They are a tourist attraction.

So, when a friend of mine who was visiting asked if we could see a cemetery if I didn’t think “that was too weird,” I sort of chuckled and took him to Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. Since we were already in Central City to see and photograph a second line, it took about three minutes to get there.

He didn’t know that I enjoy photographing cemeteries until we got there. But, I think he got that idea when I started making pictures as we walked through both sides of Lafayette No. 2. Aside from trying to be a good host, I couldn’t help myself. The light was just great. Silvery, with sunlight peaking in and out of some pretty dramatic storm clouds.

Turn me loose with light like that and you know what is going to happen.

One picture lead to another, which lead to another. Finally, I made enough pictures to make a little portfolio to show you. The real trick is to make enough different views and scenes so that the overall presentation doesn’t get boring. Sometimes more isn’t more. Most of the internet is packed with more. Way too much more.

Let me tell you a little bit about the cemetery. It is located in Central City, north of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. It is believed that the area first saw informal burials around 1850. The City of Lafayette buried about 120 bodies on the land prior to being annexed by the City of New Orleans in 1858. Got that? Good.

The cemetery as we see it today was surveyed, planned and constructed in 1865. The neighborhood around it has gone through good times and bad. The condition of the cemetery reflected that. For years, it was considered to be very unsafe. Today, the neighborhood is slowly coming back. The cemetery, which was flooded following Hurricane Katrina, is also coming back. The city repaired the outer fences and cleaned up a lot of the walkways within the grounds. It doesn’t look new. But, it looks better.



Tagging, Rosalie Alley
Tagging, Rosalie Alley

The end of the month. Time for a little wrap up. Lots of pictures to show you, and this isn’t all of them. But, I do try to keep current. I do try to show you newish work. Every now and then, I dip back into my files… usually when I haven’t been around enough to make new pictures for Storyteller. This is, after all, supposed to be a New Orleans blog.

So. Monday. June 1. Hurricane season starts. With this also being the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and what many folks call “The Federal Flood,” it’s an all hands on deck media circus starting, well, it seems like about now. I’m trying to ignore it. As August 29th rolls around, I’ll talk a little bit about it and show you some work that I’ve been holding back. But, that’s it. For me, it’s going to be like a jazz funeral. Start with a dirge, celebrate, recover, heal and move on. Ten years is long enough.


A little bit about what you are looking at.

1. The top picture is graffiti in Rosalie Alley. The alley is an old historical Native American and pirate path from the river to the French Quarter. It is located in The Bywater. It is known for Voodoo now. And, pool parties. I made two versions of this picture. The first, is with the graffiti cropped very tightly. Somebody else’s art became my art. The picture I chose for this post is something that sort of combines nature with man-made art. That’s why I like it.

2. More plastic flowers at Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. I’m sort of facisinated by this stuff. Unlike human beings and most things in nature, these flowers never die. Hmmm. I’ll tell you a little story. Once after eating a Chinese dinner, I got a fortune cookie. The fortune said, “Protect and honor your friends. Seal them in plastic.” Maybe there is something to this.

3. Graffiti number two. This time in the 9th Ward. I’m of two minds when it comes to tagging. Is it art? You know, like folk or street art. Or, is it vandalism? Should the police get involved? Probably not, since they are still short 500 officers and just yesterday two people were shot during broad daylight in the French Quarter. They have better things to do than chase down some kid with a spray paint can.

4.  Voodoo. An offering, I suppose. Or, it’s just a bunch of stuff piled up on an old bird bath. I know. I know. Don’t get snarky. This is important to somebody. Just not me.

5. And… more graffiti. I just like this bit of spray painting. It almost looks primordial to me. I think it’s about fire raining down on our heads. No. No. No. It’s not some kind of end of days thing. I’m easily influenced by what I read. Today I read about exploding houses. Yeah, yeah… now you’re interested. Okay. It seems that back in the 1970s houses were exploding in newer sections of a city called Metairie, whose boundaries abuts New Orleans. Apparently, their gas lines were just run under cement slabs poured without any pilings below them. Pilings are important around here. We live on reclaimed swamp land. Our land is always settling for a whole host of reasons. Pilings must be driven deep into the ground to support the foundations, or they will crack. Prior to the early 1970s, that wasn’t a zoning law. You could pour cement slabs right on the ground. So, the land would subside and the gas pipes would bend and crack. The gas would seep into the house. Somebody would ignite a spark and BLAMMO. The house would explode. Usually, that house was in splinters afterward. Houses nearby were destroyed. Windows would be shattered a block or so away. There were many of these explosions. Somehow, nobody got killed. Yeah. I know. Voodoo. 

There you have it. Exploding Houses. Right here in New Orleans. We are nothing if we aren’t exciting. And, you thought this would be a peaceful Sunday post. HA!

And, that’s it. Happy Sunday

Dead Flowers.
Dead Flowers.
Broken and tagged.
Broken and tagged.
Voodoo offerings.
Voodoo offerings.
Tagging as art.
Tagging as art.

Dead Flowers.
Dead Flowers.

Dead Flowers. It’s a song and more. It’s about a cemetery. It’s a place. It’s a feeling.

“Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you’re the queen of the underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the U.S. mail
Say it with dead flowers in my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
No, I won’t forget to put roses on your grave” — Mick Jagger/Keith Richards © ABKCO Music

It’s also how I saw this picture from almost the minute that I stumbled upon the scene. I didn’t understand how to finished it in post production. Once again I tinkered with it. First, I made it too dark. Then, I made it too contrasty. I finally realized that those approaches were in direct opposition to the lighting conditions. Bright. Sunny. White puffy clouds. I went the other way. Ahhhhhhhh. Finally.

I rarely finish a picture as open and airy as this one. As usual, the picture taught me what to do.

Weren’t my young touring visitors cooperative? They let me stick them in places. Places that needed a little human touch. If only I could get that same kind of cooperation around here. Heh! The dogs won’t even allow this.

Cloudy Summerish Day
Cloudy Summer’s Day

I took a walk. Well, not exactly. I took some friends on a tour of New Orleans. My New Orleans. The more hellish side. We started with Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. It’s located in Central City. In the past, this wasn’t the safest place in the world. But, like most of New Orleans, things are changing. You still want to be careful, just like any urban place. But, you no longer have to worry. Besides, the gates are closed and locked at 5pm. Everybody knows that the bad stuff happens at night. Mostly. So they say. “They” is frequently wrong.


Here’s a little look at what I saw.

A couple of things to know. I was photographing (I’d say shooting. But, not in this neighborhood.) around 2 or 3pm. That is not my favorite time of day. The light is too high. Too white. Way too contrasty. But, we were starting our tour. Besides, one of my photographic heroes, Jay Maisel, says that you should use any light. Especially light that you don’t like. It is our job as photographers to make a picture with whatever we have. Okay. I’ll try.

These are the results.

I don’t know Carl Spitz. I just liked the shape of his tomb.

One way to deal with this kind of light is to make silhouettes.

Another way to work with overly bright mid-day sun is to ignore it and head for the shadows.

Finally, take a few steps back using a wide lens and photograph the general scene.

Happy Sunday.

Burnt Offerings.
Burnt Offerings.