A giant mural.

They say it comes in threes.

Ronnie Virgets. Chef Leah Chase. And, now Mac Rabennack.

You might know him as Dr. John. The Night Tripper.

The good doctor passed today. His family said that he had a heart attack around day break. He’d been sick for a long time. I’m not sure with what. Doesn’t matter now. I know that he lost a lot of weight. That’s a hard thing to do in New Orleans. About 18 months ago he cancelled two shows at Tipitinas. That was the last of his scheduled performances. He spent that time at home, but on the Northshore.

Needless to say, New Orleans is reeling. We are sad. So sad. We haven’t even buried Ms. Leah yet. Her viewing is planned for Saturday, with the funeral on Monday. We are all invited to attend. We will.

Ronnie Virgets was a beloved author. His writing is the stuff of legends. I arrived on the scene a little too late to know it well. And, he wasn’t that well known out of the city. That’s too bad, because what little of his work that I did read caught the heart, soul and spirit of the place I call home.

But, Mac.

Oh man, oh man. He’s beloved everywhere. He started making his own albums in the late 60s. He was a session player until then. He had a rough start in New Orleans, doing things that would make tough guy rappers run home crying to their mamas. He’s been sober for longer than I have. Things change. We change.

How well known?

When you have a Beatle tweeting about his passing, you know how much he mattered to the music world. He played with just about all of music royalty, without ever adopting those trappings himself. Not only did he produce his own work, but he was an enthusiastic collaborator on other musicians projects.

Yes. I knew him. You’d see him in grocery stores or running errands. He was old school and gracious when he met a fan in the usual places. I photographed him once, formerly, at his home. I was paid for a half day. The shoot ran well over that. There weren’t any problems. We were telling stories and laughing so hard that tears were rolling from our eyes. Like they are as I write. I wish I was laughing now.

I wish that I could show you a picture from that take. Sometimes, a client will ask for an embargo until they have gotten their best use of an assigned set of pictures. I’ll call them tomorrow and ask if I can post one here. There shouldn’t be a problem.

For now, here’s his mural, painted in Central City. I almost like this better than the environmental portraits that I made at his home.  I made this picture on the way to some place else. A second line.

What can I say?

Desitively Bonaroo. The best of the breed. That he was.

Rest in Heaven, Mac. You meant a lot to us.

 

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Working the street.

Busking.

A hard way to make a living. These days, in the music industry, distribution is king. Without that, you struggle with tours and merchandise sales. If you are working the street, you have none of that.

You have the music. You have a tip jar. And, maybe a few cheaply recorded CDs for sale.

Cheaply is an understatement. Just like digital photography, and auto photographers, everybody with a computer thinks that they can record and master music. Sure, there’s a few folks with passion and drive. For the most part, music recorded, mixed and mastered on a computer sounds like it. You really have to like the songs to listen to that poorly recorded sound.

Take a look at her. She’s got her violin. Her tip jar — well — wagon, and she’s waving a CD around. I admire her. That’s hard work.  It was cold that night. She’s wearing a glove on one hand. Yet, she’s smiling and chatting up anybody who’ll listen.

That’s what it takes.

Let’s bounce. Back to photography. You can have all the best gear. You can have all the learned technical skills. You can even make a good picture or two. Without that energy, passion and desire, you ain’t gonna make it.

Like a good musician, a photographer must woodshed. That means taking pictures when you aren’t traveling. When you aren’t getting paid. When you don’t feel like it. That’s how you get good. You work in all kinds of weather. You walk. You look. You make pictures. You work on them at home. You even keep the real losers so that you can learn from your mistakes.

Then, when you are traveling on your own. Or, when you have a paid assignment. The pictures come easily. They find you. You are ready. You’ve practiced. That’s one of the things “ten tips that will make you a great photographer,” never tell you. Work. Work. Work.

The picture. One of those French Quarter nights. Wandering around. Practicing. Looking for pictures. Not caring about showing them to anybody. Or, about money. Just working for the joy of it. Knowing me, I used a 16mm lens, set at f 4.0 and the shutter speed was maybe 1/30th of a second. Most is sharp, except for the CD she is waving around. That’s okay. Her face is sharp. That’s another thing. A picture like this one needs sharpness somewhere. It’s not like those whirly-burly things I photograph sometimes when everything is moving. That’s a whole other skill.

Questions? Please ask.


Music everywhere.

Music.

I said it before. I’ll say it again.

New Orleans is a musical place. It’s often likely that you can hear music as you are passing by a street corner, as I was when I made this picture, that is equal to the sounds you hear in many clubs.

Sometimes, the guys on the street are warming up for their club appearance. Sometimes, they don’t have a gig, but they just feel like playing. They want a little audience and whatever you toss in their tip cup might pay for a meal or a couple of beers. Doesn’t matter to them. They are going to work eventually.

On the other hand, some of the street musicians really are paying their bills by playing on the street. Many of them are quite good. They could play on paying gigs, but they make a lot of money on the streets. One makes enough money to buy a house and car. You know, the markers of a successful life. Or, not.

Anyway.

As you know, I haven’t been in the mood to work much.  Part of it is caused by my health issues. Part of it is just kind of being bored with what and where I work. But, I’ve got a couple of ideas now. Let’s see what I make of them.

One more thing. I owe a couple of you some well thought out replies. I’m a little upside down in time, but I promise I’ll get to them.


Street musician.

The first picture.

No. Not the first picture that I ever made. If you’ve been around Storyteller long enough, you’ve seen my first picture when I published a black and white portfolio of my earliest work. The work was maybe 45 years old. I published the portfolio a few years ago.

This is the first picture that I made when I switched from DSLR cameras to mirrorless cameras back in the summer of 2012. I wasn’t so sure about these new fangled cameras so I bought a Sony NEX 5 and a kit lens. I loved it from the minute I started making pictures with it. I loved it so much that a week or two later I sent musical miss to Adorama in New York to pick up an NEX 7 (the top of the line back then) and a couple of lenses.

Lenses. They were an issue in 2012. Sony hadn’t made many of them. And, adaptors were pretty much useless. Flash forward to 2019 and there are plenty of native lenses produced by both Sony and Zeiss. Lens adaptors are great, to the point that I use my Leica glass on Sony bodies. If you want a sharp file, an image made with that combination will peel your eyelids.

Even though I’ve invested in newer and better bodies, I still have the NEX 5 and the 7, which I fried in a driving rain and ice storm during Mardi Gras. Even though it was top of the line, it had no weather sealing.

I didn’t know that I had a problem until maybe six months later when the moisture finally worked its way to the motherboard. That was exciting.  No big event like an explosion. The camera functions just slowly stopped working, until one day I couldn’t turn it on. I sent it out for repairs. It was returned to me as being unrepairable. It could have been repaired, but the work and the parts would have cost more than a new camera. I loved that NEX 7. I may buy one again. They are so technologically old that they only cost about $300 for an excellent used one.

So.

This picture. I made a couple of pictures before this one. Just test shots. I couldn’t figure out why the subject was out of focus. When I opened up the file on my big machine I could see why. The image wasn’t out of focus. The auto focus was so sharp that it picked a place that didn’t matter to me. Once I learned how to control that, all was good. Then there were ISO issues. Over the years of digital capture I’ve learned that you can’t really crank up the ISO without creating noise. So, I didn’t. That gave me motion blur all over the place on this picture. But, you know me. That’s one of my signatures. Of course, that’s changed too. Today, you can raise the ISO without doing very much damage. At least, a little bit.

Looking at this picture makes me think that I really ought to be prowling The French Quarter at night a little more. Maybe I will. Next week.


Music, inside out.

Before the fall.

A story about a musician.

I’m not even sure how to tell this story. It’s a story of greed. It’s a story of stupidity. It’s a story of loss. It’s the story of Ervin Mayfield.

Trumpet playing Mayfield was one of the pillars of the New Orleans jazz community. He is a Grammy winner. He is one of about five top trumpet players in a city that has a trumpet player on every corner.

In my picture, he is talking to his audience in Central City. He’s holding his instrument in one hand, and knowing him, he’s smiling as he talks to his musical fans. He is an outgoing guy.

Later, the roof fell in.

As it stands today, he has been indicted by the grand jury of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. It seems that he and his partner Ronald Markham, steered about $1.4 million from the New Orleans Public Library’s Foundation Board to themselves between 2011 and 2013. He also spent thousands of dollars in donations on travel expenses that were not connected to library business. He spent money on items like a 24 carat gold-plated trumpet that cost $15,000. Or, $2,000 at Harrah’s Casino, $23,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue. He spent thousands of dollars at big New York City hotels including a breakfast bill for over $1,300 for two people. That’s a lot of food. trust me. We like “hot cooked breakfasts.” We could never spend that much money in a hotel dining room.

This whole thing is sort of an old story, but the trial is coming up after many delays, so I thought I’d tell it to you. I’m sorry to do it.

But.

It’s a New Orleans thing. Corruption and the city go hand in hand. Congressman Bill Jefferson was found to have $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He had no idea how it got there. He’s in prison. Mayor C. Ray Nagin — the mayor who went nuts on television in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — is in prison for fraud and a couple of other charges.

Corruption appears at every level. Once, when I first arrived in New Orleans, I needed a city business license. I was told it would take at least six weeks to process. But, the clerk said, if I needed it quicker it could be processed in one day with a fifty dollar cash payment to him. When I complained to his boss, he shrugged his shoulders and called it an “expediting fee.” Indeed. I expedited it right out of the city. I registered my business in Jefferson Parish, where it still lives today.

New Orleans has always been a rough port city. If you are “from here” you know the stories. You also know that many of those little illegal side businesses are coming to an end. If you read what I had to say about all the newcomers to the city you would think it is all bad.

It isn’t.

There’s a flip side to that. They come from places where the city government actually works without bribes. Where potholes are repaired before they can swallow a car. Where the water company is actually efficient. Where people don’t worry about crime taking place in your front yard.

So, the very people who are tearing at the fabric of New Orleans culture are also demanding government transparency. There’s two sides to every coin, isn’t there?

On one hand, I want to protect our culture. The Mardi Gras Indians, the Baby Dolls, and every social and benevolent society matters to me. So do the street musicians, the brass bands and the kids who hope to follow them. It’s one of the reasons I moved to New Orleans, and one of the reasons I came back after Hurricane Katrina. But, I’d be willing to trade a little of that for a fully functioning city government. For safe streets. For solid infrastructure.

It must be my age. I probably didn’t think twice about most of this when I first arrived. Now, I do. I’d like to see our street repaired and repaired before I die. Of old age. At ninety. That’s 25 years. Is that too much to ask?


Music everywhere.

Music takes me everywhere.

I live in a city made of music. I live in a city made of ancient culture. I live in a city full of food. They all seem to be struggling.

Musicians can barely earn a living. You see some amazing musicians playing on the street. Some are in between gigs. Others are scraping by.

The folks who are the culture believe the city makes about $900,000,000 a year off of their cultural pursuits, which is killing them. That’s a lot of money. But, tourism is our only real business.

And, food. Our food is great. But, at our current rate of restaurant expansion there seems to be one restaurant for every 300 of us.

Something has to give. Or, not.

The biggest issue might be the newest of comers. The ones who want to gentrify everything. The ones who don’t like second lines on Sunday because they create a racket. The ones who came here for all the stuff I’ve written about… for years. But, when they get here they want the city to be just like the place they came from.

Of course, the newcomers have added a lot of stress to the housing situation. Many of the culture bearers rent, they don’t own, their homes. Their landlords see big money and sell their homes out from under them. They leave the old neighborhoods. They usually head upriver. They come home for whatever their festivals happen to be. They don’t admit this of course. One Baby Doll lives in Natchez, Mississippi. That’s a long drive for one event. Yet, she does it.

So.

There was a meeting between a lot of the culture bearers and the city this week. The city claims that they want to protect them. Losing this ancient culture means significant tourism losses. I missed the first meeting. I’ll make sure I’m there for the next one. Based on newspaper reports, a lot of issues got side tracked. I’ll see what I can do to address some of those issues. Unfortunately, for me, this might be a case of good intentions being the road to hell.

The picture. Music really is everywhere around here. I passed these buskers on the way to someplace else, as I do with a lot of my subjects. I made some clean shots of them playing, but the guy passing by seems to add something to the picture.

 


Tuba player waiting.

The first one. The first Uptown Mardi Gras parade.

Normally on the first night shoot during Mardi Gras, I’m trying to knock off the rust. Not this time. I had an almost perfect shoot. Not only that, but getting there and parking was easy. I parked as close to the parade route as I could. I returned home easily. All of this matters.

The pictures. Let’s put it this way. I could see. I could see as the pictures revealed themselves to me. I suppose that put me in a good mood and place. It seemed like everybody I photographed was happy and having fun. Or, it may have been me.

That shows in the work.

You know me. I like to work at the start of a parade so I can make more than just the usual, “float rolls down the street” picture. I made a lot of good pictures. You’ll see them eventually. For today, you are seeing only one. I’m a bit late and should be on my way to some day parades. Their time has been moved up since we are expecting pretty violent storms.

Anyway the lead tuba player was looking over my head into the crowd for somebody or something. I managed to make the picture in poor light. But, not as poor as this picture indicates. WordPress got me again. Their compression software about killed the image quality. When I look at it on my monitor via OnOne, the image looks great. Not so much here.

Oh well. It’ll get better in the new building.


If I was any closer.

I got a little too close.

I was working with a 10mm lens. That’s how close I was. I could have helped the musician in front play his tuba. I didn’t mean for this to happen. But, once I broke through the rope, well… let’s just say, I really broke through. I sort of trapped myself. I couldn’t get back outside of the rope. I could only move forward with the band. That would normally have been great, but the crowd was sort of too crowded.

Apparently, it kept growing. By the time the second line made its way back to Claiborne Avenue under the interstate, it looked like a big jazz funeral for somebody who is near and dear to the community. I wasn’t there. From where I was working I couldn’t double back.

I know this from posts on Instagram and on Twitter.  I get very little love there. I guess I should post directly, and I should take off my watermark so anybody could use my work for free. No matter what people keep saying about sharing, like it’s caring, I still think it’s image theft. They say that helps you get your name out there. Cool. I wonder how many photographers have generated paid work from getting “their work out there.”

It’s one thing to share your work to a closed system like WordPress. It’s another to share your work so far and wide that nobody knows that it’s your work. Watermarks are very easy to remove.

Anyway. That wasn’t the point of today’s discussion. The real point was the email I mentioned to your yesterday.  I can summarize it fairly easily. It all came down to “Why am I here?” I don’t know the particular answer, but in general I think we are here to serve somebody, either formally or informally. That can mean all sorts of things. For instance, a young parent serves his or her children by helping them to grow in a good human being. Or, you may serve somebody by doing a task for them. To a larger extent, politicians are here to serve you and me. But, they forget that. The list, like the road, goes on forever.

There were a lot of other particulars to my friend’s email. Some are silly. Some are serious.

From the silly side, comparing your photo gear to someone else’s gear. I always say that it doesn’t matter how much gear you have, it’s how you use it. Besides, in travel situations, too much gear slows you down. It forces unnecessary fumbling around while the picture leaves.

Some were more serious. The rapid decline of his physical health while he was in a place that is known to have horrible air quality with large airborne particulates.  Scary. If you are around my age or older, think real hard about going there. For sure, there are ways to train yourself for certain events. In sports they talk about getting in baseball shape, or football shape. If I were doing a photo tour that required a lot of walking, that’s how I’d train. There is really no way to train for bad air quality. Bring a mask an oxygen bottle I guess.

Anyway, that was my story for yesterday.

On a housekeeping note. Mardi Gras parade season sort of starts with a walking parade on Saturday night. The Krewe of Chewbacchus. As you might guess from that name that it is on the weird side. It is. It’s fun. It used to be held on a day with other parades. It grew so big and so unwieldy, that the powers that be moved it up by a week. It is more or less an unofficial parade that became popular.  I’ll be out there. I’ll do my best not to cripple myself for the rest of parade season.

Then it really begins. Mardi Gras parade season. I’m still trying to figure out how to photograph it. For the past few years I worked at the start so I could make somewhat unique pictures. Unique became same and now I’m trying to figure out new locations and more commercially useful pictures. It’ll come to me in a dream. Or, in the shower.


It’s all in the eyes.

The street.

A place that I enjoy working. I like to make pictures that are a slice of time. Photographs that are a glance. On the street.

Pictures that are an image of an idea.

Pictures that take you there.

Pictures that let you feel.

Pictures from the inside.

Pictures that are from my insides. From my eyes. From my brain. From my soul. From my heart.

That’s the deal. My deal.

Sometimes it works. Often, it doesn’t. It worked a lot this past Sunday. You’ll see over the next few days.

The picture. I got stuck in the middle of the band. That happens when you work closely. Those out of focus areas in front of the tuba player are other band members. I was working on the inside. Just that close. The tuba player’s reflective sunglasses are what caught my eye. Even though we were in constant motion, I managed to make three good frames of him. Photographer’s luck. And, my ability to walk sideways and forward at the same time. The development and post production was easy after that.

That’s it for a Monday morning.