I’ve come out of retirement from the street. Saturday’s events convinced me that there could be no other way. I came out for the Single Ladies Second Line.
It was hot. So hot.
It didn’t look like anybody was having any fun. Not, the ladies. Not the band. Not the second liners.
It was brutal.
After talking to a friend of mine today, I realized that we come out for a whole host of reasons. It really is like church. It’s great to see friends. And, we tell stories about what we did afterward.
Today, we walk again. We make pictures. After a week of mourning, we lay Chef Leah Chase to rest. At 2pm. The hottest part of the day. We are suppose to have some overcast. That might help. No matter. I’ll work as best I can.
Krewe of Barkus. The dogs. The people. The pictures. And, a few stories.
I had it all planned out. In my head. I even tried to photograph what I was thinking about. My lead picture was going to be the dog sniffing into the lens. Then, this picture. Then that picture. But, you know what happens with plans. Life gets in the way. Or, God laughs. Something like that.
I didn’t really see this moment when I pushed the button. But, oh man. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I was culling and editing it.
The top image. It’s an Honest-To-God picture. Not, a fun little picture that I took at a parade. It’s a strong, powerful portrait of a woman and her dog. I’m truly amazed that I took it. I haven’t made a real picture like that in a long time. True. I make pictures that I like. You like them too. I just haven’t made a picture that matters.
But, this one…
Nothing like a doggie kiss.
And, the dog said…
These three. Nice moments. You know me. That actual event is not the thing. I used to photograph that way. I had to tell a publishable story. I can still do that. I’d rather look for little moments that may just hang together because I made them at a recognizable event.
And, this one. I saw her walking through the shadows. I asked if I could take her picture. She said yes and proceeded to tell me her story. She’s dressed in white because she and her husband are out of mourning. Their dog passed two years ago. The didn’t even come to last year’s Krewe of Barkus. It was just too hard for them. But, this year they started feeling better. They decided it was time to celebrate their dog’s life and the time that they had with him.
There you have it. Dogs and their people.
The pictures. Oh, you know. F8 and be there. I didn’t mess with them in post production except to clean them up because this is as close to photojournalism as I’ve come in a long time. Sorry about that. I’ll do better.
It begins. With Krewe du Vieux. The adults parade. Every Mardi Gras parade has a theme. This one is no different. Bienville’s 300th Wet Dream. They attacked everybody this year, from the mayor — an obvious choice — to John Besh, who was the first of the big name chefs that was taken down by #Me Too. Oh, are we are celebrating our 300th Anniversary. The city looks it. Especially the infrastructure. I’ll leave that rant for another day.
A study in green.
The pictures. If you’ve been around for a while, you know that for me sometimes the actual event is not the thing. Mostly, it’s the start of the parade that I like to work. That’s where the interesting pictures happen. As musician Neil Young once said, “When things get too middle of the road, I head straight for the gutter where things are more interesting.” I’m not saying these pictures were made in the gutter. But, they were made in New Orleans. Oh. Nevermind.
Anyway. These pictures are just me photographing what I see. It’s funny. The real old school working photographers seem grumpy as hell when we do this work. We aren’t. We are just looking for pictures. Typically when we see each other we shake hands while we are in motion and ask if we are alright, and keep going.
I had a fairly good shoot. You’ll see more pictures throughout the week. I’m trying to give you three weeks of Mardi Gras. But, the next parades walk on Friday. There’s plenty of pictures from last night. And, there’s plenty of stuff to see in the city. I’ll do my best to show it to you.
I’d rather make pictures of people by discovery. On the scene. Whatever the scene happens to be. I’d make their portrait without showing the event. This transports them — and me — to another place.
As it happens, these three casual portraits were made at various parades. The top two were taken at various Mardi Gras parades. The bottom picture, which I call wolf man for obvious reasons, was made at a second line. I think I mentioned them in writing about the pictures I showed you from these events.
Finally. Now you get to see them.
The pictures. The one thing to keep in mind is that these aren’t portrait sittings. They were made in the moment. On location. In about 30 seconds time for each of them. I learned to work fast in my newspaper days. I had to. None of my subjects wanted to sit and pose. Same thing today. These people were gracious enough to let me photograph them. That didn’t mean that they wanted to spend an hour with me. But, you do have to make some sort of connection. You have to think about that when you are working the street.
I reckon about now a lot of people could use one today. Or, a lot of them.
It’s Inauguration Day in The United States. It’s pretty fair to say that the entire world is nervous. No worries. I’m not going to go all political on you now. Storyteller is supposed to be a refuge from all of that. I don’t speak liberal. And, I don’t speak conservative. I am on the side of mankind. Justice. Fairness. Caring.
I know what I know. I do what I do.
But, I wouldn’t presume to take over an airliner and fly it because I didn’t like how the flight crew treated me. Because. Because. Because. I don’t know how to fly a jet passenger plane.
Okay. That’s a metaphor.
But, we in The United States are about to be lead by a group of people who have no idea how to lead a country. And, by a man who thinks that he can tweet policy. A man who has no intellectual curiosity. A man who attacks anybody who even remotely crosses him in word or deed. The list goes on forever. Just like the road.
Like the rest of the world, I’m nervous. I have no idea what’s coming. All the tweeting, posting and instagramming in the world isn’t going to help. For the rest of the day, I’m going dark. If you decide to make a comment or two, I’ll come back to you on Saturday. However, you know what I think. The work is the prayer. There is a jazz funeral for justice, a women’s parade and a children’s parade occurring during the day starting at about 10:30 am. By the time you read this, I’ll be there.
Making pictures. Doing the work. Making the prayer.
These pictures. Welp, they came from the Undefeated Divas second line. I know these people. They are my pals on the scene. For the technically minded, F 5.6 and be there. Somewhere. Anywhere.
What could I write that hasn’t been already written? It’s been a rough year. It doesn’t seem to want to let go. There’s also been some wonderful moments. Especially when you look at them at a more granular level. Dig in. Forget all the noise. Just listen to the signal.
In my case all I really had to do was look at my work for the last year. I thought, “Hmmm, some of this isn’t half bad.” On the other hand, some of this year’s work falls into the “what the hell was I thinking” category.
And, so it goes.
Here are twelve pictures that I made in 2016. Twelve pictures that I like. One for every month. But, not organized by month. Are they my best? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow. Or, the next day. Or, the day after that. My thinking changes on a daily basis. As it should.
These are my last two pictures of the 2016 holiday season. I didn’t make a lot of “big” Christmas pictures this year. I didn’t feel like it. As we all know, the passing year was a rough one. 2016 was hard on everybody. I guess it shows. Especially, since I believe all art is autobiographical.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a fine Christmas. It’s not about the holiday. It’s about all that preceded it. And, what many fear will come. Storyteller isn’t a political blog, but the world is changing and not in a good way. Two political events happened this year that nobody believed could happen. And, a never-ending war in the Middle East blossomed into one of the largest humanitarian crises the world has ever seen. Innocent people were killed. Ancient cities destroyed.
Of course, there were the passings. People left the planet. Ancestors is what we call them in New Orleans. We mourn. Then we celebrate their lives. So many artists — in the form of musicians — died in 2016.
But, some of those who left inspired all of us to do better, to create on a higher level, no matter our art. The cycle of mourning and celebration never seemed to end this year. We all need a break.
I have no idea. I don’t know what’s coming. As they say, it’s above my pay grade. Well above my pay grade. But, I do know that I have to shake this off and move beyond it. To be better. To create at another level. I can’t speak for any of you. You all know what you have to do. Or, not do.
The pictures. I took them walking around. There is a sense of isolation in both of them. You know. That, “all art is autobiographical” thing. Rearing its ugly head. If you look closely at “Santa and Me,” you can see a dog leash on the bottom right of the picture. Guess who was with me? Yep. The dog. The one who sees things. Who helps me take pictures.
There has been a lot of talk about people over the election season. Americans. Who are they? Who should be included? Who should be excluded? What does the new President Elect mean for some of us? For those who thought the debate would get better after the election, well, you were wrong. It got worse. Now it’s in the streets. Peaceful protest is the American way. The violent hatred is not.
I thought that I would let you meet some of the people I’ve met and had the privilege of photographing along the way. My way. As I started curating this little collection, I became more and more humbled. These people are real. They aren’t “talent.” They weren’t paid to be in my work. They let me into their lives. Even for just one brief moment.
They are all Americans.
Oh yeah. This is one alien among them all. I think he or she arrived in 1947. In Roswell, New Mexico. See if you can spot him or her.
Uptown. In Central City. Colors. Drumming. Dancing. Chants. Singing.
And, so much more.
I’m not a good enough writer to tell you how this feels, smells, tastes. To me, it’s a swirling mass of color, energy, and everything good about New Orleans.
Maybe, for me, it’s something deeper. More primal. Something sensual. I can tell you this, once the sights, feel, sounds, and smells get into me it’s all a dream. I can vaguely tell you about walking around, greeting those people that I know, stepping around people, slithering through crowds. But, I cannot actually pinpoint any one of those things in time. They just happened. They just were.
That is the perfect place from which to make pictures. It’s also exhausting. Not just physically. Mentally. Spiritually. Psychically. When I returned home, I downloaded the RAW files and took a nap.
The pictures. I suppose one of the reason I was tired physically was pretty simple. I walked over five miles through really big crowds. Walking on our broken, potholed, sinking, New Orleans streets is good exercise on any day. Now, add the crowds and that about half of those miles came from walking backwards.
That’s how you do it.
Someone asked me, in comments, since my pictures are so sharp did I use a tripod? Noooooo. Even if I was a tripod guy, there is no way to do that in a constantly surging group of people. The Indians are in constant motion. The benevolent clubs are in constant motion. The brass bands are in constant motion. The spectators are in motion with them. Once the parade starts, it seems as if the entire thing moves in unison. All at once. In order to take these pictures, I either have to move with it. Or, let it flow around me and double time it in order to catch up with it. That means making my way through crowds who are doing whatever it is they are doing. I cannot imagine carrying a tripod through all of that energy.
I did see a photographer carrying a short stool with him. He sat on it, planted his feet and took pictures. Then, he moved on. He said working this way is like combat photography. I replied, that they aren’t shooting at you and that stool is going to end up on some curb. In the trash. I never saw him again. Or, the stool.
At the end of the day, everybody has their own way of working. But, it really comes down to situational awareness. Style. And, most of all, intent.