When I returned to New Orleans after my time in New Mexico, I wanted to see what remained of the storm. After all, I’d been gone for almost five years. It turns out that there were some 60,000 buildings decaying. The new mayor managed to cut that in half by the time he left office.
It turns out that the city was split. Those who could afford it, retuned. Those who couldn’t, didn’t. Many of their properties rotted. Many just fell down. Buildings continue to do that today. Every once in a while there is story in the media about one collapsing.
It seems that most of the newly collapsed buildings were being renovated. I have two theories. Either just enough of the building was disturbed that whatever was holding it together caved in. Or, the owner realized what he’d gotten into and knocked the building down himself.
That’s cynical to be sure. But, this is New Orleans. Every weird thing happens. We even have a phrase for letting a building rot. We call it “demo by neglect.” I suppose that’s the term in other places.
These pictures are a representation of what I saw. Yes, even the cemetery picture. If you look near the top of the tomb on the right you can see the waterline. Like just about everything else in the city, 80% of it flooded.
My Spotify playlist brought up a Mudcrutch song. Mudcrutch was the late Tom Petty’s first band. It had an Eagle in it, along with a few members of The Heartbreakers. It was a proto band. Petty decided to release an album of their music in 2006. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It helped us get through the early days after Hurricane Katrina when we sought refuge in New Mexico.
That one song on the playlist brought me to the album, which kicked my rear into gear. Time to start doing the final work on my dual book project, Abandoned New Orleans Books One and Two.
Off I went. Into the archives. I decided to go inside first. Into the buildings as they were, right after Hurricane Katrina. I also decided to let you see some of the pictures. Because? Because why not?
By the way, the line that caught me in that Mudcrutch album was, “”Lord, I’m just an orphan of the storm.” We felt that way.
Because it was still very hot when we returned to the city after the storm, I couldn’t work all day in my house. The heat and humidity was draining. I took breaks by driving around in my car. It had air conditioning It was the only way to get cool. I would stop and make pictures along the way.
Anyway, on to the pictures.
“Calling Buddha” is very close to me. I used to live in that house. It was the last place I lived before I bought the house in Esplanade Ridge. This house used to be in Lakeview. It’s gone now. I liked Lakeview well enough, but it never felt like New Orleans. It was safe and boring. The best thing about living there was that I could walk across the street and have a coffee. Later, I could walk across the street again and have lunch.
It was on one of my cool-down drives that I decided to look around in Lakeview. If you recall, there were two places were the levees completely failed. The Lower 9th Ward and Lakeview. The water blew through with such intensity that houses were lifted off their foundations. They were dumped on top of other houses. Cars were stacked on top of each other. It looked like a scene from the end of a war. Apparently, the house that I rented had been sold. The kitchen was completely redone. When I lived there, it had a 1950s look and feel. It was wonderful. If you look into the kitchen, you can see wooden Home Depot cabinets.
The backdoor was in tatters so in I went. I had to make pictures. If you look at the crown molding you can see how high the water rose. These folks were lucky the the house stayed on its foundation, which was a cement slab. The rushing, raging water turned everything this way and that. Yet, if you look in the kitchen, there are bowls on the counter just as they were left when the occupants evacuated. Ain’t that something?
After I settled in a bit, I started roaming around the city. I started looking in Central City a little bit. At that point a lot of the city was empty. It was fairly safe.
I took no chances. Like just about everybody else, I was armed. I remember walking into one of the few open restaurants in the French Quarter, looking around and thinking, pity the fool who comes in thinking he can rob the place. Everybody was wearing guns on their hips. It seemed to be the thing to do. Nobody gave anybody a second look. We shared the restaurant with soldiers from elements of the US Army’s First Cavalry Division and the 82nd Airborne, as well as police from everywhere and members of the Louisiana National Guard. Those guys were armed to the teeth.
Anyway, on one pass through Central City, I found this place. I entered through a broken wall. Somebody had been at work. Whoever it was started the hard work of rebuilding. I guess that person may not have left the city during the storm. A lot of poorer people couldn’t. They didn’t have cars. The busses slated for evacuation were parked in a bowl and were flooded over their roofs. Many of the survivors made their way to the Superdome and the convention center. Places that were supposed to be places of last refuge. They suffered there for days. Most of them were eventually bussed to Houston were they New Orleansized the neighborhoods they settled into. God bless ’em. Others were sent to places like Atlanta while the rest of their family was to someplace like Chicago.
The strangest resettlement happened to us. We rented an apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico. About a month after we settled there, I walked outside to see my 7th Ward neighbor who lived a few houses from ours. She was staying with her nephew who lived two doors down from our new apartment. If you ever wanted to see two people dance and hug each other, you needed to see us. We were so happy to be alive and know that each other made it. We proceeded to New Orleansize things and have a bar-b-que in the front yard even though we had backyards. Good bless us.
“The last three days the rain was unstoppable.” Another Tom Petty line.
I made this picture towards the end of the time of my giant house emptying. This time I was able to do what most of us dream of doing. I opened my old office window and threw my water logged computer into the street. How many times have you felt like doing that after your computer crashed for the third time in an hour?
I was looking around the 7th Ward, which had almost been entirely under water during the flood that followed the storm. I was looking into houses that were in a state of partial remediation, which meant that many of them were stripped down to the studs as a way of removing the Aspergillus Mold that grew everywhere in the flooded houses in hot and humid weather. My eye was caught by a little sparkle. I stopped. There it was. A chandelier, hanging by its wires. Something that said, “this is my house.”
There you have it.
We are two weeks from hurricane season. That always spooks me a little. Time to organize some things and buy extra water, batteries and canned food that we’ll never eat unless we need to.
We had God’s own storm early Sunday morning. So much rain was dumped on the city that everywhere flooded. Even our neighborhood, which never floods. Luckily, for us, it did no damage. But, plenty of folks lost their cars. Some water crept into their houses. We all want to blame the city, but not this time. We are city that floods. Time for a t-shirt.
Two more things.
This is long enough already. My publisher was wondering why I have such deep files of abandoned buildings. When I told him, they were stunned. They are based in England. They forgot. Or, barely knew. They haven’t seen my final selection. Just wait until they do. Heh, heh.
There are lots of people who emigrated here after the storm, after the second storm and after the last hurricane. They don’t understand. They think they city will just flood like it does when there is a lot of rainfall. The don’t understand that they need to make an evacuation plan, or figure out what they might need to survive for many weeks without power or running water. Even when I talk about buying supplies that’s for something on the small side. If there is an evacuation order, we are gone. Maybe Hurricane Katrina was a 100 year event. Somehow, with climate change, I don’t think so.
I seem to be stuck in a western mode. That could be telling me something. Maybe a long road trip is due. But, it would be really long. I’m not going to take this trip many more times. So, I probably should make the best of it. And, just go.
Of course, there are complications. I have to fit it into an already busy schedule. And, then there is Storyteller. I don’t have the need to take a break like I did last summer. I fixed that overworked problem. Now, I look forward to working here. Like many things, it was mostly an attitude adjustment. I suppose that I could do what I really never do, and post from the road. The easiest way to do that is to photograph some scenes twice. Once with cameras and once with my smart phone.
I’m also trying to decide about the timing. If I traveled during summer, which is fast approaching, the weather would be hot and the pictures would have sort of a nostalgic feeling. It would harken back to the days of family road trips. If I waited until fall…well, you know. The light and color would be outstanding. But, it would look and feel much different from summer pictures.
We’ll see. I do have to move soon.
The picture. This was made with a digital camera, as opposed to being made on film. A friend of mine asked via an email what the difference is. This picture feels completely different to me. It’s probably technically superior to the film-based pictures. But, it feels too sharp and mechanical. Even with my tinkering. That’s still not to say one is better than the other. They are just different.
Where did I make this image? New Mexico. Those of you who live and work there will know this place. Those of you who don’t, but like to photograph this kind of stuff, won’t. Oh well. Reciprocation is fine. But, many people want locations and such, but refuse to share theirs. There is no mystery to this place. Still…
Dystopian. Looks like something from the end of the world.
The picture is very cinematic.
I’m very influenced visually by videos. I like trying to create a more cinematic feel in my own images. I suppose that’s what a lot of my experimentation has been about. And, continues to be. If I were younger — not an excuse because the learning curve is fairly high — I probably would want to make videos. But, I feel that I can also be fairly creative with the bounds of my own craft. Still photography. Dylan said talked about bounds in his long interview that I mentioned a few days ago. I happen to agree.
I made this picture in New Mexico. In Albuquerque. Far western Albuquerque. Where Central Avenue — Old Route 66 — and I-40 come together. This place was one of those kind of get gas, food, and anything else rest stops. I have no idea why it failed. Except to say that it might have been a little close to the city. You can buy cheaper gas and better food a mile away just by exiting the interstate and driving into the neighborhood which you can see from the highway. Maybe back in the old days when Route 66 was actually the main east – west road, this place was important. But, things change.
The picture. Things change with pictures too. I once heard a musician say that when you play a song 500 or 600 times the song eventually teaches you how to play it. I think the same thing with pictures. Your first attempt is to approximate what you saw when you stopped to take the picture. Then you mess with it. Then you mess with it again. Hopefully the picture teaches you and you learn about the scene and yourself in the process. I’m still not sure that this is the final version of this image. There may never be a final version. I do know that after Google Images did its thing and found “lost” pictures, I’m really excited to start going back into my original take and see what I “missed” the first or second time around.
That is a great reason for not deleting everything after you cull your images. Or, even more importantly not deleting pictures on the street while using that itty bitty LCD on the back of your camera. Your opinions, your emotions, and your seeing changes after a period of time. Besides, mass storage space isn’t that expensive and it gets cheaper every day.
It is a ghost sign. Hiding in plain site. A billboard for all to see. There was a plastic sign hung over it. It rotted through the ages. It fell away reveal the original work behind it. Knowing the neighborhood, it’ll likely remain this way for a long while. Or, at least until taggers complete their appointed rounds.
The picture. F8 and be there. And, hope for some reasonably good light.
I’m not going to the political side of things. Enough.
We lost another musician. A man described by Bob Dylan as being the number one songwriter, mostly because Dylan sees himself as number zero. So far set apart that he’s some place else. It’s not ego. It just is.
If you read the rest of Dylan’s comments you know that he held this man in highest regard. While Dylan tosses songs off in 15 minutes, it often took this cat two or three years of writing to get this work to the point that he was comfortable showing it to the world.
Leonard Cohen left us last night. I hope that, as he said in his last interview, it wasn’t too uncomfortable. He is already missed. Greatly.
I’m lucky. I got to see him with the band on my link a couple of times. During his last tour. Ever.
This has been an almost unbearable week. It doesn’t stop with the election or with Mr. Cohen’s passing.
That dog. The one who sees stuff. Has something going on with her liver. Before I hit the road, she was taking two antibiotics and a liver builder because her enzyme numbers were high. Yesterday, her blood work was studied again. The numbers got worse. Next is an ultra sound and a Cushing’s test. Cushing’s is a non-threatening tumor in a dog’s pituitary gland. Meds for life. If — the big word being if — that’s all it is. And, blood work every three months. It could be something worse. It could require surgery. It could, it could, it could…
Me. I’m not sure what to do. I’m a Neil Young kind of guy. In “Powderfinger” he once said, “Numbers add up to nothing.” I’m kind of headed that way, because she is asymptomatic. Of anything. The only reason she had blood work done was in preparation for a teeth cleaning. Trust me. Cushing’s alone has this huge list of symptoms. She has none of them. She is happy. Playful. Likes to go for long walks. Eats well. Gives her dog pals playful hell.
I’m starting to think enough. About this too. Digital fishing expeditions. The very, very expensive rabbit hole. I’ll continue to love her as she loves us. And, let her live her life as long or as short as it may be.
I have nothing more.
Just this. Hallelujah. RIP Leonard Cohen. Yes. I’ll remember one quote. “Everything has cracks. That’s how the light gets in. ”
I once had a photojournalism professor called Joe B. Swan. He was one of the kindest people that I’ve ever meet. He was from West Texas. He taught at San Jose State University. He had a pronounced West Texas accent. He talked about “shaders and siluets.” That’s what you are looking at right now.
Shadows and Silhouettes.
He also talked about making pictures from the “dog’s eye view.” Or, as I call it, “What the dog saw.”
Lessons learned in 1974 are still true today. Obviously.
Why him? Why now?
I had a couple of WordPress conversations with a couple of you. One talked about how well my picture turned out. One said, even after two years she doesn’t have pictures like mine. The third was about “What would Ray do,” to not shoot a touristy picture.
A dangerous thing happened. I started thinking. You know how that goes. Heh!
I thought about how I learned. Forget the technology. I learned using film cameras, developing the film and making prints in a wet darkroom. Today, most people have never done that. Doesn’t matter. Many people do not even do any post production. They shoot auto everything, make an in-camera .jpg and put the picture on their blog, or on Facebook, or Twitter.
None of that matters. Really. The picture is the thing. The thing that matters. It also matters that the picture is printed on paper. That’s another story.
In order of the conversations.
My pictures never “turn out” good or bad. They are an extension of my vision. Even when I talk about “tinkering,” I’m trying to get to the picture in my head. Not just the look. Also, the feel. If I can do that in camera without any real post production help, so much the better. For me, there are no accidents. That’s the difference between making or taking a picture. By the way, if I can’t get to “my picture,” you aren’t seeing whatever I did get to. No point in that. Think about it.
The other two comments — two years and touristy — are about the same thing.
Unless you are photographing every day, making a lot of exposures, curating tightly, and learning from your mistakes; two years is nothing. You are just getting started. When I say make mistakes, I’m talking like this. Your keepers — the good stuff — usually should average out to about 10% of your entire take. That’s not so much.
Same with not shooting touristy pictures. You have to take them to get to the good stuff. You don’t have to show anybody. If you live in a place in which you can return to a specific location frequently, great. You learn its ebbs and flows. You learn about its shadows and light. It will teach you. If you can’t return frequently then follow this saying… as a wise man once told me, “Don’t take the picture, let the picture take you.” Find a place. Sit there and wait for something to happen. When it happens, you’ll be ready.
We’ve been watching a lot of The Walking Dead on Netflix.
Does that help to explain the look and feel of this picture?
I’m also been poking around my deep archives, trying to organize them in a way that everything can be found with a couple of keystrokes rather than by my own visual memory and day book.
Make no mistake, my archives have been well backed up to the best practices level since Hurricane Katrina blew through and waterlogged most of my slide archives. But, there is no master library system in place to find pictures easily. That’s all on me. In part, that is due to my own ability to locate pictures quickly be my own recall. For instance, a while back a friend of mine was asking about pictures I took some 35 years ago. I located them in about ten minutes. And, they were in my deep black and white negative files.
To be sure, those images — 35 or 40-year-old black white negatives — will probably never be part of my master library. That’s an almost impossible task. After all, every negative would have to be cleaned up, scanned, and imputed into that system. You know that saying that I’m fond of; “the work is the prayer?” It took an entire abbey of Benedictine monks a decade to digitize the world’s master works. When the Abbott was asked how they could do that, he replied, “the Work is the prayer.”
My images aren’t master works and it won’t take a decade. But, you get the point.
On the other hand, There are black and white images that can be digitized into my new library system. I just have to locate them. And, be very selective. It’s sort of like when a musician releases old work that was “lost.” It was never really lost. It was just mislabeled and buried under heaps of other stuff.
This is a major project. It won’t be done in a week, a month or maybe even in a year. I’m telling you about it so that I say it out loud and so you might ask me how it’s going. It’s the kind of work that gets put off for every possible reason. We all have projects like that. And, it needs to fit in with all of my other work. It’s not something I can do all day, every day.
The picture. This is among the last pictures I made while we were exiled to the high desert of New Mexico following Hurricane Katrina. I was sort of following a bit of Old Route 66 where it sort of wraps itself around Interstate 40 way out in western Albuquerque. This may even be out beyond the city limits. I took the picture and I didn’t think that much of it at the time. Mostly because it was in color and it was sort of bland. Post production, letting a lost of turn to silhouette and converting it to black and white helped it wonderfully.
Once upon a time, Storyteller had some structure to it. Sundays posts used to be for experimental pictures. Monday, and a day or two afterward, used to be for second line parades and so on. And, on, and, on.
I moved away from that.
Because. I’m supposed to be an artist. I’m supposed to be random and spontaneous. Mostly, I just got lazy. Mostly, I had a hard time filling each day. And… now that I’m pretty much done chasing every Sunday’s second line parades, I don’t have the new work to fill the days in any sort of order. So, I post whatever is new.
But, I think I need a little structure. Not to be entirely predictable, but to give my own brain a little sense of order on these pages.
Let’s start with Sunday experiments. I used to do that every Sunday. I’d just tinker with pictures — as I still do today — whenever the mood struck me. But, I’d only publish them on Sunday. So, that’s what you are seeing today. Experiments.
The picture. One of those 9th Ward buildings that never returned for the storm with a little help from OnOne and my own mind. It’s probably a good idea to post this today as an homage to those folks who are recovering from their own “storm” in Haiti, Cuba, on Caribbean Islands and along the United States Mid-Atlantic Coast.
This house has been abandoned for 11 years. Don’t let this happen to you if you are shaking your heads and looking at nature’s fresh destruction. The best way to recover and heal from this destruction is to repair it immediately. As in, now. For a while it is your life. Live it. It will get better. I promise.