We all came out.
Zulus. Chefs in their whites. Indians. Voodoo priestesses. Priests and ministers. Political leaders. And all the rest of us.
We walked. We talked to each other. There was a lot of kindness in the crowd. We came to celebrate a humble woman who believed the food could bring us all together. Who was far more than the queen of creole food.
I’ll leave the real writing to Ian McNulty of The Advocate. https://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/entertainment_life/food_restaurants/article_3a7f93c4-8ba9-11e9-99da-6fbd07f978ac.html
I’ll let my pictures speak for themselves.
By kind. Be good to each other. Help your brothers and sisters when they need it.
We do it for the stories we could tell.
That’s what Jimmy Buffett said. He’s right.
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.
The work is the prayer.
To be more specific, a street portrait. It’s hung around in my portfolio for a few years now. Depending on who is looking at my work, I often start with this picture. If this doesn’t catch your eye, I don’t know what will. If it’s printed, a 20 inch deep version of this picture stuns even the most jaded of viewers. Like me.
I hope you realize that last few weeks of pictures are from the past. Most of you have never seen them. A few of you might, if you’ve been here a while.
This picture was made during the jazz funeral of Uncle Lionel. His family name is Baptiste. He was kin to almost every musical Baptiste that came out of New Orleans. If you watch Late Night with Stephen Colbert, you know one of his family members. Bandleader and musician, Jon Baptiste. Yeah. He’s one of us.
Uncle Lionel’s funeral took forever. Nature didn’t want to let him go. It was rained out twice as I recall. The third time was a charm. It was for me too. I was energized. I was everywhere. I made about four or five portfolio pieces. I was beat afterwards. After all, July in New Orleans. 90 degrees with about 90% humidity. Staying hydrated was the key.
I’m not so sure that I could do it today. I could try. But, it would only be for somebody like him. We’ve had massive second lines after this one. Some were for David Bowie, for Prince. Like that. I get wanting to mourn and to celebrate. But, that’s not what I’m about. I’d rather photograph the culture. The things about New Orleans. The people who make the city what it is. Today.
Maybe tomorrow. If we are lucky.
Apparently, New Orleans has actually lost some population. This is the first time since Hurricane Katrina. There are a lot of theories about it. Some say it might be because of simple migration to Jefferson Parish and St. Bernard Parish. Taxes are lower. Services are better. Crime is less.
Another theory says that the folks who are the culture have been leaving because of gentrification. Where one building was divided into two or three apartments, now it is one house.
The final theory — at least among the ones that I heard — is that the gentrifiers themselves are leaving. It’s hard to live in New Orleans. It was made a little easier by Air BnB. But, now that they have been restricted, especially in The Bywater, the folks who moved here post-Katrina, are leaving.
I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, they brought a lot of money to a city that needs it. Even if it was just for allied businesses. On the other, they are the leaders in killing the culture that brought them here in the first place.
It’s interesting to watch. This is my twentieth year here, with a break in New Mexico after the storm. I came here because I liked it. I never wanted to change anything.
I got a little too close.
I was working with a 10mm lens. That’s how close I was. I could have helped the musician in front play his tuba. I didn’t mean for this to happen. But, once I broke through the rope, well… let’s just say, I really broke through. I sort of trapped myself. I couldn’t get back outside of the rope. I could only move forward with the band. That would normally have been great, but the crowd was sort of too crowded.
Apparently, it kept growing. By the time the second line made its way back to Claiborne Avenue under the interstate, it looked like a big jazz funeral for somebody who is near and dear to the community. I wasn’t there. From where I was working I couldn’t double back.
I know this from posts on Instagram and on Twitter. I get very little love there. I guess I should post directly, and I should take off my watermark so anybody could use my work for free. No matter what people keep saying about sharing, like it’s caring, I still think it’s image theft. They say that helps you get your name out there. Cool. I wonder how many photographers have generated paid work from getting “their work out there.”
It’s one thing to share your work to a closed system like WordPress. It’s another to share your work so far and wide that nobody knows that it’s your work. Watermarks are very easy to remove.
Anyway. That wasn’t the point of today’s discussion. The real point was the email I mentioned to your yesterday. I can summarize it fairly easily. It all came down to “Why am I here?” I don’t know the particular answer, but in general I think we are here to serve somebody, either formally or informally. That can mean all sorts of things. For instance, a young parent serves his or her children by helping them to grow in a good human being. Or, you may serve somebody by doing a task for them. To a larger extent, politicians are here to serve you and me. But, they forget that. The list, like the road, goes on forever.
There were a lot of other particulars to my friend’s email. Some are silly. Some are serious.
From the silly side, comparing your photo gear to someone else’s gear. I always say that it doesn’t matter how much gear you have, it’s how you use it. Besides, in travel situations, too much gear slows you down. It forces unnecessary fumbling around while the picture leaves.
Some were more serious. The rapid decline of his physical health while he was in a place that is known to have horrible air quality with large airborne particulates. Scary. If you are around my age or older, think real hard about going there. For sure, there are ways to train yourself for certain events. In sports they talk about getting in baseball shape, or football shape. If I were doing a photo tour that required a lot of walking, that’s how I’d train. There is really no way to train for bad air quality. Bring a mask an oxygen bottle I guess.
Anyway, that was my story for yesterday.
On a housekeeping note. Mardi Gras parade season sort of starts with a walking parade on Saturday night. The Krewe of Chewbacchus. As you might guess from that name that it is on the weird side. It is. It’s fun. It used to be held on a day with other parades. It grew so big and so unwieldy, that the powers that be moved it up by a week. It is more or less an unofficial parade that became popular. I’ll be out there. I’ll do my best not to cripple myself for the rest of parade season.
Then it really begins. Mardi Gras parade season. I’m still trying to figure out how to photograph it. For the past few years I worked at the start so I could make somewhat unique pictures. Unique became same and now I’m trying to figure out new locations and more commercially useful pictures. It’ll come to me in a dream. Or, in the shower.
Royalty in Blue.
The queen and her court roll by at the head of the Treme Sidewalk Steppers second line. This was a big deal since it is their 25th Anniversary.
Unfortunately, they start on Rampart Street across from the Quarter. A few years ago, they started putting up police barricades and hiring security guards. You know the ones. The ones who wear badges that say the word security. The kind you can buy online for ten dollars.
I dealt with it that year, didn’t go last year and decided to get as far away from that silliness as I could this year. I went into what was just about my old neighborhood. The same so-called company was still working the ropes. I just walked around them.
I actually don’t like to photograph the floats since I normally can’t get a good angle on them. I did this time. I sort of had to make a picture like this because the actual second line was chaotic. The brass band was scattered amongst the walkers. The walkers were all over the place. The guys with the ropes couldn’t control anything. Everybody walked around them.
I let the second line come to me. That was the best thing that I could have done. I stood on my little patch of ground and made pictures.
That’s the story of the picture.
I have another story. It deals with wondering what we why we are on the planet. A friend of mine sent me an email about that. I don’t know why people come to me. I’m no guru. I barely understand what I do, let alone what others do. I have to process his words before I reply to him. Then, I may talk about it here. In general terms. No sense in embarrassing anybody when they are reaching out. Or, ever, really.
I know where I am.
When I smell the food smoking away. Street food. BBQ working away. Grilling big sausages. Often with the cooks hidden in a cloud of pungent smoke.
You know how I feel about street food. I love it. In any place. In any city. On any continent. I know that it’s freshly cooked. I know that it’s safe since it prepared over an open and hot flame. And, it’s inexpensive. A good sausage with all the fixings costs $5.00. No. There aren’t any sides. This is street food. Handed to you by a guy who is wearing black rubber gloves. Mechanic’s gloves.
If you want a drink of anything, you’ll have to go find another vendor. If it’s the hard stuff your after, it’s $5.00. That’s for two unmeasured shots over ice, or not, in a plastic cup. There are free mixers. They are very plain. Coca Cola. Royal Crown Cola. Orange Juice. Ginger Ale.
There ain’t no craft cocktails here. No Cosmopolitans.
I drink water. That’s a dollar a bottle.
The picture. I’ve been waiting for this picture a long time. It’s hard to find. The scene was damn near perfect. A lot of light gray smoke. It was backlighted to illuminate the smoke. The light also gave the leaves in the background a sparkling quality. The cook was built well and made a good silhouette.
And, I was talking to a videographer friend of mine who shoots tape for a radio station. Yeah. I know. This is New Orleans that we are talking about. He helped me by blocking passersby from getting in between me and the scene. He really didn’t have to do much. He mostly just stood there.
All I did was pick my moment and press the button. The exposure, which I pre-set, was dead on. I only had to clean up a little bit in post production. This is what I did instead of watching “The Lame Bowl.” Then we paraded all around the city. We had a lot more fun than the fine folks of Atlanta. The general consensus around the country was that New Orleans did much better than the two teams who played. I forget who they are. Maybe you can help? Our music was certainly better than the half time entertainment.
For the coincidence seekers among you, here’s one. The New Orleans Saints record during the 2018 season was 13 – 3. That’s 13 wins and two loses. The game score was 13 – 3. The winning team scored thirteen points, whoever they were. The losers scored three. That made it the lowest scoring lame bowl in history. It was beyond boring, so they say. Even the announcers couldn’t resist tearing the game down.
That’s how bad it was.
A place that I enjoy working. I like to make pictures that are a slice of time. Photographs that are a glance. On the street.
Pictures that are an image of an idea.
Pictures that take you there.
Pictures that let you feel.
Pictures from the inside.
Pictures that are from my insides. From my eyes. From my brain. From my soul. From my heart.
That’s the deal. My deal.
Sometimes it works. Often, it doesn’t. It worked a lot this past Sunday. You’ll see over the next few days.
The picture. I got stuck in the middle of the band. That happens when you work closely. Those out of focus areas in front of the tuba player are other band members. I was working on the inside. Just that close. The tuba player’s reflective sunglasses are what caught my eye. Even though we were in constant motion, I managed to make three good frames of him. Photographer’s luck. And, my ability to walk sideways and forward at the same time. The development and post production was easy after that.
That’s it for a Monday morning.
They came out to play.
And, so they did. If a second line starts and rain falls in the middle of it, everybody keeps going unless the rain starts blowing sideways and upside down. Anything else is just a drizzle to them. And, us.
There’s a lesson in that. Don’t be denied.
There’s a lesson in that too. Here we are on the tenth day of January and I’m already reading about people who are starting to lose their way in 2019. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the leadership in The United States just isn’t up to the job. I watched both speeches last night. Afterwards, we all said the same the same thing. “That’s a half hour of my life I’ll never get back.”
For other people, the year started out terribly. People got sick. People got fired. A friend died.
You know what? That’s life. As John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Suck it up. Pull up your big boy and girl pants and move on. In a war long ago and far away, when something really bad happened, the African American troops used to say, “Ain’t no thang. Drive on.”
Drive on, indeed.
For anyone who thought that just because the calendar flipped from 2018 to 2019 things were going to get easier, disabuse yourself of that notion. This may be the hardest year yet. Hopefully, when we come to the end of it, all the hard work, suffering and some pain will be worth it. Maybe. Maybe not. We may have another year to go.
This is your “Come to Jesus” speech for today.
Now, don’t make me come out there and give it again. Heh. How many of us heard something like that when we were growing up? If you were like I was, it was a daily occurrence. Or, it was this variation. “Just wait until your father comes home.” Or, “Apologize to her right now,” said with a stamp of your mom’s feet after you did something to your sister. I’m just talking here. I wouldn’t know anything about that. Heh. No. Not me. Never. Heh.
The picture. It’s a couple of weeks old. I’m trying to photograph second lines, but post them less because I’m not sure that you understand them. That’s what the numbers say, anyway. When I make good picture — something like this one — I know you understand music, I’ll post it. Besides, the guy playing his trumpet right at me is my pal on the scene, Kevin. He likes seeing his picture. He’s a musician. What do you expect? It proves that he was out there. For that matter, it proves that I was out there.
Website update three. I have two more things to do. Figure out how to make my portfolio be found and accessed easier. And, figure out how to attach PayPal to those images. I want that to be seamless so that when you want to buy or license an image, you don’t even have to contact me. Did you read that? YOU. BUY. LICENSE.