I didn’t plan it this way, but today’s post is all about the next generation of Mardi Gras Indians.
The top picture may be the most important. Queen Tahj is a senior at Tulane University. She is truly becoming the leader of her tribe, while paying the utmost respect to her Big Chief. She is starting to change the look and feel of Indian suits. Her’s are lighter. Easier to walk miles and miles. This suit pays homage to the women in her family, especially her grandmother. She is so popular that when the time is right, she could possibly become the chief of chiefs. At a young age. And, assuming her career doesn’t take her away from New Orleans.
The rest. Wow! So many young Black Masking Indians. Most are unofficial, but their interest is already there. The little girl playing the tambourine in two pictures is so sophisticated at about 5 years old that she asked to see my camera’s LCD monitor to see how she looked. Figures. Her dad is a big chief.
You know the rest about the pictures. F/5.6. Be there and shoot.
Me? I’m better. What I believed was something terrible, was a relapse of a cold that I thought I’d defeated. I’m far better today. Tonight is St. Joseph’s night. I’ll go out again. And, probably get sick again. Oh well. Life is short.
It came to a close in New Orleans on Tuesday. It comes to a close for me, here on Storyteller, today.
Despite my aches and pains, I had a good time. I made some memorable pictures, at least to me. And, I kept the volume low. That means I’m not machine gunning. I’m not over shooting in hopes of making a good picture. And, I didn’t over post.
All of that is important. For those of you who read Storyteller to learn a little bit about photography please think about that. To those of you who read me for some other reason, I hope you enjoyed the pictures.
We are now headed towards Uptown Super Sunday and St. Joseph’s Night. Both are huge Mardi Gras Indian, or Black Masking Indian, events. Yes. I’ll be at both of them. They take place in 8 and 10 days.
These events still excite me.
Apparently, they excite people from around the world. I’ve been photographing them for a long time. Each year they are more and more crowded.
A year or so ago, as I was backing up while photographing a tribe making their way to the main parade, the spyboy pointed behind me. I turned around and saw a wall of photographers making pictures. Everyone of them was decked out in very expensive gear. They were not the usual folks taking pictures with their phones.
They are part of the debate about what photographers actually owe Indians if we license a picture with them as a subject. The “foreigners” take their pictures and disappear into, well, who knows? Indians claim that their images are sold for thousands of dollars and they never see a dime. I don’t know about that. It’s been my considerable experience that much beyond the region and very few people care. It’s true that a friend of mine had a gallery show at UCLA and that I sold a couple of pictures to The Jazz and Heritage Foundation, but that’s about it.
At any rate, while the local photographers bear the brunt of the comments, we also pay the Indians 30% or our net profit. I do. And, I give them prints if they ask for them. Fair is fair. If they don’t let me photograph them, I have no pictures.
This picture. A sleeper. I almost didn’t notice it. It really is a decisive moment. I saw it and just reacted. I know that it was cold and the young Indian was just trying to arrange her clothes to keep her warm. However, I’m claiming this is her reaction to being told that last Tuesday was the last day of Carnival. And, that she would have to wait for another year. How many sleeps is that?
The Mardi Gras Day wedding of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and Golden Eagle Queen Chellene Bailey.
It was glorious. It was colorful. It was magical.
It was also cold.
I’m not sure what more I can add to the pictures. They are what I saw. They are about the joy in the moment.
A little housekeeping. Sometimes your best picture is not your sharpest picture. Sometimes it isn’t even the defining moment. This is not “The Kiss.” It is simply a greeting. But, I think it’s pretty wonderful. You should see it. So should they. You are. They will.
I made enough good images that I’ve split the day’s take into two little portfolios. You’ll see the rest of the pictures tomorrow. I’ll wrap up Mardi Gras on Saturday. When the clock springs ahead early Sunday morning, so will the subject matter.
My photographic plans changed. Drastically. I learned that Big Chief Monk Boudreaux was getting married at noon, Mardi Gras Day. Fat Tuesday. At his home. In a flurry of texts I also found out it was open to the public. Everybody was welcome to attend.
That changed everything.
I wanted to photograph the Zulus as they opened the day at 8 am. I planned to head to Treme to catch the end of Skull and Bones. And, then to chase Indians until they arrived at Kermit Ruffins’ club near the I-10 overpass.
I photographed the Zulus. I looked around for a bit. Had breakfast. And, waited for the big moment. On my way, I almost got trapped outside of the box by a huge truck parade. But, Google voice came to my assistance. I worked my way into the box and there I was. Big Chief’s house.
A few terms. The box refers to everything inside the parade routes. A truck float means that semi trucks pull trailers decorated for Mardi Gras and are filled with people as opposed to the floats pulled by tractors.
The wedding started just about on time, which is to say it was early by New Orleans time. After the wedding there was a big second line. Or, some kind of line. It worked its way through a large part of Central City.
I made a ton of pictures. Way too many pictures. That’s okay. It fulfilled my wish list and then some.
I left the scene at about 2pm. Mardi Gras 2019 was effectively over for me. Funny thing about that. As much as I grumbled about “having” to photograph it, I feel oddly sad. Like something left. Like someone left.
Because of Christian Lenten schedules, Mardi Gras 2020 is about 357 days away. Not even a whole calendar year.
I think I know what’s making me feel nostalgic. I am pretty sure this is my last working Mardi Gras. I sort of say that every year. This time my back and thigh issues slowed me way down. I had to take breaks just to let my pain calm down. So I could walk some more. Luckily, many people were very kind. I sat on their stoops. I sat on their porches. I sat on a searchlight trailer. Their owners asked if I needed anything. They told me to sit. They brought me water.
So, this may be the end of the trail for the kind of high intensity walking that is needed to photograph these events.
Besides, recovery time was ridiculous. If I worked for two or three days in a row, I need to sleep as long as I could. And, I needed at least two days to recover. That has nothing to do with my heart or lungs. They seem strong according to my doctor. Instead, it has everything to do with my back, hip and legs.
If leaving the Mardi Gras scene comes to pass at least I went out on a high note. Usually I don’t like most of my pictures. This time, I liked most of my pictures. Never forget that I’m my own harshest critic. Also, I had a good run.
So, the Mardi Gras Day wedding of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. It’s a big deal. He’s the closest thing we have to a chief of chiefs. He’s well-known throughout the city. He’s 77 years old. He was born on Pearl Harbor Day on December 7, 1941. He lives Uptown in Central City. I suspected that a lot of Indian tribes would come out to pay respect. They did. They joined his own tribe, The Golden Eagles, for the ceremony and the second line. It was grand. It was colorful. It was majestic. I walked as much as I could and then turned back.
This little Indian is the ring bearer. I’m pretty sure the crowd was too much for her. It was almost too much for me. For most of us. Since it was outside, everybody crowded to the front. You wouldn’t do that in a church. Somehow, I made my way to the front. You know, photographer’s luck. That wasn’t easy. The ground in his yard is uneven. There are little holes. There are bits of concrete from a building that was Katrinaized. But, I got there. I made pictures of everything. I even managed to make pictures of the moment the marriage happened.
No worries. You’ll see them. The rest of the week, meaning through Saturday, is dedicated to Mardi Gras pictures that you haven’t seen, including the grand wedding. I’ve only posted one picture today because I have to dig out of the last three weeks of Carnival. My schedule for today and tomorrow, looks impossible. We’ll see.
It seems that y’all are getting to see my firsts. First picture in New Orleans. First Mardi Gras. And, now first pictures of Mardi Gras Indians.
Even though I was living in New Orleans for about 5 years, I wasn’t out on the streets. In July 2005 that changed.
Looking back, it seemed like everything changed in about six weeks.
In mid-July Mardi Gras Indians Chief of Chiefs Tootie Montana, made a dramatic plea to the New Orleans City Council to live and let live. The New Orleans Police were cracking down on the Indians. They broke up two Super Sundays for no real reason except they thought the crowds could get out of hand. That word, “could.” They didn’t.
So, Tootie spoke before the City Council live on all the local television stations. As he spoke, he suffered a massive heart and died right there. Anybody watching the news was horrified. Word passed around the city in sort of a coconut telegraph, well before the advent of social media.
It was time to plan his funeral, in the streets and in the church. Everything took place in the heart of Treme, at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church.
I decided to attend and to photograph.
Wildman on the scene.
Under a watchful eye.
In honor of Tootie.
And, so I went.
I arrived a little early. I parked at friend’s house just around the corner and walked over. I was stunned. There was a massive crowd. There were Mardi Gras Indians, friends, family, spectators and photographers.
I had no idea of what I was looking at. I saw a legendary photographer, Syndey Byrd, who I knew a little and she pointed me in the right direction.
I sort of jumped into the fray and started making pictures. You know that I like to work close, so close I went. The Indians would toss my out of their scrum. Back in I went. Back out they tossed me. After about four or five times, they realized I was the real deal and let me stay. Even Syndey was shaking her head in laughter.
These are the pictures that I made. The very first ones. I think that I worked better back than. These are the kinds of pictures that I should be making now. Looser, with more suit and scene in the pictures. Looking at them after thirteen years helps me to see that.
This all happened in July 2005. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall at Buras, Louisiana. The rest is history. I don’t know about you, but I truly believe that with the passing of Tootie Montana the city lost something. Call it whatever you like. Soul, heart, or juju. I like juju.
Even as we continue to heal thirteen years later, for those of us who went through the storm and early recover, something is missing. I can’t put my finger on it. The new people, who are gentrifying the city, don’t know or understand this. And, that’s really too bad.
At least, that’s what Twitter told me. If you don’t get hung up in opinions, sometimes Twitter can be very informative. Or, at least, it can lead you to someplace that is informative. Sorta.
I thought that I would select some of my best pictures for the first half of 2018. Actually, I cheated just a little. I included images for seven-and-a-half months. I selected images of people and events. I did not add any of my semi-nature, and what the dog saw, work. I could probably do any entire post about that. But, this is where my heart is. For today.
You are looking at pictures from second lines (not many because I didn’t go to that many), Mardi Gras, St, Joseph’s Night, Downtown Super Sunday, a Mardi Gras Indian Funeral, and the Stachmo Summer Festival.
Drop down to just above the sunset picture for more. Please.
In the middle of things.
A little noontime sip.
Big Chief John
In black and white.
It’s not always sadness.
Dancing days are here again.
Smiling Baby Doll.
Starting them young.
To me, this little portfolio is pretty amazing. I really didn’t work the streets like I normally do. Most of you know why. This will change with the start of second line season in a couple of weeks. I can’t give up what brings me joy and just wither, dry up and get old. Besides, I have a new doctor with a different spinal pain management theory. So far so good. The only problem so far is that the new meds seem to lower my blood sugar. That’s okay as long as I keep something like yogurt or fruit around.
That said, what amazes me is the number of pictures that I produced in what is really a very short time. I like them You may not. That’s the cool thing about art in any form. Nobody has to agree.
Yes. Third day of posting images from the Stachmo birthday second line, and the Stachmo Summer Fest, and I’m happy to say that I’ve got plenty of images to share. Sometimes, that can sort of become an issue.
But, my mojo sort of came back — even if it’s only for a short time — on Sunday.
I did the things that I can do, and wisely stayed away from what I couldn’t. I worked the front end of the parade where I thought some of the best action would be. I did not try to walk the entire length. That would have likely killed me. Or, if not. I’d likely still be recovering.
Here we are two days later, and I took the dogs for a long morning walk, coming home just dripping from sweat. And, embracing it.
That’s the trick.
The easy stuff is easy. The hard stuff is the thing you should embrace.
Yes. Getting old is not for the faint of heart. But, it should mean that those of us who are getting old are also getting wiser. Or, not. Ask me about this tomorrow. Heh!
Baby, Baby Doll.
Brassing it up.
The pictures. Just pretty much doing what I do. I wander around, smile a lot and ask with my gestures if anybody minds. Obviously some folks have posed for me. Others, not so much. Even in the bottom picture, I asked. See the guy with the baseball cap, sunglasses and beer in hand? He’s finishing his nod, “yes.”
Oh, and about the women on the stilts? It’s my fault that I don’t know her. She’s been out there for the last four or five years with a male partner. It’s my loss that I don’t know them.
Louis Armstrong’s birthday second line is a wonder to behold. Just about every cultural group sends somebody to represent them.
This is one of the rare occasions that you can see social and benevolent societies, brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, Mardi Queens, a couple of Baby Doll krewes, a Catholic priest or two and a Japanese jazz musician who came from his homeland to play at The Satchmo Summer Fest and walk on our old streets… all at one time. In one place.
It was good. It was colorful. And, it was hot. And humid. By the time I was done and home, my clothes were not a little moist. They were as wet as if I had stood in a rain storm. Even that felt good. That kind of sweat sort of makes me peaceful. Besides, that’s what washing machines, dryers and showers are for.
So, here’s the deal.
I’ll start with this picture of Mardi Gras Indian Queen Mirlene. That’s just for today. Over the course of the next couple of days, I’ll publish little portfolios of what I saw.
There are two reasons for this.
I’m tired. And, peaceful.
Once again technology is not my friend. Actually, it’s the latest upgrade of OnOne that’s not my friend. I’m pretty convinced that it is designed for the advanced hobbyist photographer who takes a bunch of pictures, develops a couple of them and works on them one at a time.
It isn’t for someone like me who needs to cull, develop, process maybe 50 or so large file images and do all the work of sizing, converting from one file to another and so on. My RAW files are 96 gigs. That’s not the biggest. But, big enough.
I know when I call the tech folks at OnOne tomorrow, they are going to disagree and suggest my computer is underpowered.
Near as I can tell, the only photo/design software that is built for industrial use is an Adobe product. Like Photoshop. Or, Lightroom.
They are like nothing you’ve ever seen. If you get a chance to go, you should go. They are spiritual. They are magical. And, the are colorful.
Keep in mind this is a very sacred event. Respect what you see. Respect who you see. And, pay your respects to the person who has just passed.
As you know, for me, the work is the prayer. I pay my respects by making pictures and documenting the scene.
I know enough to not get close to an Indian meeting on the scene — the Indians who have circled to discuss their roles on the street — and who may or may not know each other. And, I know enough not to get into anybody’s faces while I think I am doing my job.
Before the ceremony.
Singing him home.
This pictures barely scratch the surface of what happened on this day. A day of celebration of life for Big Chief Tom Sparks Jr.
A word about Big Chief Tom. He started walking in 1947. He was the oldest living Indian before he passed. He was 86 years old. One of the things you may not know about me is that I live by some old Chinese sayings. One of which is, “When somebody dies who is over 80 years old, you laugh.” That’s the literal translation. It really means that you should not mourn for too long. Instead, you should celebrate their life.
The pictures. Nothing new here. F8 and be there. The real technique is what I’ve learned from years on the street. Things like moving in front of people with a smile and a kind word. A building of trust so that the Indians don’t toss you out of the circle. I felt like I succeeded when one of the pallbearers handed me his phone, checked to see if I was still carrying it, giving me a thumbs up and finally taking it from my hand when his job was completed. Smartphones are worth everything on the street. He trusted me to hold it. He is the guy in the blue shirt carrying the casket a couple of pictures down. It’s a little thing. But, it’s a big deal.
It’s not always sadness.
And, so it ends. One man going home on a spiritual level. One Baby Doll walking under the interstate on Claiborne going to her earthly home.