You drive. You listen to specially curated playlists of road music. You eat gas station food. You drink bad coffee. You stay in motels of questionable quality. Even the ones with big names.
You’re having fun.
You decide to make tracks to a certain destination. You drive on. And on. You stop for gas. You eat in the car. You speed on. And on.
You become one with your car. Places whizz by. Signs become a blur. You’re not even going that fast.
Tired. So tired.
You see. But, not see.
That’s it. You stop. For the night.
Everything that you see looks like this picture. And, that ain’t a good thing.
The picture. It was planned for yesterday. So was the prose. But, you know what they say. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Chef Leah passed. That stopped me in my tracks. Funny thing, I had a song in my head the whole time that I searched for her picture and started writing. I couldn’t quite place it. I had part of the melody. And, no lyrics. Last night it came to me. “Mandolin Wind.” An ancient Rod Stewart song. A beautiful and appropriate song. So, while I write to you today, I’m listening to his work from that era. When he was young. When I was young. When the world was younger than today.
Oh yeah. What did I do? I did all the post production that I wanted to make the basic picture, which was good enough. By then, that road trippy feeling was in my head. I stacked the same picture on top of itself. I skewed them slightly. I clipped their edges by cropping. I added some edge darkness. Voila!
By the way, I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately. Wallah. Huh? It’s voila, pronounced wallah. Sheesh.
I learned about the word deep. And how it might be the word of the year as it is currently used. Everybody seems to be diving deep into all sorts of data. Our personal data is no longer safe no matter what we do.
I learned about post truth. That this years Superbowl is perfect for the current President of The United States. Illegitimate. I don’t say that as a Saints fan. I say that as a fan of the truth.
I learned that just about everybody who knows about such things as war, safety, immigration and most world views disagrees with that same president.
I learned that the door is open to beating and hurting people who don’t look like you. Who don’t act like you.
That makes me sad.
No country for old men. Sheesh. No country for anybody.
On the other hand.
This picture makes me smile. It’s the one I saw when I made the picture of trucks and me, that I posted yesterday. Look at it. Look at the beauty of nature. Even in changing and often hard times. Look at it as the clouds blow into the region dropping the temperature by about 30 degrees.
This is the real stuff. All the rest — post truth, lack of privacy, and violence — is just temporary. It’ll come to an end. It has to. Nature won’t allow it to go on. For me, there is no debate about climate change even if the president doesn’t understand what extreme weather really means. He keeps going on about how cold it is in the midwest, forgetting that on the other side of the world temperatures are way up in triple digits. That there are some children who have never seen or felt rain because droughts have lasted for longer than their short lives.
Nature seeks stasis. She’ll do whatever it takes to balance the planet. That could mean getting rid of us. Getting rid of all the noise. Getting rid of the polluters. Getting rid of those of us who do not respect her ways.
We are already seeing it.
Brand new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was criticized for saying the world would end in twelve years. That’s not what she said. She cited studies that said we have about twelve years to do something before it is too late to do anything. She gets attacked for anything she does. Sure, sometimes her numbers are off. But, she has our welfare at heart. The point is simple. We don’t have that much time to act. Twelve years is a short time.
That’s what these clouds got me thinking about. That’s what the words I read this morning got me pondering. That’s what this post is doing. At least, it is for me.
The picture. It’s a drive by. We talked about that yesterday. It’s a fairly simple thing. See it. Make it. Yet, so much is contained within its frame. For me, a picture brings up all sort of thoughts. I hope, if it isn’t this picture, that some picture does the same for you.
Before the big giant red wolf moon. And whatever else.
This picture is representative of what our skies looked like down here in the swamp. Something, huh? I made it during a break in the big football game. That’s all I’m saying about it, except to say that Stephen Colbert lead with it on his show. He continued to use the video of the illegal hit whenever he talked about incompetence. And, he doesn’t really follow sports.
That said, I saw a lot of red moon pictures on various social media. Aside from taking a picture of the red moon, the picture that I liked the best was a picture of a piece of pepperoni stuck on a window. It was funny. It made a point.
Taking pictures of any moon may satisfy your need to document it, but there is no context. It’s just a red thing in the sky, no matter how sharp you make it.
Contest is important. Seriously, the best pictures of the moon to my way of thinking, is one that has something that you can relate to. For instance, I saw a picture made from a cliff. The city lights were below and a person was in the foreground. That said a lot to me. I saw a couple of others that were that were about the same. I knew that in New Orleans I didn’t have a great view from wherever I worked, so I made the best picture I could much earlier in the moon rise.
That’s kind of the big take away. Make the best picture you can within what natural limitations occur. In my case, I really have to figure out how far to walk without feeling too much pain. When I do, I stop and take a break. Maybe, it’s for coffee. Maybe, I just sort of hang out and wait for a picture to appear in front of me. Usually, after a few minutes of sitting I’m good to go for a good while. Then I stop again if I need to. That’s for me. Most of you don’t have my photographer’s condition. I’m pretty sure my work in the old days, when we always carried too much stuff, is a big cause for what I feel today. I often quote Neil Young who said, “The things that make you are will kill you in the end.” He’s right. At least for me.
Speaking of Neil Young, a friend of mine mentioned in an email that I didn’t mention the passing of his ex-wife, Pegi, on Storyteller. My feelings are a little private, as are most of the people in this house. Let’s just say this. Pegi was like an aunt or other mom to many people who worked with her. Not only was she a good musician working in her husband’s shadow for 37 years, but she founded the Bridge School for severely learning impaired children. She and Neil founded the Bridge School Benefit concerts that ran for around 30 years. Neil has a big Rolodex from which he invited musicians who he wanted to hear play. It was considered a huge honor to be on that stage. Musicians, played acoustically and they turned around from the audience from time to time to play to the school’s children who sat just backstage facing the crowd. Some of those shows were hair-raising. David Bowie turned around to the kids and played, “Heroes.” Buffalo Springfield reunited there. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunited there at a time much like today, when everybody thought that they’d never play together. Neil chased Norah Jones around the stage trying to get her to play guitar around his guitar.
I made the picture. Then, I found the lyrics. The song starts with this, “When I was back there in seminary school.” That’s how I replied to a friend of mine who was discussing the road and sky picture that I posted the other day.
The picture. The last of the images that I made on that wonderful cloudy day. WordPress’ compression software stepped on it a bit. The chrome and backlighted cars glistened. It added balance to the picture. I can hardly wait to see what Facebook will do to it. Aaaargh.
I don’t know what it is about me. I really like power and telephone lines in my work. I was taught (back there in seminary school) to do whatever it took to avoid them. A few years back I realized that they are just part of the scene. If I’m being honest with my work they should remain. On the other hand… this may be a little over kill.
One more thing. It’s another drive by picture. Notice, the red stoplight. It’s looking right at me. This is also one of those corners where you can’t turn right on red. See? I’m obeyed the rules. I don’t think the rules say anything about taking pictures, but that’s got to be better than texting. Right?
This picture, for instance, looks like a sunset. It’s not. It’s a reflection of a sunset. It’s all optics and physics. This picture is made looking south and east. Since when does the sun set in the east? It confused me for a while until I realized that the light from the setting sun was bouncing all over the place in the post storm sky. That’ll happen. Especially in the clear light of winter. Yes. Even in the swamp.
The whole thing got me thinking about perspective. About changing your view in order to change yourself. For instance, I’m in some physical pain. I wrote about that a few posts ago. That pain seems to have helped me to understand the pain of others. I was talking about Tom Petty. And, to a far lesser extent, Prince. I get it. They were trying to medicate severe physical pain.
What if? What if I flipped this around? What if I thought that my immobility is slight compared to so many others? I can walk. No matter what. I walk about three miles a day. What if I came to understand that I’ve become a much better photographer? Or, artist? What if I realized that I see the little things much better? I’ve always talked about little pictures. But, these are really little. What if I looked at the collection of pictures that I’ve made in the past few months in their entirety?
Well. I did the last one. Last night. It’s quite a collection. I think this will be my next gallery show. Downtown. In hipsterville. They like this work. I’ve been given a gallery show. I told you about that. But, I had no idea what to show. I do now.
That’s good. I’m running out of fresh work. I made this picture a few weeks ago. But, I didn’t tinker with it. Until today. I wanted a certain color, shade and hue. I thought that I was onto something new and different. The joke is on me. I’ve been working in this basic color palette for at least two years. At least that’s how far back I went in my archives until I couldn’t take it anymore.
I alway think as an artist — any kind of artist — that you should pretty much always move forward. In photography, for example, you start by being really happy that there is an image on your film or file. Later, you want the image to say something about the subject, or you. Still later, you might want to move into a kind of art. Sometimes you make a little portfolio of images that have the same look and feel. Then, you move on.
Near as I can tell, I just moved backwards. Oops. That’ll happen. I like the picture well enough. I wouldn’t show it to you if I didn’t. But, it looks like two-year old work. To me. As far as the subject matter goes, my friend in Louisianahhh, thinks power lines are her bane. 🙂 I think power lines are great leading lines. I just wish there was a real subject at the end of them.
I can wish all that I want. It takes work to make wishes come true. Now that my head is clear after what seems like six weeks of fluishness, I better get back to it. Whaddya think?
The picture. All kinds of tinkering after the fact. I wish that I could tell you every step. But, this was one of those times when I knew what worked when I got there. If it didn’t work, I went back to the next saved step.
I suppose that’s the lesson. Save every step in your post production workflow. I know that most of what we do in post can be non-destructive. But, we don’t want to recreate everything when we take a fork in the road.
I know that I wrote that I would get back to my old self. Second Lines. Brass Bands. Mardi Gras Indians. Mardi Gras, itself. And, I will.
Unfortunately, I caught the flu. The one that never goes away. No. I don’t feel terrible. And, my coughing seems to have cut back from all day to a few times an hour. But, I do tire easily. And, I get that stupid feeling right in the middle of my head.
Yes. I have a little medical supervision. My pharmacist, rather than my doctor. I reckon she’s seen this more, or at least, as much as he has. She says that at this point it just takes time. I can work. I can keep doing what I do. But, I have to be prepared to rest when I need to.
Here’s how that goes.
Yesterday, I woke up at about the normal time. I worked all morning. I took the “all-seeing dog” for her walk. I had lunch at about 1pm. I thought I would take some “executive time,” lay down and read for about an hour. I awoke at 4:20pm. It’s not lost time because I can work later. But, it is annoying. I’m not normally a mid-day sleeper.
I’m not photographing what I want to. I can only go so long and so far.
This is my everything picture. Bare trees. Power poles and lines. Winter sunset. It’s got all the usual elements. In one picture. It took a little post production. I wanted it to be warmer than the original. I wanted it to glow a little.
I’m just hoping I’m ready for Mardi Gras parade season. Whether I stay or go, I want to be at full strength. So, I’ll take it easier now.
I miss it a lot. There are days when I wonder what I did. I wonder why I came back. But, that’s pretty much another story. It has to do with the romance of place. The swamp. A lot of culture that I’d grown used to in New Orleans. And, the food.
The place is falling apart. The swamp smells. I’m kind of over the culture. And, I’m bored with “New Orleans” food. Besides, as I try to get healthier and healthier, New Orleans food is the last thing that I need.
I’m not complaining. I was happy to come back. I’m glad that I did. And, I sure made a lot of cool New Orleans pictures. I even got to know a lot of the players in the Mardi Gras Culture. And, then there’s Mardi Gras itself. People pay a lot of money to travel to New Orleans to see the Mardi Gras. I walked out my front door and up two blocks. Same thing with The French Quarter. People travel from miles around. I drive five minutes.
This is a New Mexican picture. It has the kind of light that artists of all genres revere. At the time, I was comparing man to wide open spaces. Those big, huge electrical power poles feed the west. They sure don’t look so big in this picture. It makes the statement that no matter what man does, nature is always bigger and grander. You’d think we learn that during Hurricane Season. I guess you have to be there.
I went to one of my usual places. Not because I’m lazy, which is the norm around dinnertime, but because I knew I would have something if I just waited a while. And, because I like some kind of subject in the foreground of my sunset pictures. Even if it is just power poles.
There is a lot of post production going on. Nothing really great comes straight from the camera. Even pictures of nature. Film or digital capture just can’t “see” the way the human brain sees. But, our human brains can help our images. To be what we see.
That’s not what I want to talk about today. We can bat this ball around forever. Most of you who are not photographers would just get bored.
I want to talk about my city. I want to codify my sometimes rants. My ravings. After learning what we did about the Sewerage and Water Board, I’m livid. Furious. Irate.
Let’s start with this.
I’ve been “home” for six years. I came back at a time when I thought things were improving. I kept coming back during the years in between. I kept working at hurricane recovery from a distance. This place was home. Sure, things were still coming back from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the consequent flooding, which is now generally called “The Federal Flood.” But, it appeared the city was getting better. Healing. Recovering,
Things are getting worse.
Crime is way up. The murder rate is skyrocketing. The shooting rate is higher. People are getting violently mugged in locations and at times when that rarely happened pre-storm. There aren’t enough cops to patrol the city even with huge amounts of overtime. State Troopers permanently patrol the French Quarter because tourism is our sole major industry. Private guards patrol neighborhoods that can afford it. My neighborhood pays for it. The jeep guards are great, but they can’t arrest anybody. They hold them until the NOPD arrives. Which is sometimes never.
Crime ties in nicely with gentrification. Most of the people who make the city what it is can no longer afford to live here. Many of the Mardi Gras Indians and the Benevolent Societies who I photograph during second lines and Indian events no longer live in Orleans Parish. The only people left behind seem to be the bad guys. And… the people who can afford to live in gentrified neighborhoods. Despite moving here for what they perceived to be our culture, music, food and old buildings, they want things to be like the places that they came from. Oh, and they don’t want to pay for services.
Which brings me to infrastructure. The streets. I live in a good neighborhood. I live on a corner. One street looks like Berlin in 1946 with potholes, patches and craters. The other street is half cobblestone and half pavement. It expands and contracts depending on the weather. We are lucky. There are streets in some neighborhoods, like Lakeview, that are not drivable. Of course, there is the electric power. Lines are patched, re-patched and left hanging to the point that two squirrels on the line at the same time means a power failure. In this day and age of all things digital, that’s disaster. It also means we buy a lot of storm lanterns to use without the arrival of bad weather.
All of this brings me to our latest flooding. Our latest rounds of lies from the people who are supposed to keep us safe from the weather. From flooding.
On Saturday when the storm dumped all that water on the city, it was a “100 Year Storm.” That would be fine, if we didn’t already have another “100 Year Storm” two weeks prior. And, if last summer’s flooding of about 70% of the river parishes in the state wasn’t also a “100 Year Storm.” Then, we had a few pumping stations out. First, it was four, then eight and finally sixteen. Then, on Thursday all of our phones went off at about 3 am to tell us there was a fire in the turbine station which provides electric power to the pumping stations. Only a few of the pumping stations from the 9th Ward to Jefferson Parish were working. The mayor kept us updated throughout the day; mostly by making excuses that amounted to the catchall phrase, “who knew?” He’s supposed to know. One of his titles is President of the Water and Sewerage Board.
It turns out that of the 8 or so turbine stations located throughout the city, most of them have been offline for years. Waiting to be repaired. Or rebuilt. When this latest one caught fire there was no backup. Supposedly, as I write, the turbine has been repaired and two backup generators are on their way from Florida. During the highest point of hurricane season.
We have FEMA money to repair the street. To repair our hurricane damaged pumping stations. To repair our turbines. Even to clean the entire system which means pipes and gutter drains. We are talking billions of dollars.
Yet, nothing really gets done.
Well, that’s not true. Some things get done. The man who ran the Sewerage and Water Board decided to retire on Sunday, after word of his lies first surfaced. He leaves at the end of the month with a $176,000 a year pension. Seems that he is a 28 year civil servant.
And, I wonder about the state of my city.
Think about it. People retire after 20 or 30 years of city employment. After 20 or 30 years of not doing a good job. And, they get rewarded for it when they retire. They leave the city worse than they found it.
Now, the mayor is bringing in an outside firm to stabilize the water board since so many top officers were forced out in a matter of days. No bid. No city council approval. Follow the money. My money. My neighbor’s money.
And, I wonder about the state of my city.
At the end of the day, everything has gotten worse in the six years since I’ve been back. Much worse.
The mayor thinks he would be a good presidential candidate in 2020.