After seeing the little pile of sticks, twigs and pines cones, a friend of mine in real life — IRL for all you digitrons — posted on Facebook, “Only in New Orleans.”
You are less likely to see something like yesterday’s post than you are to see the subject of today’s post. This, is real life New Orleans. A dead cigarette butt and a half eaten crawfish. Hopefully, it was eaten by a cat.
Whoever bit into this crawfish had no clue what he was doing. Pull the head off. Suck the head. Peel back the shell on the tail. Crack it. Pull out the meat. Any New Orleans toddler knows how to do that. Have a stack of old newspapers nearby, covering the table because all the trash goes on that. After you are done, pull the whole thing together and toss it.
That’s why it is toddler approved. They can make a food mess. They know that the adults will be worse.
The cigarette butt. Well, they say we are at least 50 years behind the times.
The picture. I try to photograph what I see. Like a photojournalist. The art stuff really comes in post production. Like a painter. If this were truly a New Orleans still life, there would be a go cup in the picture, dribbling out the remains of a daiquiri that you bought in a drive through shop. Drinking and driving.
A little more from Super Sunday. I think you know enough about this event so I won’t bore you with the many details. This is mostly just a bit more of what I saw a few days ago. There are a couple of pictures that I’d like to discuss.
“Similar.” You seen this Indian in this suit. Just a few weeks ago. But, not in such a formal portrait. And certainly not photographed with a 16mm lens. That should tell you just how close I was working.
“All Joy.” This picture is amazing to me. Like one of yesterday’s images, not for the picture itself. But for the content. The wonderful young woman who is all smiles used to be my neighbor. The last time I saw her, a few days before the storm, was over ten years ago. She was eight years old. Look at her now. This really, really makes me smile.
Finally, “Mardi Gras Indians Comin’.” That’s what they look like when they are coming. Pretty impressive, I’d say. But, it’s the overall scene that I like. That post office used to by my post office. During the storm, it took about 15 feet of water. And, that hospital way in the background… it was flooded to just below those windows. It hasn’t been restored yet. I’m not sure that it ever will be. But, the neighborhood in which is sits is about to be completely redeveloped so something good may yet happen to it. Not to worry, that neighborhood is a warren of run down old warehouses and shuttered small factories. It needs a little gentrification. That’s not something you often hear me say.
These pictures about a week old. We haven’t seen this kind of light since maybe last Sunday. Low winter light. The kind that is clean and bright. That adds a little glow to the air. A little sparkle. The kind of light that makes just about any picture look good.
Obviously. That light works miracles. How do I know?
Because I took a picture of SUV and trucks waiting for the red light to change. How many people would do that? Most of us just grumble a clogged streets. And, at slowly changing lights. But, what did I see? Hmmm. All those red lights sort of glowing in the blue light of late dusk. That’s what caught my attention. That’s why I made the picture. Urban life. I guess.
The rest? Oh man. You know me. Stick the camera on the dashboard, point the lens up slightly so the car’s interior isn’t in the picture. And, push the button. There is traffic in all three of the smaller pictures that you don’t see. Behind me. So, the trick is to keep going at the normal speed while really wanting to slow down. And, take pictures.
That’s the trick.
That seems to be a metaphor for life. How do you travel at the world’s constantly accelerating pace, while continuing to move at a speed that suits you? I dunno. But, that’s really the trick. Isn’t it?
This is all about seeing. Being on the move. Going from place to place.
It’s also about not really caring about what other people think. It takes a long time learning to take a picture when passersby might be wondering what the heck you are doing. Even asking that question. On the other hand, two women saw me taking “Triplets… Yellow” on the way back from Sunday’s second line. One asked a good question. “The car or the sign?” I replied, “The car, the sign and the wall.” I showed them the picture in the camera’s LCD. They were very happily impressed. They wondered how I could see like “that.” I wonder too. A gift, I guess.
There other two most interesting pictures to me are “White on White” and “Tuba Circles.” The first is just hard to see. The little bit of blue on circular that is stuffed in the screen door handle is a nice little highlight. I just like the shape of the tuba.
Lesson. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe just a reinforcement to be mindful of where you are on the way to some place else. I wasn’t really looking for any of these pictures. They just sort of happened.
The funny thing about beads is that they really have no value. Yet, we fight for them when a parade rolls by. People will do weird things for them. You’ve heard the stories I’m sure. Other people will wander around French Quarter streets wearing about ten pounds of beads on their shoulders and necks as some kind of badge of honor. You can even buy them in souvenir shops for about three dollars a bead. That’s local talk for a strand of beads. Beads and other “throws” cost each float krewe member about $1,500 – $2,000 to toss them into the crowd. That’s pretty expensive when you think about it. There might be twenty people on a float. I’m sure that you can do the math. That doesn’t include the krewe membership dues, side events, masking and so on.
The value drops the minute Mardi Gras comes to an end. That’s not entirely true. Most of the beads you see are made in China. They are cheap. There are also old-fashioned glass beads that are usually made in the Czech Republic. Those are keepers. You don’t see many of those anymore.
There are some rules to this bead-catching thing too. Catch them in flight. Never pick them up off the ground unless they are really special. Never grab beads from a child. Never fight over them. Whoever caught them first keeps them even if you caught them at about the same time. I do one more thing. Since I work close, a lot of beads almost just fall into my hands. We can go catch our own beads when I’m not working. So, if there is a child behind me, I just give the beads to the child.
Beads end up discarded in the streets. Stored in boxes in the attic or an almost unused closet. Normally, we recycle them by giving them to an organization for learning disabled children. They untangle them, sort them out and resell them. Some time last year we used a big box of beads as the base to patch a pothole that was causing big problems for us near our driveway. Just pour them into the pothole, tamp them down with a shovel and pour some asphalt-like looking stuff over the beads that we bought at Home Depot. Tamp that down. And, you have a pothole patch that looks as good at the city’s pothole-killer machine’s work. The city says that’s illegal. Trying getting some NOPD officer to enforce that. They get tired of having their teeth rattled as they bounce over our never-ending potholes.
There are beads just about everywhere in the city. In every neighborhood. Not just the places where a parade passed by. All year round. You see them hanging for power lines. From streetcar lines. On fences. On trees. On bushes. You see them faded into a kind of metallic gray. You see them crushed into the pavement.
It’s a year round thing.
The big Uptown parades start tonight. Wish me luck.
Third and fourth parades tonight. Then, the bigger Uptown parades start on Friday. I haven’t been all that motivated. I’m having a tough time getting into it. I’m not exactly sure why not. Usually, by now I’m chasing around photographing decorations and details.
So. I thought that I would post a selection of pictures from Mardi Gras 2015. Some that you’ve seen; many that you haven’t.
I was going to post another selection of older work. Pictures from Asia. China, specifically. But, I think I’m done with showing you all that past work for now. Yeah, yeah. This is past work too. But, it’s not even a year old. Hopefully, it will get you in the mood. Hopefully, I’ll feel like actually photographing Mardi Gras 2016. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully…
Pictures. What are you looking at? Heh! Mardi Gras 2015.
A little Mardi Gras doll, masked and ready to hang somewhere. A small brass band leading a second line through the French Quarter. Beads on the fence. The Krewe of Zulu, lead by the Tramps. A really ugly zombie mask. A masked member of a float. A parade member walking to her parade. Reflections in a French Quarter window. Another krewe member headed to his float. And, masks on the fence.
That was a pretty quick wrap up, wasn’t it? It should be. After all, it’s last year’s Carnival. Let’s see what I do this year.
Probably with more sadness. A lot of you know this is a pretty musical house. And, I tell you this is getting old. Very old. Probably one of my favorite Glenn Frey songs goes a little like this…
“There’s trouble on the streets tonight
I can feel it in my bones, I had a premonition
That he should not go alone
I knew the gun was loaded
But I didn’t think he’d kill
Everything exploded, and the blood began to spill
So baby, here’s your ticket
Put the suitcase in your hand, here’s a little money now
Do it just the way we planned
You be cool for twenty hours, and I’ll pay you twenty grand
I’m sorry it went down like this
And someone had to lose, it’s the nature of the business
It’s the smuggler’s blues, smuggler’s blues”
— Smugglers Blues — Glenn Frey & Jack Tempchin
— RIP Glenn Frey
You know where I work. That may be why I like this song. It just wrote to a friend of mine that I work in “sporty” neighborhoods.
I thought I’d talk about portraits. Street portraits. Ones that are made in a few minutes. Ones the depend on a smile, a little photographer’s patter, good situational knowledge, knowing your gear and a lot of luck.
So, let’s start. There’s a lot of talk about street photography these days. Actually, that’s getting a little old too. It started when Fuji, Olympus and Sony started releasing small but high quality cameras. Overnight, seemingly, all sorts people became street photographers. Yes. Of course street photography was around long before that. I could rattle off about 50 names of really good street practitioners. Mostly, they worked with Leicas. Their pictures defined street photography. If they didn’t directly engage their subjects, they made pictures that told a story.
Today? Not so much.
There are pictures floating around all over the internet that claim to be examples of street photography. The pictures have been taken from across the street, from behind the apparent subject, often from the hip.
It appears the people who took the pictures were afraid of their subjects. That’s no good. I’m not sure that the bulk of those pictures mean anything. To anybody. Yeah. Sure, sometimes a picture taken from behind the subject adds to the graphics of the image and tells a story. Sometimes, it’s the light that makes the picture shot across the street. But, that’s rare. As in maybe one out of a thousand. Or more.
So I say, engage your subject. Talk to them. Make a friend. Don’t sneak up behind them. Take a portrait. It’s not the easiest thing to do. I’m sort of shy. At times I can be awfully introverted. Stick a camera in my hand and I’m Superman. I’m not stupid fearless, but my personality changes. I guess I like learning about people. I like seeing them be real in their real place. In their neighborhood. During a quiet moment in a normally chaotic event.
Here’s few things that I like to do.
I try real hard to make an environmental portrait. The person and their place. But, I’m fluid and flexible. Sometime a frame filling face makes the picture. Like the lead picture on this post. Or, the picture I call “Star-Star.” It’s also not the “decisive moment.” That’s different kind of street photography.
The second thing I believe is that you have to know your photo gear. You can’t be fumbling around while you are trying to take a picture of somebody that you just met two minutes ago.
Third. Smile. This is supposed to be fun. You’ll set your subject at ease.
Fourth. Don’t sneak around. Ask. Talk. If your intended subject asks why you are taking the picture, tell them what attracted them to you. See the picture called “It’s all in the signs?” I quickly explained that he was standing in front of a great background. When I was about half-finished I flipped the camera around and showed him the picture on the LCD. Once he saw that, he started using his hands. Yes. He is the proud — I hope — owner of a signed Ray Laskowitz print.
Fifth. This is a huge benefit. You know how I wrote I work in sporty neighborhoods? I’ve made myself known to enough people that I’m fairly safe because of that.
Oh. See that picture called, “New Work?” It’s really new. I made that on Sunday walking back from the second line. I saw the sign. I saw the man. I asked if he minded. He nodded for me to take pictures. I think he’s a ringer. Heh! He kept moving through the light in various poses. He knew what he was doing. Sometimes that happens. That makes me smile.
Be patient. Take a step back. Look in front. Look toward the sides. Look behind. Watch the light. Get closer, Stand back.
All of this stuff goes through my mind when I approach a scene. It’s automatic. I don’t think I know any experienced working photographer who doesn’t think this way, while completely forgetting he or she does this. It just sort of happens. It’s ingrained. It’s about finding the picture in the middle of a large scene. Sort of like the internet. Lots of noise. Almost no signal. How do you see that thing? That thing that matters. Sometimes, it just means coming back and looking at a place you are starting to finally get to know a little better.
That’s what I did. I kept coming back.
This is the Desire neighborhood. Or part of it. The part above Law Street and below Florida Street. The part that was a little town, by itself. A downtown way downtown.
I don’t know what’s coming back here. If it ever will. If it should.
Club Desire, which started jumping on Mardi Gras 1948, closed in 1972 with the death of the owner. It hung on a bit for one-off concerts and dances. The owner’s daughter did what she could. Along came Hurricane Katrina. The storm flooded the entire neighborhood with 15 feet of water. Some people came back. To start again. Many did not. Some of the neighborhood has come back. Sort of. A lot has not.
But, here we are. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall at Buras LA, on August 29, 2005. A decade has passed.
This is the business end of the Desire Neighborhood. The spring flowers like it.
Hurricane Season starts on June 1. It’s supposed to be a light one. Maybe no storms getting into the Gulf.
Since today is officially the first day of Autumn, I thought it might be a good to wrap up some of the junk I photographed over the summer. These are the odds and ends of about six rambles through the city at all different times, over many days. Some pictures were driven by the light at the time. Others, by the location. And still others, just by the fact that I was passing by. I suppose that I didn’t post them at the time because I liked other pictures. Or, some of these pictures just hadn’t marinated long enough. They are ready now.
I’ll discuss them underneath each picture. Okay.
This place is a long abandoned pump house in the Bywater. A neighborhood in the river side of the 9th Ward. I’ve never seen it without a chain ink fence around it, so I finally just included the fence. It’s the low storm light that makes the picture.
A light decisive moment. I wish I was just a little quicker. I was walking around this upper 9th Ward neighborhood when she pedaled down the street. The pink highlights are the thing.
Storm light again. The neighborhood is called the Irish Channel. It keeps expanding as realtors see fit. It’s really located in what could loosely be called The Lower Garden District. The boundaries keep expanding because the neighborhood is rapidly being redeveloped. Old housing stock is fairly inexpensive. It’s a great place for young couple and young families to start out if they want to live in New Orleans.
End of the summer in New Orleans. This upper 9th Ward neighborhood still has a way to grow. If we don’t have a cold — cold for us — winter, this growth will be twice as high next summer.
A neighborhood called Black Pearl. The name is a cross of a street name and a population name. It survived Hurricane Katrina intact, only to be hammered by a tornado — yes, a tornado — in Feb 2007. Yes. Nature hits us down here every that way it can.
Another example of summer growth. This time, in the 7th Ward.
The pictures. Yeah. There’s some heavy post production in some of them. Nothing at all in others. I mostly did what I felt at the time. Or, what the pictures showed me that they needed. Like that. Just like that.