A little preparation.

There’s more to it than you think.

Walking a second line takes some work. Not just on the street. But, inside. Inside the club, bar or house from which the second line begins. Sometimes I go inside. Sometime I don’t. Depends. Usually when I’m inside most people are happy to see me. After all, a little respect goes a long way.

This picture deserves to be opened up so you can see what’s going on.

If you look closely, you can see that the subject is in sharp focus. That would be the smiling woman with all those hands surrounding her. You would also see that one of those hands has a red-painted manicure. That’s a big deal for female second line participants. Since this second line is called “Women of Class,” dressing well is very important. Finally, there is the subject’s smartphone being held out in front of her. Care to guess why? It’s for me. Of course, I obliged. I’m in their house.

I’ve gotten to the point where so many second lines look the same. Sure, the colors of the day change. Rarely does anything else. Even the people. Especially the people. They attend second lines that aren’t theirs as a show of respect. Brass bands are the most interesting. Musicians play in multiple bands. All they do is change their shirts.

I like photographing second lines. As a friend says, they are like going to church. The sights, the smells, the good feelings are important to me.

I am a photographer first. I was trained to tell stories. I was trained to make pictures that are a little different. I was trained to edit, okay — cull — my work down to the best pictures. So, I try very hard to figure out different angles, different locations, different approaches. Usually, I fail. That’s okay. I think about baseball. Using old school metrics, the best hitters bat around .300. That means they made an out two out of three times. That’s fine with me.

It’s the one successful at bat I try to make count. Certainly, there is the decisive moment. A moment when most of what you are seeing, when somebody does something that is so good, so cool, so exciting, that you better push the button.

You’d better know the scene.

For a while it was a big deal to capture guys dancing on roofs. Now, everybody dances on roofs. Or, there is a very young trombone player whose mom sort of introduced him to the adults. That was unique. Now he’s everywhere. His mom used to stand near him. Now, she doesn’t. She knows that we’ll — all of us, musicians and photographers — will look after him.

So.

I keep looking. Thinking. Watching.

One thing I know for sure. If I make one new picture. Or, the guy next to me does it, we’ll all be doing it within about two weeks. We are all on the same chase. It’s not really competitive. None of us care. Not like that.

This picture. I went inside where the ladies were getting ready. I smiled. I nodded. I made some pictures. A guy came up to me. I thought he was going to ask me to leave. That happens sometimes.

Not this time.

He asked for my business card. He is getting married and wants to hire a photographer. We’ve talked since. I asked “why me?’ He said that if I could walk into what is essentially a private session and not upset anybody I must know what I’m doing.  I didn’t quote him because those are my words. Turns out that he works with a lot of second liners. I’ll make him a good deal in exchange for access.

I’m not really a wedding photographer anyway.

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One more picture from Super 7 Mother's Day  second line parade.
One more picture from Super 7 Mother’s Day second line parade.

One more picture from “Ray’s Excellent Adventure Inside a Second Line Parade.”

It’s interesting. And, it’s confusing.

The official colors of the benevolent and social clubs who actually host and run a second line parade are chosen for one event and one event only. Usually, it just means the club members like the colors. Nothing more. So too, with Mardi Gras Indians. No tribe has an official color. Yes. The colors are often bright. They call attention to the folks wearing the clothes. But, they aren’t a group affiliation.

Often times in my image processing workflow I’ll label a group of pictures something like “Yellow Indian,” or “Purple Indian,” or “O&BSC” (Orange & Blue Social Club).Those terms are meaningless except for being anything more than a visual prompt for me.

The worst thing that can happen to me is for the colors to be all red, or all yellow, with the parade being back lighted. Guess what happens then? Everything turns red or yellow. Skin. Hair. People in the background. All from the reflected color of the light. Luckily, when these guys wearing orange and blue got into the streets, the light was soft and misty because rain started to fall. But, you can see in this picture how the blue color reflects off this young man’s face.


Greetings and hugs.
Greetings and hugs.

An experiment. A taste. The meaning. A question.

Let’s see if I can pull this off.

The experiment.

A lot of my friends here, in real life and on various social media sites say that I should publish a book. That’s flattering and humbling. I’m very happy that you like my work.

But, I believe that a book topic can’t be very general. It should also be about something about which I am passionate. I should have a pretty deep knowledge of the subject that I’m photographing. And, the pictures should be somewhat unique. Lots of people have cameras at levels of quality. Folks have very good smartphones. They can take a lot of pictures for very little money. The numbers are staggering.

What separates my work from millions of other pictures?

The princess of the parade.
The princess of the parade.

A Taste.

You’re getting a little taste of pictures that are somewhat unique. Not everybody is invited inside the actual rooms were a second line parade is being organized. It was a surprise offer and I tried to make the best of it. In itself, that was very humbling. Second line parades are taken very seriously by the benevolent societies and social clubs who are walking them.

Sometimes the image quality suffers a little bit. These pictures feel like old school photojournalism. Pre-digital. More like film. Slow shutter speeds. Wide open f stops. Slow ISOs. Not much ability to light anything because you don’t want to call attention to yourself. You really want to fade into the background.

Pictures in the house.
Pictures in the house.

The meaning.

I talk about photographing from the inside, out. Working closely. Not using long telephoto lenses. Interacting and engaging with your subjects.

Sometimes, I can do that once the parade gets rolling… sort of. I’m allowed inside the ropes. I’m allowed to work really closely. That took some time. The neighborhoods had to get to know me. They had to come to understand that I respect them, their traditions and their rituals. They had to see me working. They had to hear me ask for permission and thank everybody who I photographed. They had to see my own rhythm. I had to be able to dance to the music.

The wait.
The wait.

All of that sort of came together when I was offered the chance to be on the REAL inside. Not inside the ropes. But, in the rooms where they are preparing and dressing. A place where you have to be invited. You can’t just walk in. You have to be introduced to the leaders, presidents, kings, queens, princes and princesses. You shake their hands. Give them fist bumps. Make them laugh. Help them to know that you understand. That you won’t get in the way.

The prayer for peace and a good parade.
The prayer for peace and a good parade.

You can’t over stay your welcome. But, you can return. I went outside to make stoop pictures. A stoop is what some of you call a front porch. When the prayer started, I was asked back inside. See the prince? See the princess? Children are important. They are the next generation. The prayer is for a good parade. For peace. And, to walk for those who came before. And, for those who passed during the previous year. To the casual observer, the tourist or the newcomer these parades are all celebration and dancing. Second line parades are far more than that. They memorialize folks who passed during the year. They honor somebody new to the group or the newly elected leader. Sometimes, they pass over sacred ground. The event is celebratory, but the meaning is deeper. It’s about tradition. And, ritual.

Hitting the street.
Hitting the street.

The question.

Many of you who have been reading Storyteller for a while have seen a lot of second line parades and Mardi Gras Indian dances and walks. Until the past few weeks I haven’t really been on inside as much as I thought I was. Shows you what I know, which sometimes is next to nothing.

For some of my newer friends, you may not have seen my second line and indian work. If you like, work back through some of my posts. You’ll find a lot of pictures.

In either case, I have one big, giant, huge, large, titanic question to ask you. Is there a book here? Is there a gallery show here?

What do you think? What could make it better? I’m not asking you to do this, but if you were browsing in book store or online would you stop and take a longer look?

 


Peering at me. Krewe of Muses.
Peering at me. Krewe of Muses.

I try to keep my promises. Life is too short for unkept promises. Sheesh. Maybe life is to short for promises at all. You asked for more Mardi Gras pictures, so I said that I would do sort of a wrap up of Mardi Gras 2014. I decided to give myself a month to do the curating, post production and fine tuning. After all, I do have other work to do. So do you. I also set a deadline. Since Fat Tuesday occurred on March 4, 2014, I thought publishing these pictures on April 4, 2014 was appropriate.

Exactly one month.

I also decided not to use the gallery function that is offered by WordPress because the way that it sizes pictures and sets them up in a grid makes it very hard for other social sites to “see” them. Additionally, it appears that Google has a pretty hard time finding them if all those little pictures aren’t key worded in a way that optimizes each one of them for their search algorithms. So, I went back to full-sized pictures that you can open up to even bigger pictures if one strikes your fancy. And, all the other sites can find them.

One more thing. These few paragraphs are all that I am publishing. This is about pictures and carnival. I’ve written enough — way too much really — so that you have a pretty good idea of what you are seeing.

So.

The pictures. I think you know that I like to work around the edges. I think that most Mardi Gras parades are probably among the most photographed subjects in the world. EVERYBODY has some kind of camera and they use them. Being a person who’s lived photography for almost 40 years I have to wonder why all these people want to live and see their lives through a view finder or little screen. If I didn’t do what I do, I’d just watch the parades and enjoy Mardi Gras without the encumbrance of a camera of any kind. That’s just me. I don’t know what all those people are going to do with all these millions of digital files. Oh sure, they share them on various social media sites. But, those go by in the blink of an eye. Then what? More pictures? More sharing? Blips of data. Too much data. Unless you have a good library system, likely you’ll never find the pictures you took last week. For me, the ultimate use of a picture is on paper. Yes. Paper. Whether the picture is published in a magazine, brochure or whatever matters to me. Hanging a well-printed photograph on the wall matters to me. But, all these bits of data on some hard drive? Eh. That’s just a starting point. Like an old school negative.

The pictures you are about to see are organized in no particular order. They are little moments of time that I captured by intent, by luck or by some other thing. You know. Pictures like these used to be called the decisive moment. I don’t know how decisive these pictures are, but they are unique. Even the one float picture in this little portfolio is about the man and his son or grandson more than the float, itself. I don’t know how good or bad these pictures are. That’s your call. But, I know that nobody else made pictures like these. For me, that is the point.

That’s it for Mardi Gras 2014. I hope you enjoy my work.

Flambeaux
Flambeaux
Posing king.
Posing king.
Flambeaux
Flambeaux
Little ddm major getting ready for Zulu parade.
Little ddm major getting ready for Zulu parade.
Waiting for the rain to pass. Krewe of Barkus.
Waiting for the rain to pass. Krewe of Barkus.
Before the parade.
Before the parade.
On the way to Krewe of Muses.
On the way to Krewe of Muses.
A druid walking up Magazine Street.
A druid walking up Magazine Street.
A quick bite. Krewe of Barkus.
A quick bite. Krewe of Barkus.
Marching band.
Marching band.
Zoom. Zoom. Before Muses.
Zoom. Zoom. Before Muses.
Marching band getting ready on Magazine Street.
Marching band getting ready on Magazine Street.
Dead. Red.
Dead. Red.
Walking to the band assembly point.
Walking to the band assembly point.
Nothing but brass.
Nothing but brass.
Meeting his grand children.
Meeting his grand children.
Impressionistic Mardi Gras float.
Impressionistic Mardi Gras float.
Queen of Zulu.
Queen of Zulu.
Zulu parader.
Zulu parader.
Getting made up.
Getting made up.
It was cold. Krewe of Zulu.
It was cold. Krewe of Zulu.
The way it is today. Selfies and portraits even at a parade.
The way it is today. Selfies and portraits even at a parade.
Cold. Colder. Coldest. Krewe of Zulu.
Cold. Colder. Coldest. Krewe of Zulu.


Reverend leads parade walkers in prayer.
Reverend leads parade walkers in prayer.
Two you second liners get ready for the parade.
Two you second liners get ready for the parade.
Waiting at parade rest.
Waiting at parade rest.

As you are well aware. Today is a very solemn day. A day of reflection. A day of remembrance. A day of prayer. 911. A day we’ll never forget.  The beginning of something that won’t end very soon. There are a lot of Facebook posts about it. Many, many tweets. That’s all good. I started thinking about what picture to publish. I wasn’t in New York on that day. I wasn’t in Washington on that day. So, I don’t have relevant pictures. I thought. Then I realized that I do. I realized that every picture I’ve made since that terrible day is relevant. My pictures are about life. Sometimes they celebrate it. Sometimes they mourn for it. And, for me, they are they only way to go forward. I realized in one moment of clarity, that if I stopped. The bad guys win.

Besides, for me, the work is the prayer.

These pictures were made at the second line parade in Central City. Last Sunday. If second line parades don’t celebrate life, I don’t know what does. A minister praying for a good and safe second line parade. Two young parade walkers. An older man’s hand clasped as he waits patiently for the parade to begin. That’s life. That’s all good.

So. Today. Busy day. But, I’ve got to go make a picture somewhere. You know why. The work is the prayer.