11:27. PM.

A life passes. First, mourning. Then, acceptance. Finally, the joy of remembering.

This picture was made today. You know me. The work is the prayer. The prayer is the joy.

 


Spy Boy Dow leads them out.

Indian funerals.

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.

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.

Rolling to heaven.

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.

In honor.
Walking under the interstate.

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.


Flowers for Manchester. 

Roses.

For the City of Manchester, Ariana Grande, her band, crew and staff. And, of course her fans and their parents. For the first responders. For all of England. For the rest of the world. And, for you. And, me.

There will be millions of words written about the bombing at the arena in Manchester that took the lives of 22 people, and wounded just under 60. The world doesn’t need many more words from me.

Besides.

I have no words.

Except for just these few. Don’t be denied. The work is the prayer. And, prayer without work is meaningless. Take all of that as you will.

Peace.


The Krewe of Zulu came out.
The Krewe of Zulu came out.

Jazz Funerals.

I’m really starting to dislike that term. They are funerals. They are about death. They are about mourning. They are about understanding that all things must pass. And, that we in New Orleans accept that death as part of life. We mourn. We celebrate.

If you are visiting and want to see our culture for real — not in the “neon zone” on Bourbon Street — you might consider yourself lucky if you learn about a jazz funeral and attend. Most are fairly small and uncrowded. For the most part they are in public view. On the street. If you decide to go inside, please remember to dress appropriately. I cringe when I see some guy in shorts, a flowered shirt and flip-flops wandering around sticking a camera in front of mourners faces during the formal ceremony.

Yesterday’s funeral was not small. Instead, it was huge. I’ll tell you why. It’s going to be a little hard so bear with me if I ramble around. Just know that almost every tribe, gang, club and krewe was represented.

This wasn’t one funeral. It was two. It probably should have been three. One day about a week or so ago, there was a shooting. A killing. That’s common in this city. Hell, there were four shootings and five victims on Christmas Day. One of those people died.

The shooting I’m talking about took three lives. Twenty bullets were fired. It was no drive by shooting. It was a hit. The shooter or shooters killed a young man, Big Chief Lionel Delpit III. He was 25 years old. His companion, Breon Stewart, was also killed. She was 23.  That’s sad enough. But, their unborn child, Lionel Delpit IV was killed in utero. He would have been born last week or early this week.

Big Chiefs call and response.
Big chiefs call and response.

I’m not exactly sure what more to say.

So, I’ll tell you about what I saw, heard and what the day felt like.

Everybody was exceptionally kind. The above picture of the unsuited and unmasked big chiefs was made because they pulled me into their circle. We don’t all know each other, but we recognize each other from the street. And, I have a helluva rhythm when they start playing and singing. I believe you can’t shoot pictures without really feeling what you are seeing.

“What I saw” is a weird phrase. You would think that if I saw it, you will see it. Not yesterday. The crowd was huge. I couldn’t physically drift from one place to another like I usually do. So, sometimes I saw things that I couldn’t photograph. I saw a lot of sadness. The way that a jazz funeral usually works is that it starts with a dirge and ends in celebration. Not so much yesterday. Sure. There were hugs, smiles and even a little laughter as Uptown indians found their friends in Downtown tribes. I saw a friend of mine who is a Baby Doll (the female counterpart to an indian). She smiled at me through her tears. I could have taken that picture. I didn’t. That was our moment.

Then there was the weather. The temperature broke all sort of records. It was 83 yesterday in Treme. It was steamy. Very humid. When the sun broke through the clouds, it was downright hot. And, when it didn’t, rain fell lightly. It was December 26th, but it felt like early summer.

It felt right.

Sadness.
Sadness.

This picture is just plain old hard to look at. He was the very first Mardi Gras Indian I photographed when I returned to New Orleans after my time in New Mexico. If you go to my Twitter feed and actually look at my page, you’ll see him as the background image. I was going to change that with the turn of the year. I don’t think that I will.

Big Chief.
Big Chief.

I was going to show these pictures to you one or two at a time like I usually do. I can’t this week. There is a big second line today. It’s the 20th Anniversary of The Lady & Men Rollers. I want to show you a few of those pictures on Monday. Then, like just about everybody else, I want to show you my best pictures of the year. There are three days of that. The culture. Stuff falling down. And, stuff I just saw. 12 pictures each day. 36. That’s pretty good year if you consider that Ansel Adams said that if you took ten great pictures in a year then you had an exceptional year. I doubt my year was as good as that. But, still…

All things must pass.
All things must pass.

And, finally. This year ends as it started. With a big, huge jazz funeral. The first one was for Bo Dollis. He lived a life. A good life. He brought the music of the Mardi Gras Indians to the world. The last one, as I wrote, was for two young people. And, one yet to be born. They never had a chance.

That, my friends, has to change.


Sitting and thinking.
Sitting and thinking.

Most of you know that last week was a bit rough. Anytime you attend two funerals in one week, you know it’s rough. But, today the sun sort of shined in a little different way. We were out looking for pictures, when I decided to pass through Treme. There are local jazz musicians hanging out there and plenty of run down stuff. Both subjects that I like to photograph. When we made the turn onto the street where I wanted to look, we started seeing little groups of people standing around talking. They were dressed well. Uh oh. We missed a second line.

But…

It got really good. We parked and started walking towards the funeral home. I saw three men sitting and talking. The man in the picture was one of them. I asked if I could take his portrait and I asked what we missed. He nodded yes and his friend said, “A second line for his brother, who just passed.” My heart was in my mouth. I expressed our condolences and the man in the picture said, “There’s no reason for y’all to be sad.” We told him there was and told him about our week. The three of them asked us to sit with them, gave us drinks — ice tea — and we all talked.

Uno Mundo. One world. We may all be a little different. Culture. Color. Talents. Lifestyle. The way we think.

But…

At the end of the day, I know one thing to be true. We all have the same emotions. We are happy. We are joyous. We sing. We dance. We pray. Some days we are sad. And, luckily, some days we find each other and hold on. We needed today. I didn’t know it at the time. But, we did.

This picture. It matters.