Did you ever wonder how you got here? I don’t mean here as in location. I mean the twists and turns that your life took to get you to your place right now. Right this minute.
Lately, that’s what I’ve been doing.
It started with the koan, “learning.” That is my word for the year. I wasn’t sure exactly how that word would work since I’m a lifetime learner. I try to learn just a bit from everything and everyone. It might be just one teeny tiny thing. That adds to my body of knowledge.
Then it came to me.
Learning meant from the inside out.
That’s fine as far as it goes. And, it goes on forever.
Then, something started to change. I started wondering how my life got to the place where it is today. Everything seemed to be a cue. Music. A bit of an old television show. A movie clip. An old photograph. A smell. A road less traveled.
So far, not so good.
Oh sure. I’ve had a great career. But, not the best. My personal life has been okay, but it could have been better. And, so on and so on. I’ve let too many opportunities pass by. Even those that were a sure thing. We all do it. I did it.
It’s easy to get worried or even depressed using this line of thinking. I’m not that guy. I know that the past is the past. I can’t do very much about it. Nobody can. I can really only live in the present. But, I can be my best self in the future. The question isn’t why. It’s how. It’s where. And, it’s when.
After all, no one person can do everything.
I think you make life choices based on priorities. I can work those as far as they go because there aren’t many. Likely, they mostly flow from one or two very important cares or concerns. Working with those takes time, effort, focus and maybe even a little money. It may take a plan. How do you get from point “A” to point “B?”
That’s where I am right now.
My thinking may be easier than other people’s.
I reckon, even in this age of high end medicine, medications and procedures, I’ve got about 15 years or so. That’s not discouraging to me. We all pass off this mortal coil.
The question is how well do we live out our time.
I do not want to do what my dad did. After he retired, he and my mom moved from Long Beach, California to Reno, Nevada. There is so much to see and explore in, and around, Reno. My dad mostly stayed at home. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. For what?
You know for what.
I’m not doing that. Not now. Not ever.
That’s another way of learning. Sometimes you learn what you don’t want. What you don’t want to do.
The picture. You can learn a lot about light if you look closely. You see that big power pole? You see what’s next to it in the sky? Do you see what happens to the white clouds directly next to that? It’s all about sunlight bouncing off of the whiter clouds, hitting that the clouds around it and reflecting and refracting its own light.
That is a great example of one thing I usually say. When you are looking at the great sunset that you want to photograph, you should turn around and see what that wonderful light does to the scenery behind you. For sure, photograph the sunset if that’s your thing. But, look around as well. You may be surprised. Pleasantly surprised.
I was going to close out the “big storm” series. I even made a new picture. It combines the extent of the damage around this place with water.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King
I’ve promised you this space would not be political. I believe we all need a break from the daily madness. I want this space to be about art in all its forms. But, art is driven by circumstances. By daily life. By our own histories.
When the president who shall not be named tweeted his racist bullshit yesterday. I was stunned. Most of the country responded righteously. Twitter lit up like a pinball machine. Facebook wasn’t much quieter. His ploy to drive a wedge between Speaker Pelosi and the women that he told to go back where they came from, failed.
It gets worse. He doubled down. Senator Graham defended him. The rest of the Republican Party was silent.
Now we know.
The President of The United States is an out and out racist. Oh, we knew it. We knew his red lining record as a real estate owner. We heard him defend white power groups after the violence at Charlottesville, Virginia. But, yesterday he said it. He said what racists have said to people of color for years and years. He confirmed it.
Not only does Donald J. Trump (there, I said his name) have to go, but the Republican senators and representatives have to be voted out en masse. Gone. All gone.
I urge you in my country to run for something. Anything. It starts from the ground up. And, you must vote. We have to get these racist, mean, scared old white men out of power. I said it before Trump was elected, that we would leave the country if he won. We decided to stay and fight back. To resist. I can assure that that if he is re-elected, I won’t know my country, and we will leave. Even if we are strangers in a strange land it will be better than living in the country of my birth. That’s terribly sad.
One more note.
Before you think that everything was bad on Sunday, it wasn’t. Thanks to YouTube, I got to see Sir Paul McCartney play with Ringo Starr from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The last time that happened was when The Beatles played there over 50 years ago. Then, I got to see Neil Young sing with Bob Dylan for the first time since 1994. They played an old traditional tune. “Will the Circle Be Broken?’
First, the thing to know is that there was a breakfast meeting this morning of some local political heavy weights to discuss the reprehensible coverage of New Orleans and tropical Storm Barry by the national news media. When Walter Issacson gets into the discussion you know something is wrong. He’s not a politician. He’s a heavyweight editor, author and thinker who ran the Aspen Institute. He lives here.
Call this a rant if you’d like.
But, before you do, please understand that I spent the early years of my career — roughly one third of it — working as a photojournalist. I’d like to believe that I was even handed and fair minded. I’d like to think that my pictures and my words told the truth. I’d like to believe that I didn’t pour fuel on any fire.
The national coverage as it relates to this storm has been terrible. From my admittedly limited viewpoint, it was designed to elicit clicks. It was done to sell advertising. And, it was done with no thought to the people they were impacting.
At the very least, it was misleading. At the very worst, it was fear mongering. And, it scared our friends and family who don’t live nearby. I am grateful for all of those people who reached out to me. Old high school mates, college mates, even people who I know only from Storyteller. Some offered their spare rooms and guest rooms as shelter.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Trust me, I’ll take you up on your offers if we have a big hurricane. Especially if New Orleans is in the bullseye.
This nonsense has got to stop. The president who shall not be named calls it “fake news.” In his case, that means anything with which he disagrees. In my case, I’m sorry to report that most of the coverage was fake news. For me, the distrust that it sows means that I question everything that they publish or broadcast.
What’s the situation right now?
There is no wind. Rain is falling so softly that it isn’t pooling. It is so soft that the dogs who will not be rained on, didn’t realize that they were wet until we’d been out for ten minutes or so. Even then, when I asked “go home?”, they hesitated. Yeah. They know the word, “home.”
Of course, we knew that we’d get rain. Of course, we knew that we’d get a little wind. But, we weren’t scared. We weren’t fleeing. And, no. That wasn’t just our friends. When we went to the store to buy storm-related items as most of us do, there was no anxiety. I didn’t know the other shoppers. We all went about our business of preparing for a storm. Just as we always do. We helped each other a little. Just as we always do.
The picture. A couple of Crape Myrtle blossoms on a car trunk. With a few water droplets. I saw it and did what I always do. I made a picture.
That’s it. That’s the entire story. For now.
It appears, from rereading this post, that I always do a lot of things. Hmmmm.
By around 10:30 pm, the night before the big event, everything changed. No storm surge. The river would only rise to 17 feet. Well below flood level. And, the rain will average around 6 inches over 24 hours in New Orleans.
Yes. It’s windy. We may still lose power. So, I’m writing this around midnight just in case.
A grateful city is happy. I’m happy.
I’m so disappointed in national news coverage. The Washington Post flat out printed fake news. NOLA Twitter responded as only we could. The same thing happened with national television stations. Worse, the gold standard, The BBC went beyond fake news.
As many of you know, I started my career as a photojournalist. I made pictures. I edited. I managed photo staffs. I built a chain of weekly newspapers within a daily newspaper. I would have never published the nonsense I read today.
The Post said something about how fearful we were. And, that we were fleeing. Nobody that I know was fearful. Some people with children left. Family first. But, they weren’t panicked. We’ve been through this before.
The city, state, even the federal government got involved. We had emails, tweets and texts. There were the obligatory press conferences and so on. That was all good.
I remember that prior to the evacuation for Hurricane Katrina, a lot of my neighbors said they weren’t leaving because the city always reacted to potential hurricanes extremely and nothing ever came of it.
The rest is history.
When do people start disregarding hurricane lead ups again? What happens when the real deal occurs again and people don’t take it seriously?
Beyond my pay grade. I guess the Mercedes Dome will be a place of last refuge again.
One more thing.
I’m speaking only about New Orleans. I’m sure it will be rough when Barry makes landfall, wherever it makes landfall.
Written about someone who wants to stay on the road and not go home. That’s us right about now.
First, the good news. It is very likely that the levees will not overtop. We are expecting 10 to 15 inches of rain in the next two days. If it’s steady it won’t overwhelm the pumps. It will add more water to the already high Mississippi River.
There is even better news. The Rolling Stones will not be denied. They are already in town. And, their stage crew is building their stage, lighting and video screens as we speak. They are playing on Sunday. Come hell (not likely) or high water (likely).
The predictable news. The storm’s outer bands are reaching us. There are winds of about 20 mph with light rainfall. It is not steady, it is more like spitting. It’s on and off as the cyclone spins.
There is no bad news. We are as prepared as I’ve ever seen. That’s the city. The parishes. And, us. The only possible bad news are power failures, which are unpredictable. Yesterday, I saw Entergy crews checking the likely weak links. But, storms are storms and you can’t know what will fail.
Have a good thought for us.
The picture. Red skies at morning, sailors take warning. Red skies at night, sailors delight. We’ll see about that. It looks like I’m a million miles away. Nah, Earhart Expressway. The back way to the airport.
Just remember, you thought you knew what the Tibetan word Nameste means. Around here, that’s Cajun for the answer to this question.
I was told just the other day that our light is special because of the humidity. Supposedly, it is more creamy. I’m not sure about that. Humidity is caused by airborne water droplets. They reflect red light, making blue skies muddy. Sort of gray.
That’s just science. Optics.
I suppose if you aren’t looking at the sky and are focused on ground bound subjects that the light could seem creamy. Or, at least, heavy. That’s not a bad quality.
The picture. I made it yesterday. I was running errands. The kind of stuff that you do on your first day home. I parked the car, looked up and thought, “oh wow.” I made the picture. I made a couple of them. Once again, not much post production. Nature’s handiwork again.
This is a summer project picture. This is a southern summer sky. A classic.
I made it only a block or two away from the “boy riding his bike next to the train” picture. Another summer picture. Maybe I should hang out there. Maybe not. That could be strangling the golden goose.
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.
Wet weather is a way of life down here in the swamp. We live with it. We live in it. We get wet. We dry off. We get wet again. Sort of like in the heat and humidity of summer when four or five quick showers might be the order of the day.
I was talking to somebody about the heat and humidity of summer. We agree. While it gets mighty uncomfortable, we build up to it. But, for tourists, it’s brutal. They come from someplace milder, or at least dryer, and they just die in our summers.
That’s a reason that hotels and restaurants are so inexpensive during July and August. They’ll do anything to attract customers. In fact, many restaurants close for a couple of weeks during August. Not only do they lose money by being open, but it’s a good time to do the deep cleaning and other maintenance that they put off during their busy seasons.
This picture is a pretty good example of our attitude towards weather. He’s been to a grocery store and he’s headed some place else. His only concession to the rain is that he is walking his bike. He doesn’t want to hit a slick patch and end up on his butt.
My only concession to the rain was to stand under an overhang to protect my gear. Me? I don’t care if I get wet. If I wasn’t carrying cameras I’d be out walking in the wet weather.
The real trick was image exposure. I had to balance my need for blur with the falling rain. So, I focused on the rain and let everything else fall where it may. Actually, I didn’t focus on anything. I’m fairly fast at manual focus. But, rain? Oh no. I let the camera do its thing. Even with that, the rain isn’t all that sharp. I doubt with low light and such narrow parameters that anything can be truly razor-sharp. I don’t care. As Henri Cartier Bresson said, “Sharpness is such a bourgeois concept.” For those of you new to photography Google him. He is the father of the decisive moment and one of the first photographers to switch to “miniature” cameras. He used 35mm Leicas. Film cameras. Follow the links from him to other photographers. You’ll learn a lot.
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”
So wrote Bob Dylan.
Where is that shelter? Again, a year to the day of the Pittsburgh shooting, and not more than two weeks from the last mass shooting, a Jewish synagogue was attacked. Four wounded. One dead. A woman died attempting to protect her rabbi.
Christians say it’s a war against them. Jews say it’s an anti-semitic war against them. Muslims say it’s a war against them. None of them see the big picture, or, they are ignoring it. It’s a war against everybody who is different from some other guy. It’s a war against people who think differently from some other guy. For sure, the Catholic churches that were attacked in Sri Lanka were claimed by ISIS, but the shootings in The United States were allegedly done by deranged white guys.
It’s a war fueled by pure hatred. And carried out at the point of a gun. An AR-15. an A-R, that are the model letters for Assault Rifle. Think about that for a minute. The minute when you try to defend gun ownership in all cases.
When does this stuff stop? How does it stop?
We don’t have the leaders to stop it. You may have heard the speeches at the NRA convention. The convention that does not allow guns inside. That one.
The only way to stop it is to get angry. To get very angry. An anger that is sustained and will flow through the next general election in 2020. It’s not enough to vote out the punk president. Anybody who gets in the way of positive change must go. We must do this. We must organize. We must fight back. Legally.
There is so much to do. These guys are getting in the way. They have to go. It can be done. We saw a little of it during the mid-term elections. The House of Representatives was flipped. And, not just be a few representatives. We can do it in the Senate. We can do it in The White House. It’ll take hard work. But, as they say, anything good takes hard work.
I promised you that I would keep Storyteller politics free. And, I will. This is a place for art, for photographs, for New Orleans. But, yesterday kind of broke me. I’m getting afraid to open any social media. I dislike reading newspapers — the job I liked best. In the early days. That’s all ridiculous. But, I just hate reading what I find. I should be reading about baseball, and Jazzfest, and general news, and news about New Orleans. Oh no.
The picture. One stormy day on River Road. Camera on the dashboard and me stopping a little long, so that I can make the picture. It says a lot. About Southeast Louisiana rain storms. I don’t remember exactly, but I’ll bet that I either drove out of it, or it stopped not far away. That’s how it is. The storm doesn’t last for long. Unlike the state of my country. That storm shows no signs of breaking. Unless we break it.