Another look at wonderful fall light.

I don’t usually post a picture from the same take two days in a row unless it’s from an event like a second line.

I sort of feel like I’m either cheating or not doing my work very well. But, an old friend of mine who is rarely on Facebook commented about yesterday’s work. She liked it.

She suffered a terrible loss about a decade ago. Even though the shock and the trauma have been dulled, she still isn’t over it. Nor, should she be.

She was awfully kind to me when we first met on a plane, We talked for a while and then when she saw my walking to a taxi stand, she gave me a ride to my hotel. We had a quick meal and a better dinner the next night. Mostly, we talked about what happened. Today, we keep in touch.

I think about that time now and again. I was there on business. My friend lives there. When I wonder about myself sometimes, I think maybe that’s why I’m here. Like the old James Taylor song says.

There’s a whole bunch of lyrics to the song, but I like this set the best.

“Fortune and fame’s
Such a curious game
Perfect strangers
Can call you by name

Pay good money
To hear Fire and Rain
Again and again
And again

Some are like summer
Coming back every year
Got your baby
Got your blanket
Got your bucket of beer

I break into a grin
From ear to ear
And suddenly
It’s perfectly clear

That’s why I’m here (that’s why I’m here)
Sing it tonight, tomorrow and everyday
That’s why I’m standing (that’s why I’m here)
Oh that’s why I’m here”

We talk about this very subject at home. Often.

Giant smile.

A portrait.

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.

A simple portrait.
A simple portrait.

This is about the end of my Original Lady & Men Buckjumpers second line coverage. It’s sort of the first shall come last. I like starting out the day by walking around before the social aid clubs and brass bands arrive. Mostly just to see what I can see. I asked this very pleasant lady if I could take her picture. Even though my eye was caught by her New Orleans Saints football garb, I decided to focus on her face and the little bit on the background. That banner is important to me because it sort of adds parade information to the picture.

I have a few detail images from the second line that I might publish tomorrow. But, I’ve milked this for long enough. It’s time to move on. To other subjects. To other locations.

Big mmile. Getting ready for Big 9 Second Line.
Big smile. Getting ready for Big 9 Second Line.

I wrote the headline four times. I don’t know what to say except that I get to better work… you know, once again, the work is the prayer.

Here’s why.

As I sat down to prepare this work for you, my little AP bell rang on my smart phone. AP is The Associated Press. I should learn how to turn it off. Most news is bad news… and so it goes. What did the AP want to let me know? Joe Cocker passed. He was 70. Apparently, lung cancer was the cause.

This has been a year for that. Great musicians, some we knew a little and some we didn’t, left the planet. It started early in the year and doesn’t seem to want to let go. So what? Right?

Here’s the thing, even if I didn’t know them I knew their music. Their music was the sound track to my young life. Their music motivated me to do whatever it is that I do. It got me through tough times. And, helped me pass through good times somewhat graciously. One by one they are passing from the scene. Faster than ever. The wheel keeps turning and it won’t slow down.

Our reaction? To do what we do. The work. The prayer. That’s the best honor I can think of. Oh, and listen to their work. Cocker’s major influence was Ray Charles. If you think about it, take a few minutes — or hours — and listen to their music. That keeps them alive.

Last night? And, these pictures? Keep reading.

Big 9.
Big 9.

Even though we did not go to the French Quarter, some of our friends did. All seems fine. That’s good. I’ve rolled the dice too many times as it is. We made the right decision… for us. Instead, we walked a couple of blocks and went to Commander’s Palace for the same, albeit a more expensive, dinner. Then we took a stroll around our own neighborhood to look at the Christmas decorations. Maybe it’s the start of a new Christmas tradition. Our neighborhood is pretty. Tourists come here. To eat. To look at the houses. To steal our mail.

The mail thing? That’s a whole other story. Someday I’ll tell you. Just know that it’s pretty annoying.

The pictures? Keep going.


The pictures. See? I kept my promise. Even tough we didn’t go to the Quarter for Christmas music, we did go to a more blighted neighborhood. The upper end of the 9th Ward. Everybody should see a second line parade at least once in their life. So, off we went. All of us.

The top picture was made inside the neighborhood bar where the krewe, gangs and ladies were assembling. My first thought was to crank up the ISO to about a million and stop the action and make a sharp and “clear” picture. Then, thankfully, my soul beat my brain into submission and I thought, “Wait a minute. There is so much energy and motion in here that I can’t separate one from the other. THAT’s the picture.” So, I took it.

Picture number two. On the street. In the parade. The youngest man in either krewe. That’s saying something. Most of the social club members are anywhere from about 40 to somewhere around 80 years old.

And, finally. This is what it looks like as the parade begins to roll from wherever the members are getting ready. That’s the outside of where I was when I made the top picture.

The staff of Cafe Reconcile
The staff of Cafe Reconcile

Cafe Reconcile. I’ve written about this restaurant in the past. But, it’s getting ready to re-open after a lengthy renovation. So, I thought it was a good time to show you another picture and talk about the changes. But, first. Cafe Reconcile is a project started in 1996 by Father Harry Thompson S.J, then pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish and Craig Cuccia and Tim Falcon to address the generational problems in Central City. They were joined by like-minded community folks. The established a neighborhood presence with a sweet shop called “Sweet T,” which became a place for local youth to hang out, make friends and avoid negative situations. With Sweet T as a foundation, Cafe Reconcile opened on September 5, 2000. It’s earned praise from national, regional and local critics. More importantly, its development program has graduated 600 formerly at risk students. They’ve learned basic life skills, interpersonal skills and trade skills. They staff many of the city’s professional kitchens today.

And… the future. When Cafe Reconcile reopens it will have five floors. It will be open for breakfast lunch and dinner. Seating will increase by 75%. It will double the number of students served to 300 annually. It will have a hospital-certified catering kitchen, event space for up to 150. It will feature classes for parenting, GED-preparation, computer instruction, financial education, resume writing among other things. The list goes on and on.

Now. You know that isn’t my writing style. It’s Cafe Reconcile’s more formal style. They wrote it effectively and concisely. I edited it some to fit Storyteller. More importantly. If it sounds I like this place, I do. Not only is the food great Southern comfort food, but service is excellent. The kids work hard and it shows. Their lives have changed. For the better.

If you’d like to learn more go here.

The picture. Hmmmm… The technical information almost seems irrelevant to the content. It’s really just about me working close to the subject and waiting for the right moment. Funny — spell check wants to change “Hmmmm…” into “Ham.” I suppose that’s okay. It’s food.

A big bag of freshly popped popcorn. 

I thought I would post the tight portrait of Harold. I had a hard time selecting yesterday, so maybe you should see both images. I’ve got some more reporting to do on Central City, so I’ll leave you with that for today.

I thought that I would give you a look at some of the places where I’m working on my Central City project. There are some pretty good overalls, but I really wanted to show you yet another person who lives in the area while combining that with the place. This is Harold. Working with him was sort of funny since we’d been eyeing each other from a distance before we actually started talking. I learned something from him that I’m not sure many New Orleans people know. Well, wait. I knew there were neighborhoods within the general area called Central City. But, I didn’t know that there were historical names as well. Some people call part of it Faubourg Lafayette. I knew that. That’s the closest area to the Central Business District. But, wait. There are two more that border St. Charles Avenue. They are Faubourg DeLassize and Faubourg Livavdais. These are old French names. I doubt very many people ever refer to them these days. Both DeLassize and Livavdais are areas that are a little more quiet and apparently a lot less violent. I made this picture in Faubourg Livavdais. It’s still not paradise, but my internal bells did not ring. So… this picture is just me taking some time to talk with my subject. I made some very tight portraits that I like as well. But, this one gives you a nice sense of place. 

Despite its bad reputation, there is a huge population of people who have lived in Central City, New Orleans, for most of their lives. They, too are worried about the violent crime and what will become of them if Ventral City is actually turned around as many folks are hoping and planning. This is one of those long time residents. Meet Arthur Lee. I met him while I was photographing an abandoned Catholic church. He told me a bit about the neighborhood, what it was like, what it is like today and what it could become.