This image isn’t so much a”found” image as it is a sentimental one. Unlike so many people in New Orleans, I wasn’t born in the city. Some of my friends have family lineages that stretch back for centuries in the city. Me? I’m very lucky that I even know my grandparents heritage. I know that they came from Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Maybe Germany. Maybe Austria. Although the Austria thing was more about political boundaries, then cultural heritage. Even my Polish – Russian heritage depends mostly on what day in the week it was, and when the borders shifted at some minor politician’s whim.
Enough about that.
What I was really getting to is that many of New Orleans’ traditions are a treasure to me because I didn’t grow up with them. Many of my friends and neighbors evacuate the city during Mardi Gras. They can’t stand the crowds and the partying. Me? I embrace it. I think everything about it is very cool. While I’m not a member of any parade krewe, the way that I like to work often gets me into the parades almost by accident. How fun is that? My God daughter’s mom is a member of the Krewe of Muses, the original woman’s krewe. They are known for decorating shoes as their biggest “throw.” No, they don’t actually throw them. They are given to friends and family members. So, I can get close enough.
But, still I’m not getting to the point.
The point of this picture is that I made it on my very first Mardi Gras. I was standing on the corner of St. Charles and Louisiana Avenues, suffering from extreme sensory overload, when I decided to make an image that captures the feeling of a Mardi Gras parade. This is it. Although I’ve made some memorable Mardi Gras pictures after this, none of them top it. The musicians in my life say that they can really never top their earliest songs. They were open and free. The more that I learn and think about the parallels between music and photography, the more I think that the first picture of a particular subject is often the best one.
What can I say that hasn’t been said about them that hasn’t already been said? All I know is that I was very happily surprised when I was photographing Big Chief Yi, Yi, Yi at the Treme 200th Anniversary second line parade, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. The Zulu King. Here is a tight portrait of him done in my style.
If I tried to write just their history, you’d be reading this one post for days. By the way, if you go to the Zulu chaplain’s page, you can learn a lot about the club. I just learned that in addition to the position of king, they have the position of big shot. We certainly could use more of those. Could you imagine this? “Ladies and gentleman, “The Big Shot of The United States of America.” Certainly couldn’t hurt.
I like this picture because — in my view — it is about every musician who walks in a second line parade. I suppose a point could be made that it makes this player anonymous, but I’m not seeing it that way. I see it as sort of an icon.
So. A few points about the picture. First, the hat. It seems that a version of Vietnam Era “boonie hat,” has become a popular hat when you are out in the heat of Southeast Louisiana. At least at second line parades. Second, The only way to make this picture is to walk with the parade. I did that. Finally. You know this is coming. It’s simple. F8 and be there. A friend of mine says one of the hardest parts about making a picture is simply getting there. I got there despite a lot of miles, minor surgery on one toe and some kind of stone bruise-like injury on my other heel. Am I bragging? Nah. It’s just an example of what it takes. Sometimes.
There were plenty of people who turned out for Lionel Batiste’s last second line parade. It seems to me that even though many groups of people make music in New Orleans, they sort of keep their distance from each other. Normally. Uncle Lionel brought all groups together. The is a Mardi Gras Indian. I cannot imagine what it felt like to walk completely masked in yesterday’s heat.
In New Orleans, there are parades for just about any reason. We celebrate two weeks of Mardi Gras season with a seemingly unending number of parades. There are parades that celebrate the life of someone who has newly passed; these are jazz funerals. There are second line parades which wind throug
the neighborhoods for almost any reason. There are parades for St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days. And, yesterday there were Easter parades that would through The French Quarter.
Until yesterday, I had never been to an Easter Parade. There are three. The Historic French Quarter Parade, which is highlighted by a stop at the St. Louis Cathedral for Easter Mass. People there are dressed in their easter finery. There is The Chris Owens Parade and The Gay Parade. In case you are wondering, as I did, who is Chris Owens and why does she have a parade, the answer is simple. She was an exotic dancer and club owner who wanted to do something special for the entertainers in The Quarter. She’s been successful. The parade has been rolling for 29 years. It’s a family affair.
I wanted to do something a little different. Parades all start looking a little bit the same. The big difference between these parades and Mardi Gras parades is that these are very wholesome. Not a lot of heavy partying going, not much drinking, no competition for beads. But, still through the lens they do look the same. So, I decided to focus on the faces. Here are some of them now.