I was wondering just how many pictures of old couches, chairs and furniture would hold a readers interest.
I wasn’t sure what to do about it until I saw this scene.
It hit me.
A picture like this holds the reader’s interest in many ways. Not the least of them being the human need to understand the photograph. To study it. To spend some time with it. To let your brain grasp the details within the details.
The first couple of pictures that I made for the “Junk Project,” were mostly overall scenes. You look at them once, quickly, and you are done. You see everything that needs to seen in less than a second. They rely on color, shape and hue.
This picture relies on content. Subject matter.
This picture would work in black and white, as well as in color.
This picture is also harder to find. Even harder for it to find you.
If somebody wanted it for their wall, I work hard to convince them to use the horizontal version and turn it into wall paper. Something that is about twelve feet wide and eight feet high. Something that when you came home at night, you could stare at and forget the day. You’d mumble to yourself, “Oh wow. I didn’t see that before.”
Just like I’m doing now. That light bulb. They are expensive. It isn’t broken. What was I thinking?
I had a good week. Not only did I find a couple of pictures for the summer project, but I found a couple of pictures for my junk and water projects. I’m not saying that everything I photographed will make it into the final cut, but having many pictures from which to select is better than too few. Right?
I wrote about this topic a few weeks ago.
Durability. Sustainability. Repairability.
The furniture that was set out by this dumpster was old. The pieces were probably manufactured in the 1930s. Every piece was well made of good solid wood. Nothing was broken. They needed a little refinishing work, but that was about it.
All they needed was a little loving touch. They would have made a fine collection of furniture for somebody. Anybody.
We live in a time when everything is made so cheaply that it costs more to repair an item than it costs to replace it. That’s too bad. More broken stuff for the overflowing landfills. More broken stuff to add to our pollution. More broken people not working.
A few weeks ago, we went through the great plastic purge. We are still working on it, but it’s damn near impossible. Sheesh. We tried to buy butcher paper locally. Good try. Yes. It can be found in our local and regional grocery stores. But, it’s improved. It has a — wait for it — plastic backing.
Sure. You can buy paper butcher paper on Amazon. And, you add to the carbon footprint by having it shipped. Get this, most of it comes in huge rolls for commercial use.
So, you have to buy a rack and a paper cutter.
I believe that we are at a point beyond which we can’t turn back. Everybody and everything is too invested in the stuff that could kill the planet. Besides, follow the money. How does Mitch McConnell grow his wealth by some $24 million in a couple of years?
The picture. First, I would have taken that furniture if I had a truck. But, I had a dog on a leash. She refuses to carry heavy stuff. Seriously, I photograph my projects as I see potential subject matter. For me, it works better to let the pictures come to me, rather than chasing them. As I wrote earlier, I think I have my color palette figured out going forward. For the junk project.
One more item of semi-interest.
Doctor John was buried yesterday. His family and friends organized a true jazz funeral with a second line and a mule drawn hearse. I didn’t photograph it. The temperature was 96 degrees at 3pm when the parade began. The heat index was 104 degrees. Way too hot for me.
The ten best pictures of summer project is coming along nicely. Much to my surprise, so is the dumpster project. My book projects are in the phase of, “are we there yet?”
We were doing a little grocery shopping when I turned down the aisle in the frozen food section. I was able to retake a picture that I made a few years ago. That one was all ice cream. This one is all pizza. Boxes. Heat and eat.
When I made the original one I sort of hid was I was doing. Not this round. I took my time. If somebody saw me and gave me a strange look, I didn’t care. Eventually, the man who was stocking the frozen cases asked what I was doing. I didn’t tell him. I showed him. He liked what he saw and told me that if anybody complained, he had my back.
How cool is that? Or is it, how frozen is that?”
I’m not sure if this is one of my summer series. It could be. If not, it’s colorful fun.
The picture. Arrrrrgh. WordPress has been messing with the color software again. The original version of this picture is far more colorful. More contrasty. It grabs you. I says, “look at me.” But, WordPress compressed my .jpeg into something muddy. I tried some of my usual editing tricks. Three times. To no avail.
You’d think that they would want contrasty imagery since so many pictures published on WordPress are that of writers, cooks and other folks who just want a picture to go with their story. Typically, those images are not properly exposed and are flat and muddy. I’m not attacking those folks. It’s just not what they do or care about.
On the other hand, some of them make wonderful pictures.
The picture works well enough — a phrase I’ve come to hate. If it became part of my ten summer pictures project I would print it on paper. The color and contrast would be what I intended.
For at least the last five years, I’ve been trying to make at least ten very good pictures that are about summer.
I haven’t succeeded yet.
I probably won’t again this summer.
I know, I know. With that attitude I have assured myself of failure.
It’s just a realistic statement that takes into account how difficult it is to make ten good pictures about anything over the course of a year. Sheesh. I’ve been at this for just under fifty years. I’ve made a lot of good pictures. I don’t make bad pictures.
If you were to ask me about my great pictures, only three come to mind. Fifty years. Three great pictures. That ain’t a great ratio. I’m sure there are a lot of better shooters than I am, who have made far more memorable pictures that I have, but, if you ask them, they’ll say about the same thing.
As I’ve been putting older work, mostly from Asia on NGS’ “Your Shot.” I’ve been thinking, “Me?” “I took that picture?” “It must have been a better photographer” I’m not being overly humble. I’m just surprising myself by looking at old, almost forgotten work.” Still, those images don’t crack into my “excellent category.”
That’s one of the great things about getting older — among damn few good things — you have the wisdom of perspective. You understand that most pictures shared on Instagram are nonsense, especially when they are posted as professional work.
The picture. Make no mistake. This isn’t one of the ten great summer images. This is just a tree that I photographed in early morning light. It was backlighted so it caught my attention. It reminded me to start looking right now. Right this minute. For summertime pictures.
Man. I’ve got a lot to do in the next twelve weeks or so.
Just like the water project, it takes some time to find the pictures. Mostly, they find me. When I’m not looking.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not focused. It means that I’m disciplined, always keeping these projects in the back of my mind.
I’ve been a little unsure of my color palette, and most post production style. I think, that with this picture, I’ve found it. It’s pleasing to my eye with just enough shadows to make the picture a little mysterious. And, enough glow to make it a little ethereal.
I do like letting the pictures lead me, rather than the other way around. I’m pretty sure in terms of the flow of this project, one of two things has to happen. Either every picture stands together. As a group. Or, every picture stands alone. As a single picture.
Even though I like this particular post production process, it could change.
On another subject.
Have a good thought for some friends of mine. They are moving to Mexico from Seattle. Take that ICE. Take that POTUS. They will be living with a lot of other expats. They have a lot of reasons for doing this. Two are cost of living and quality of life.
As they get ready to approach Laredo, where they are crossing into Mexico, the weather has turned un-Godly hot. Around 115 degrees F. They have about a two day window when the temperatures drop. They’ll need that badly because they must transfer their stuff from a U-Haul trailer to a van that will deliver their goods to their destination. That’s very hot work. They are in their 70s, although you wouldn’t know that to look at them. The heat alone will tax them. Broken down heat exhausted cars in the desert could kill them. They also sent a big moving van with their furniture and big stuff.
Currently, they are holed up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The temperature is around 75 – 80 degrees F. I wish I was holed up with them. Besides, Santa Fe and all the wonderful things to do, see and eat there, we have a lot of photographer friends in common that we can hang with. We all have worked with each other in the past.
Long careers seem to equal old friends. Artist friends.
I didn’t forget about it. I bet you thought that I did.
The water project.
I work in bits and pieces. I keep ideas filed away in my brain. When I see something that I think might work I photograph it. That takes time. I find if I look for these elements of a little collection, I could probably complete a project in a week or two. It’ll look like that’s what I did.
That said, I found another picture for my dumpster series. Somebody threw away a lot of old wooden furniture. This was quality stuff. Fairly old. At least made in the 1930s. I looked closely. Dovetail joints. Very good details. Wonderful drawer pulls.
Sure. All of the pieces would need refinishing. Some would take more work. Most wouldn’t take very much at all. There were no holes that needed careful repair.
I have no idea why anybody would just toss it. If I had the ambition to work on it, I would have taken it. Even if we couldn’t use it, we could sell it. I’m sure by now a couple of the regular junk collectors have picked it up. They’ll sell it as is.
This picture might become one of my water collection. After looking at it enlarged, it’s going to take a lot of work to make it the kind of reproduction quality that it must be.
I made the original image in a very contrasty and backlighted situation. I really had no tools to control the original exposure. As you see it, there are deep pools of black that should be opened. It is too contrasty. The highlights are plugged up as a way to control some contrast.
If I’m going to do this project properly, I’m going to have to take a pass on my phone. These situations are just too hard for it to handle even with auto-HDR settings. I’m going to have to carry a real camera everywhere. Like I used to do.
Remember, I wrote that I wanted to do a project about water. I bet you thought that I forgot. I didn’t. I was wrestling with photographing water as a photojournalistic story. Or, as a set of art pieces.
Because of my training and background, my first inclination was to look at water with a photojournalist’s eye. That started an internal fight. It went back and forth.
I was walking and saw water bubbling through a little man made stream. I photographed what I saw and I knew.
That’s where I’ve been headed. That’s what I should do.
I think that there are plenty of people photographing what it means to lose water. Or, to be overwhelmed by water, as we are near the Gulf. So, I thought that I would show the beauty of water. After all, it’s us. It’s our place. It’s the earth.
This is the picture that cleared my head.
In case you are wondering, I see this as a small portfolio of no more than twenty pictures. Twenty great pictures that will take a while to produce. And, will be printed very large. Like in measurements of feet rather than inches.
I guess I’d better start carrying a real camera with me. Even though I’m working with very clear intent, you just never know.
WordPress says that they removed spellcheck because it’s redundant to so many other systems and browsers. For those of us who actually write directly onto a WordPress page, that’s nonsense. WordPress is a closed environment. I can’t other spell check from Google or any other browser.
I suppose they want us to cut and paste. Programmers have a way of making things more complicated. Mostly, they just don’t have enough to do.
Even though I haven’t written too much about it, I’m really photographing two big projects at once. You know about “Ten Years Later.” You might have an idea about my history of music project if you remember the pictures of Club Desire in the 9th Ward. Or, I should say pictures of the ruins of…
What started out as a project on photographing ” The Blues Trail” has evolved into “The Chitlin Circuit.” They are kind of the same. But, different. The Chitlin Circuit was a series of musical tour stops that generally promoted what music promoters called second level musicians (some where just starting out — after all, Ray Charles, Count Basie, Little Richard and many, many others were not second level musicians. ) were relegated to in order to build up their skills and their audiences. The circuit was truly a grind. Consider the times in which it was rolling. The 1920s through the 1970s. Jim Crow Laws. Segregation. Think about all that it implies.
The music halls, bars and clubs were small. Many of them were part of a hotel and cafe complex. Touring musicians, played down stairs, ate in the cafe and slept upstairs. I’ll leave you to sort out why. Many of the locations where located on a piece of a street that was called, “a stroll.” They were usually in vibrant black neighborhoods. They had their own sort of life.
This is also what blended blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues and created rock n roll. It evolved over time. There is a lot of controversy about that. We’ll get to it.
Why “Chasing Ghosts?”
Or, very complex. Most of the musicians, promoters, club owners and so on have long left the planet. Most of the buildings in which they worked are gone or in ruins. The place in the picture is called The Dew Drop Inn. Just about four doors down was another club, cafe, hotel complex called “The Foster Hotel and Rainbow Room.” Today, it is a nicely manicured lawn.
That’s just in New Orleans. This goes on for cities, small towns and country juke joints through the south, midwest and even into the west. In many places there is nothing to photograph. Certainly, the original players are obviously not photographable today. It’s a very hard project.
Though the original owner of The Dew Drop passed many years ago, his family still owns it. They are making strong moves to restore and update it. Go to http://www.dewdropnola.squarespace.com to learn about their plans and maybe to contribute a couple of dollars. Luckily, unlike the old Club Desire, which may be completely torn down by now, this place still exists. I have photographic evidence. You’re looking at it.
Why do two big projects at once? “Chitlin Circuit” and “Ten Years Later” are both big enough to do on their own. The answer is simple too. They wrap around each other very well. They are both part of the history of music, the nation, the south and the city. Maybe a few of the pictures overlap. Maybe not. I start the day by photographing one thing and sort of drift into the other as opportunities present themselves.
I need your help. I’ll take any ideas, stories, street myth, locations y’all have. Anything.
If you’ve read Storyteller long enough, you know that my long form project is to tell the story of Central City in New Orleans. I think that I’ve written quite a bit about the area and the story. But, briefly. Central City is an under represented and underserved section of New Orleans. It is the last relatively inexpensive high ground in the city. In coming years, developers see it as becoming hugely gentrified. That is starting now. But, only in a couple of places. Many people wander if the money being poured into those places around Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard will find its way back into the little neighborhoods. Most of the original population lives in some form of poverty. And, yes. It flooded pretty badly during Hurricane Katrina. Most of the national reportage was focused on the Lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview.
That’s it. Briefly. Very briefly.
In order to do this project, I have to devote the time and energy to make the pictures. I have to get to know the people. I have to spend time there. I do that as much as possible. In many ways, just passing through the area and looking around has almost become a hobby for me. If I have a free moment, I wander around there. Sometimes, I talk to people and don’t photograph. Sometimes, I photograph things and don’t talk to people. The whole thing sort of ebbs and flows. On this particular day, I was driving up a cross street and saw this house from the corner. The flowers were just that bright. So, I drove around the block and made this picture. Luckily, I even had post storm clouds to add to the drama.
In case any of you want to ask me what kind of flowers are covering that house, I’ll have to give you my stock answer. Yellow flowers. I really don’t know. Maybe you do?