If I was any closer.

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.

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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?

 


Somewhere in the Seventh Ward.
Somewhere in the Seventh Ward.

The whole place looks burnt out. It isn’t. It’s just a little wet from a late storm. But, it was pretty heavily flooded during and after Hurricane Katrina. This neighborhood sat in flood water from August 29 until sometime in mid-November. Just about like my neighborhood.  I have no idea what was in that water, but I don’t want to find out. I had my old wet darkroom stored in an out building. Everything was destroyed. But what concerned me most was the stainless steel film developing tanks. They were well designed to handle chemicals. Most photo process chemicals are pretty mild and benign, but if you process color film, some chemicals are strong. When I found these tanks, they were corroded and eaten through. In seven weeks. All officials denied the existence of anything harmful in the flood waters. Really?

Obviously, this neighborhood hasn’t recovered yet. Maybe a few people are living there now. But, I’m sure it is a ghost town compared to pre-storm. About this chair? And, those bricks? Likely, somebody hangs here. Maybe a couple some bodies. But, not on the day that I stopped by.

Not much to taking this picture. I decided to use the three-legged chair as the main subject, shoot with a real small aperture so that there is a lot of sharpness in the background to give you a sense of the neighborhood.


A nearly abandoned corner in The Seventh Ward.
A nearly abandoned corner in The Seventh Ward.

I kept at it. I kept reworking pictures and exploring the possibilities. I seem to be drawn to a more moody and cinematic look. I’m not sure why. For most of my career I made pictures of real things. In real life. Yes. I turned up the color some because in my world things are colorful. But, something is changing. I don’t know if it’s me. Or, if it’s just a phase. Or, if the world seems somehow different. Or, maybe I should just stop watching television like The Walking Dead before I go to sleep. No matter how bad some things might seem, nothing is bleak as their world. Sheesh.

Anyway.

You kind of know this corner. You know it,  if you watched CNN during the storm. The storm is what we call Hurricane Katrina. There is a building called The Circle Food Store. CNN crews and other photojournalists made pictures of from I-10. It is sort of round building. At the time it was surrounded by around 15 feet of water. The still images became sort of icons. This is the street on which that store is located. This scene is about a block away. Some of the neighborhood has come back. But, a lot remains fallow. That is, until maybe six months ago when work began on the Circle Store. Now, work is beginning on the rest of the buildings and the street. One of the cool things about this street, although you can’t see it in this picture, is that it is made of brick A lot of this side of the city’s street are made of brick. They’ve all been paved over. That’s too bad. I like brick streets This, at one time, was as upscale as the Garden District. But, the years rolled by. Changes came… and went. That’s the nature of change, I suppose.

The original view.
The original view.

So. The picture. Someone asked me what the original picture looked like before I went crazy. Or, at least until boredom drove me to do something different. This isn’t it. He was asking about yesterday’s post. Ha! But, this is what today’s post looked like before… you can even see a bit of the original brick pavement. There is nothing wrong with it. It’s fine. There is a little post production. But, not so much. Compare that with the result. The entire world shifted into something a little moody. A little mysterious and a little bleak. What did I do? I’ll save that for later. It’s long and complicated. But, at least this time, I wrote down the actions as I did them.

I don’t know. How do you see things? This isn’t a question of which picture is better. They are both fine. But, which one strikes you and why?

 


Something lost. Something gained.
Something lost. Something gained.

I awoke this morning with a strange dream. I still can’t quite place it. But, it was something out of my past. I also had a song in my head. Judy Collins’ “Since You Asked.” I don’t what any of that means.  Maybe it’s just nostalgia. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s more. I never know about this stuff. I know it started by listening to a new release from Bob Dylan. It’s called “Another Self Portrait.” It’s sort of a stripped down version of his album of almost the same name. “Self Portrait.” It took me back a few years. Well, a lot of years.  It was released in 1970.

Sort of like this old building that I stumbled upon one dusk. It took me back, too.

Even though I once lived in The Seventh Ward, I never saw this place. Or, if I did, it didn’t register. But when I saw it this time, I had to make the picture. After I got out of the car, I talked with a guy sitting on his stoop. He knew why I was there, the minute he saw my camera.  Yes. he knew. This place took me back to New Mexico. You see, that rusty metal portrait is Our Lady of Guadalupe.  There renderings of her just about everywhere in New Mexico. Some are elegant. Some are fine art. Some art folk art. Some are simple, like a child’s painting. But, this is the first one that I’ve ever seen in New Orleans. Yes, we do have a church named after her. It is actually the oldest church in New Orleans. It was built in 1826.  But, that’s about it.

I have no idea why this is here. I asked the guy across the street. He told me that it has always been there.  Always? Well, since he lived there. He didn’t say when that was. I didn’t ask. My head was already locked in on the portrait. But, I know this. The neighborhood was flooded with between five and seven feet of water in 2005. I guess a little investigation is in order. I would be amazed to find out that it pre-dated the storm. And, that it survived.  It’s not something you can find with a Google search. I’ll have to get lucky and stumble on the right person, who knows another person. Maybe, I’ll get really lucky and find the neighborhood’s “Uncle Joe.” Somebody who has lived there for most of his life. He probably won’t say much. It takes time to get to know these folks.

The picture. Well. You already know. F8 and be there. Standing in front of better stuff. That sort of thing. Yes, I did add some stuff in post production. I made the picture a little grungy. It’s something that I don’t do often. But, this picture could handle it. Actually, I think most of New Orleans could handle it. If you open the picture to its fullest size, you’ll see all sorts of stuff going on. I especially like the windows. They are stuffed with pillows. Then there are all those cement blocks. I just know that people normally hang out there. To them, those aren’t blocks. Those are chairs.