We, in New Orleans, have started our celebrations for Carnival. So, that’s in my head. It’s also a way to get out of a dark place. The one that is influenced by the real world as opposed to the fantasyland that we live in on a daily basis.
I also realized that because of the way I publish multiple pictures some of you might not have seen them. There are also a lot of you who are new to Storyteller. You’ve never seen them. You should see them.
The pictures on this page were made during Mardi Gras 2019. That was the year I mostly spent my time at a Mardi Indian wedding on Mardi Gras Day. Enjoy.
The year that was. The closing year of the end of a decade. Ups. Downs. All arounds. This year wasn’t as great photographically as it could have been. That was pretty much my fault. Between physical issues and a general lack of motivation I mostly produced a lot of faux nature pictures. Some where better than others. Some are found here. My biggest natural successes were trees. They are well represented here.
I did manage to make some of “my” pictures. I photographed second lines and Mardi Gras Indian events. Those are here, too.
The one link between nature and a kind of photojournalism is that I work the same way to make both. I walk. I see things. I make the exposure.
As far as my version of nature pictures goes, most them were made in a healthy way. The dog who sees stuff and I went for walks. Despite my physical pain we managed to walk three miles a day whenever I was home. That’s good for me and her. She’s a sweetheart. Because she’s a cocker spaniel she’s as funny, loyal, and affectionate as she can be. Cockers are notoriously stubborn. She is too. She thinks nothing of standing in the middle of the street with me in tow staring down a car just daring the car to come closer.
There are 12 pictures here. You know why.
There are a few more days left in 2019. There are a few more days left in the decade. I’ll make and post a few pictures between now and then. But, for the most part, the year and decade are over for me. This is the strange in-between time. I mostly use it to clean up yearly messes and plan the new year.
I got a little bored last night so I started playing with another human being in post production. This time, it was a Mardi Gras Indian Wildman who I photographed on the Westbank for their Super Sunday.
As I recall, it was a busy Sunday. There were two second lines on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. One was Uptown, the other downtown. There was also the big Westbank Super Sunday.
The picture is a couple of years old. At least, the base picture of the Wildman is that old. In those days I had more energy. I photographed both second lines and drove across the Crescent City Connection and found the parade route at just about the right moment.
Finding anything on the Westbank is a big deal for me. I get lost the moment I cross the river. And yet, there is a wonderful New Orleans neighborhood called Algiers Point that I just love visiting. It looks like Uptown New Orleans, but it isn’t. There is also a great Asian grocery store called Hong Kong. I’ve been there many times. I count my blessings if it doesn’t take me more than fifteen minutes to find after I’ve gotten lost and driven around in circles.
The picture. The base image is the Wildman — the guy with the giant bones and skull in his hair.– who protects the Big Chief. The rest of the pictures that make up the background are images that I’ve made along the way.
Pro tip number one. Never delete anything. You just never know. There are backgrounds hiding in your archives. Besides you can study the out takes to learn something about your mistakes.
Pro tip number two. Make sure whatever background image you choose stays in the background. With most editing software, you can move the second image forward and back.
Once you positioned the two or more images, then go back into the editing software to smooth out the look and finish the image.
I have no idea how long it will take you. But, you shouldn’t rush it, While downloading, backing up, adding meta data and developing images can be a chore, this process should be fun.
As I once wrote, I gave up video games to learn how to do this. This had better be fun.
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.