To be more specific, a street portrait. It’s hung around in my portfolio for a few years now. Depending on who is looking at my work, I often start with this picture. If this doesn’t catch your eye, I don’t know what will. If it’s printed, a 20 inch deep version of this picture stuns even the most jaded of viewers. Like me.
I hope you realize that last few weeks of pictures are from the past. Most of you have never seen them. A few of you might, if you’ve been here a while.
This picture was made during the jazz funeral of Uncle Lionel. His family name is Baptiste. He was kin to almost every musical Baptiste that came out of New Orleans. If you watch Late Night with Stephen Colbert, you know one of his family members. Bandleader and musician, Jon Baptiste. Yeah. He’s one of us.
Uncle Lionel’s funeral took forever. Nature didn’t want to let him go. It was rained out twice as I recall. The third time was a charm. It was for me too. I was energized. I was everywhere. I made about four or five portfolio pieces. I was beat afterwards. After all, July in New Orleans. 90 degrees with about 90% humidity. Staying hydrated was the key.
I’m not so sure that I could do it today. I could try. But, it would only be for somebody like him. We’ve had massive second lines after this one. Some were for David Bowie, for Prince. Like that. I get wanting to mourn and to celebrate. But, that’s not what I’m about. I’d rather photograph the culture. The things about New Orleans. The people who make the city what it is. Today.
Maybe tomorrow. If we are lucky.
Apparently, New Orleans has actually lost some population. This is the first time since Hurricane Katrina. There are a lot of theories about it. Some say it might be because of simple migration to Jefferson Parish and St. Bernard Parish. Taxes are lower. Services are better. Crime is less.
Another theory says that the folks who are the culture have been leaving because of gentrification. Where one building was divided into two or three apartments, now it is one house.
The final theory — at least among the ones that I heard — is that the gentrifiers themselves are leaving. It’s hard to live in New Orleans. It was made a little easier by Air BnB. But, now that they have been restricted, especially in The Bywater, the folks who moved here post-Katrina, are leaving.
I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, they brought a lot of money to a city that needs it. Even if it was just for allied businesses. On the other, they are the leaders in killing the culture that brought them here in the first place.
It’s interesting to watch. This is my twentieth year here, with a break in New Mexico after the storm. I came here because I liked it. I never wanted to change anything.
I met this guy on the way to somewhere else. That’s when the best pictures happen.
I was walking to the second line in Central City. I parked a few blocks away. A little distance is important so I could make a quick getaway. That is, if I want to jump to another location. I’m not fast enough anymore to cut through the streets on foot and get ahead of it.
He was sitting on a little stoop in front of a battered old house. He saw the cameras on my shoulder. He called me over. He wanted me to take his picture. So I did. He wanted something in return. I know the drill. I gave him a couple of bucks (that pro tip thing). He stuck the dollar bills in his mouth. I don’t know why. I took another picture.
Which brings me to the picture.
I sort of overlooked it at first. I looked at it again. The color wasn’t working. I converted it to black and white. Then it worked. This might be my best picture of the year. Ten months into the year and I finally made a picture.
When you have help. My buddy, Pableaux Johnson was working with a new video light on a still camera. It is flat panelled and a continuous light source. He thought it would help illuminate the Mardi Gras Indians as they walked while they showed off their suits. After all, on St. Joseph’s Night we work in available darkness. He turned it on to take a picture of this guy. He couldn’t quite get what he wanted. But, standing to the side of him, I did. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I’m not sure I would use that light. It was a little cumbersome for him. It also seems to provide a very flat — meaning not enough contrast — light. And, I could see him from a block away. My whole way of working on the street is to blend in, and not be seen.
I made a pretty good portrait, mostly just by standing there and pointing the camera.
Of course, the original file didn’t look anything like this. Yes, the red color was there. It just wasn’t so enhanced. And, I buried a lot of noise with darkness. Even with the external light, I really was pushing the camera’s limits since we were standing in the darkest possible location. That took some doing because the picture — his face — needed some sharpening because the focal plane is centered on his hands and the sugar skull button. Even with masking, I ran the risk of sharpening the noise. I made it work. Just.
It came together. I’m really anxious to run a test print. After all, it’s not really a photograph unless it’s printed on paper. With all the technical issues I had to overcome, I’m wondering if the image will just fall apart on when I print it.
Questions? Ask away. Answers? I’m all ears. Like the picture? Buy it. Papa needs a new large format printer to crowd an already crowded studio.
If I’m changing the last series to something new, it really ought to be new. Something different. Something unexpected. Something in black and white.
Here it is.
The picture is about two months old. I made it when I was taking a couple of guys around New Orleans while they were scouting for possible film locations. After an extended email conversation, I had some pretty good ideas of where to go. I took them to my first idea. Vaughn’s. In The Bywater. A dive that is known for Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers long, long Thursday night residency.
Of course, we went out during the daytime. The bar was open. There was no food. No music. Just this guy hanging out, trying to keep cool. He didn’t care if I photographed him. In return, I bought him a beer. That seemed like the New Orleans thing to do.
We went inside. My friends fell in love with it. One day, I suppose, it might be in another movie. Who knows? These things change.
The picture. It started out as a color image. But, I wanted to make a change. So I did. I really did. I converted it. Then I did my little magic and made it creamy and less contrasty. I hoped to make it feel old. Or, oldish.
Here’s a little clue for you all. Open this picture as big as you can. This is a very subtle image. I made and finished it as I saw it in my mind’s eye. Hanging on the wall. About 6 x 4 feet.
The funny thing about this picture is that after watching an unrelated movie I came to the conclusion that my best work is in color. Yeah, yeah. I know the argument. You see form, shape, light, texture better in black and white.
My reply to that is simple. The world is a colorful place. Honor that.
That’s the thing about trying to teach you what I do. We all see differently. We all have different interests. Some of us make fully fleshed out pictures using most of the tools available to us. Others work in jpg and never move away from auto everything. Others use smartphones and post directly from there.
Most of the techniques I can share with you are really only for working from RAW files or lossless .jpg files. Even when I use my smart phone often I run the files through post production tools that I discussed in the past few days. Sometimes I keep the files on my phone and just use Snapseed. But, that’s usually for testing or if I’m in a real big hurry.
Here’s a few technical things you can do.
Make a slightly over-exposed image. More exposure equals more data. To a point. I wouldn’t suggest overexposing by more than 2/3 of a stop. And, that’s in fairly even and low contrast light. Anything more and you run the risk of blown out highlights. You can open up underexposed shadows, but you can not recover badly overexposed highlights. If you try, typically the highlights end up looking gray.
When you are developing your images do not use auto settings. Just like the old days when everything was calibrated to 18% gray, perfect histograms tend to flatten highlights and shadows in a way that is technically perfect, but doesn’t look very good to the eye. On the other hand, don’t go crazy. Use non-destructive programs, work on a copy of the original and work in tiny increments. Use the “Save As” button rather than the “Save” button to preserve a copy of your original image.
Filters. The only filters I use are neutral density filters to allow me to work with slow shutter speeds in bright light, a polarizer to clean up light and sometimes in bad weather I use a clear filter to protect the lens. My immediate goal when I’m working in the field and processing the original image is to make the cleanest, purest image that I can. I do the rest of the fine tuning in post production. That includes adding color filtration and cleaning out odd colored light.
Downloading images. Best industry practices says to back up at least twice and keep one complete set of RAW images and one complete set of finished master images off site. I do something like that. I download a working set of RAW images to my desktop which means my computer’s hard drive. I download a second set of RAW images to my external hard drive. I download a third set to cloud storage. There are all sorts of ways to do that. Some photographers use Drop Box. Others use Adobe. Some use storage provided by their website host. Some use storage right here on WordPress. Some use Google storage.
After a lot of thought and research, I decided to use Amazon. For those who aren’t aware, mass storage is how Amazon really makes their profits. In fact, many of the smaller mass storage providers lease their space from Amazon and mark the rates up slightly. Often we think that a smaller mom and pop operation is better for whatever we do. This time, I think bigger is better because they really know what they are doing. And, they back up my back ups.
If you are an Amazon Prime member mass storage is unlimited. And, it’s free. In this house we use Amazon Prime for every kind of thing — goods, books, music, films, television — so why not use it for storage of images? Originally, I was under the impression the pictures could only be stored if they were small files. Nope. I checked. Any picture file is fair game. Video too. And, you can sync your Amazon archive to all of your devices including other family members or business associates. I’m syncing in the background as I write.
Once I’ve developed and finished my RAW files, I convert them to .tiff files. Those are my master images. I save those in all the places I’ve mentioned. I remove all of the files from my desktop and put them in the trash. I empty the trash every two weeks. I store very little on my computer’s hard drive. A empty hard drive makes the computer happy.
When I read somebody say their computer had a major crash and they can’t reboot it, losing all of their files, the first thing that comes to mind is what are you thinking. Get your precious files off the computer’s hard drive and store them some place else.
One point. External hard drives break too. That’s the reason for RAID systems which are a redundant storage. That’s also the reason you should check the integrity of your external hard drives every six months or so. And, why you should use cloud storage.
If you are wondering, CD and DVD storage are yesterday’s technology. I’ve long downloaded images I stored on discs to clouds and external hard drives. Unless you are spending a lot of money on gold discs, which supposedly last about 100 years without degradation, you should move your files too.
I’ve spent a lot of time on downloading, back-up and storage. That’s because our archives are about all we have. Even if you are a hobbyist taking pictures of your family, your pictures are worth something to you. You don’t want them going up in a puff digital smoke because you never stored them properly.
Yes. The files can be recovered. There are companies who do that. It’s very expensive. Just like most things, the cost of maintenance is far less than the cost of repair.
That said, the best way to look at pictures, and maybe store them, is on paper. I’ll discuss that tomorrow.
The picture. I made this portrait on site and helped it in post production. In this case, I used a glow filter that is used in higher end portraiture to help the picture sort of — well, glow.
Sometimes you just have to wait. Be patient. The picture will appear out of nowhere.
That’s the genesis of this picture. I waited. A guy on a bike came along. But, I got a little confused because I didn’t anticipate his path quite accurately. I wanted the shape of the old, abandoned factory. That roof line is something. I also wanted all of whoever passed by to be in the picture. I was a little too close to the subject for both of those things to happen. Oh well.
On the other hand.
Being close and having the building sort of placed at a weird angle made the picture kind of funky. Like the neighborhood. It works even without the massive post production I did to help it along.
The picture. Itself? It was made on St. Claude Avenue. In the 9th Ward. In New Orleans. For a while there was a heavy truck parked there. By heavy, I mean something like one of those giant gravel haulers. It was parked there for a short time. Like five years. It never appeared to move. And, it never had a ticket on the windshield. For all I know, the driver could have worked early in the day and come back before I arrived on the scene. But, for five years? I dunno about that.
It’s just a theory. My theory. But, I have long believed that you can use events to make other kinds of pictures. That you don’t always have to literally document the scene as it unfolds. That you can make portraits. Or, detail images. Or, even something that has absolutely no roots in the event. I do that sometimes with my “ruins collections.” Or, as I call those pictures, “made on the way to some place else.
In this case, I was working at the Underwear Parade. I made most of the pictures that were in my head. You’ve already seen many of them. So, I was just looking for a little bit extra. Something I could use out of context of the parade if I wanted. This guy came rolling by and stopped right in front of me. I asked him if he minded and he said no. He looked directly at the lens. I pointed at my left shoulder and he looked there. This is the result. I got his name. I gave him my business card and away we both went.
That word is the only word this young man says. He said it at the Clover Grill. On Bourbon Street. In The French Quarter.
It means “Good” or “I like it.” I’m told that it’s very hard to make a portrait of him. I didn’t think it was so hard. It’s all about relating to each other. We did fine. I suppose that’s how it is in life. Walk in the other guy’s shoes for a minute. You’ll come to some understanding. We could all use a little of that about now.
On to other things.
I’ve been writing Storyteller for about five and a half years. I do it every day. I do it from home. At a coffee shop. On the road. Just about from everywhere. Day in. Day out. I’ve posted from my main machine. From i-Pads. From i-Phones. And, even a couple of times from something powered by the other guys. Windows.
I’ve never taken a break.
But, with a long weekend coming. It’s time. I’m taking a break. I think for two weeks. Could be a little longer. But, I’ll be back. Certainly before August. I’ll still be online. Many people shut that off. Or, claim to. I’m not. I still have business to run. I just won’t be around as much.
Have a good couple of weeks. Enjoy the summer weather.
Oh yeah. If you really do miss me. You could always poke around deep into my archives. There’s lots of material there.
I decided. Just now, to start doing an occasional series called, “Life on the Street.”
Here’s what happened. When I was chasing storm light, I ran into this guy. There was a garbage can lying in the middle of the street just about where I was going to stop to photograph some falling down building, which is really a big rental room for weddings and reunions and like that. It’s camouflaged. A lot of people in The Lower Garden District do that. The garbage can was starting to impede traffic so I thought I’d do the right thing and move it to the sidewalk.
This guy came rolling up on a bicycle and tossed it in my general direction. This very guy. The one in the pictures. So, I put it on the curb. Then he started hustling me. Not to worry, all is good in this little tale of mine. First, he did gymnastics. The top picture is just one in about five backward flips. It’s hard to tell in my pictures, but this guy is smallish, wiry and very, very well muscled.
Then, he started singing. To use a technical musical term, he has a helluva a voice. Then he did his hustling thing. He didn’t have to. Not only did he work pretty hard, but he let me photograph him and we talked for a while. But, but, but… I don’t carry much cash when I’m roaming around. I had a ten-dollar bill and two singles. I kept the two singles.