Mystery in the City of the Dead.
Mystery in the City of the Dead.

The World of Strange Design. Let me tell you about it. But, first let me tell you that I borrowed the title from Rosanne Cash’s last album called “The River & The Thread.” The entire album is about her coming to understand where she’s from. And, what that means. And, accepting it as home. For me, it’s one  of the best of albums of the year. It’s sort of country. How could it not be? After all, Rosanne is the daughter of the late, great Johnny. Cash. But, it’s also deep. Dense. Swampy. Rich. Full. Moody. Mysterious.

The opening verses of this particular song go like this.

Well you’re not from around here
You’re probably not our kind
It’s hot from March to Christmas
And other things you’ll find

Won’t fit your old ideas
Their line is shifting sands,
You walk across a ghostly bridge
To a crumbling promise land

That’s particularly striking for me. That’s what you hear a lot in New Orleans. Or, a version of it.  “You’re not from here,” they say. But, but, but… I’ve been around this place since 1999 with the exception of a storm break. Not long enough. Would I be from here if I was born here? Nope. “Where’s your momma from,” they ask. Then, “where’s your maw-maw from?” They’d die if I said Russia. Actually, her village was on the Russian-Polish border. One day it was Russia. The next day… Poland. So, who knows. In New Orleans, it takes multi-general residency to be from here. My neighborhood is even worse. Mostly old New Orleans blue bloods. So, even though I feel like I’m from here, I’m not. They know it.

This picture and a rant.

I made this image in St. Louis Cemetery No 2. The scene was a little too hot for my taste so I messed with it in post production. A lot. No. I didn’t cut the heads off of two the sainted statues. I think one of the storms did that. I’ve long given up doing all this photo manipulation in Photoshop. It would take me days to do it using that software. Besides the term “photoshopping” is starting to mean something else. Something negative. I saw  it used for a news story that was obviously sanitized by the spin masters. There were no pictures. Just words. So, “photoshopping” is now being used in place of lying or twisting or spinning. Ouch.

That’s still not my rant. My rant is worse. Way worse.

I’m sure most of you are well aware that nothing artistic is worth much on the internet. Not any more. Music is worth nothing. Photographs are worth nothing. Painting is worth nothing. Art, in general, is worth nothing.

There are few of us who at least try to respect each other’s work. We ask before we use it. If we reblog, we keep it within our community. We track back. We try to acknowledge another’s work or thinking. These days it seems like respect for each other’s work is about all we have.

If we put it out there on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or just about anything else it appears to be free for the taking. I’ve heard plenty of people say that if they “got it” from the internet it’s theirs and they can do what they want with it.

Uh huh.

Think about that for a minute. I’ve got about 40 years invested in this. I’ve spent a lot of money on gear, learning, supplies, traveling to get to the picture and so on and on and on… Keep stealing my work and pretty soon I won’t be able to fund it. Or, I’ll just stop because there is no return. I’m a businessman as much as anything. My commercial-corporate-advertising-stock work pays the bills. Storyteller doesn’t.

It gets worse. It always does. When people read Storyteller, never comment and never “like” a picture but use either my photo philosophy or my style without ever acknowledging it, I have to wonder. Where the hell is their vision? Where is their creativity? How do they use their time?

Want an example?

Here’s one now.

The phrase, “Feels like to…” Or, “How it feels.” Or, “What it felt like to me…” Those are my thoughts. My writing. I’m trying to show you what it feels like to be in a certain place, at a certain time in a certain nano second. It’s about a sense of time. Or, place.

Oh sure, my thoughts aren’t original. An old friend once said that sometimes he photographs stuff just to show what it “feels like to” while we were careening around in a New York City taxi. So, we set about to photograph what it feels like to ride around in an NYC taxi. I think I made about three pictures. I’m sure he heard that some place else. But, they spun around in my head for years.

When a version of that shows up a day or two after I last wrote it, in some other social media, I have to wonder. Yes. I know the writer reads Storyteller. Never says anything — good or bad — about it. I guess, it’s a form of flattery. But, sheesh. Do you have to be so obvious? Spend some time with other photographers. From a lot of generations. Work every day at making pictures. Take the time to experiment. Figure out your own photo philosophy. If you keep borrowing so blatantly without some kind of attribution, I’ll just go away.

 


Spring
New Orleans Spring

I was looking at my posts for the past few weeks. Seems like I’ve been plumbing some pretty dark depths. Moody. Dark. Deep. Yes. I think that I made some nice pictures. But, they are getting a little dark. Even for me. So, I started looking around in my last few weeks of shooting and found this picture. I made it on Easter Sunday. I found this little bitty detail in Pirates Alley behind the St. Louis Cathedral. I also found out the back garden behind the cathedral is called St. Anthony’s Garden. It is the place where I’ve made that picture that many people call “Touchdown Jesus.” I’m one of those people. Anyway, this picture has a nice light feel to it. It feels like spring. It even has a strand of purple Mardi Gras beads hung over a classic wrought iron fence. No, I didn’t put them there. But, the thought did occur to me. This is just what it looks like. A nice spring day in New Orleans.  I hate to say it, but these days are coming to an end. Already. Today. 80 plus degrees and humid. Yes. Humid. Sheesh. It’s only mid-April.

Oh yeah. A little housekeeping. I’ve started reworking my old Photoshelter website. I’ve added a lot of pictures which you’ve seen. But, there is a pretty nice collection of images that you haven’t seen. Take a quick look. There are pictures from all over the place. And, there is a lot of my older work. People pictures. Stuff like that. Here’s the site.  laskowitz-pictures.photoshelter.com Enjoy it.

 

 


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Rusting Corrigated Metal Walls
L9-23
No Glass. No Windows.
L9-31
Through and Through and Through

While I was poking around in The Lower Ninth Ward and I found that odd little house displaying The American Flag, I also made pictures of broken glass, broken windows and rusty walls. I just sort of photographed whatever I saw. When I was editing my take — no, make that curating my take — I sort of watched a little collection of pictures come together without my help. Yep. They did it by themselves. That’s probably just as well. Pictures are better at doing that than I am.

Anyway. It’s just a little exercise in seeing details.

But, it seems to be a really good metaphor for the entire Lower Ninth Ward. Everything is broken. Even the newly repaired stuff.

Seeing the picture is just a matter of looking. And reacting. Post production is simple. Mostly, I just made sure the details are as sharp as they can be without looking overdone.


Late afternoon sun helped a little bit after the fact.
Late afternoon sun helped a little bit after the fact.

One of my fellow bloggers, Kaie W. Bird, posted a little video from Israel. Yesterday was the Israeli day to remember victims of The Holocaust. In the video, it looks like an ordinary day. People are driving on expressways. They are commuting. Apparently, they know what is coming. What sounds like an air raid siren goes off. Everybody stops their cars, trucks and buses. They get out of their cars and sort of stand at attention. I suppose that some are praying. Other’ maybe thinking. Hard to know. The siren stops and they get back in their cars and trucks and go on about their day. If think that I should just post the video. here it is.

http-::www.youtube.com:watch?feature=player_embedded&v=s24x68QNmxQ

What does that have to do with this picture? I wanted to make a picture to compliment it. I wanted to work in one of the three Jewish cemeteries in New Orleans. I chose the Uptown one. There are two others. One is near St. Roch and the other is near I-10. I know that the St. Roch Cemetery has at least on Holocaust survivor buried there. Uptown does not. At least, that I could find. So, I did what I could. Even though it was a beautiful spring day, I just wasn’t feeling the picture. So, I turned to cheap tricks. In post production. I think what I really wanted to do was just sit. Maybe visit with somebody.


I really have no idea what this American flag is doing in this old, abandoned house.
I really have no idea what this American flag is doing in this old, abandoned house.

Okay. Usually I know something about the pictures that I publish on Storyteller. Not this time. Everything confuses me. I know this house was under some pretty deep water after Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans. This particular area is located on the river side of the Lower Ninth Ward. This side was heavily flooded, but not completely devastated like the other side of The Lower Ninth. These are guesses. But, I suspect when the owner was able to return, he started to remediate his house.  He must have decided to display his pride and patriotism. So he hung an American flag. You know, that sort of “don’t tread on me” thing. Something stopped him in mid-stride. I walked through the house. The back-end burned after he took down the inner walls. That may be what caused him to stop. But, again. I’m just guessing. The other confusing thing about the picture are the house’s inner walls. Those thick boards are barge wood. In the 1700s and early 1800s, barges were floated down the Mississippi River to bring supplies and people. At the time, there was no way to bring them back up river so they broke the barges up and used them for building wood. It usually found its way into many early homes. My first house in New Orleans was made of barge wood. It was finished in lathe and plaster. But, it was built in 1834. This house is much newer than that. There very earliest that it could have been built was during the very late 1800s. Maybe 1890 or so. By then, houses were framed in a more modern way. And finished with lathe and plaster. The barge wood in this house was covered with finishing wood.

More research is required.

The picture was one of many I made when I walked through the open door. I’m very careful about investigating old buildings. They call this an UrbEx picture. That Urban Exploration. Normally, you take certain precautions when you do this. You carry a flashlight. You usually bring a buddy. You dress in work boots or shoes. You wear thicker clothing. You make sure that your cellphone is with you. Just in case. But, that’s for walking through big buildings. Buildings like old factories. Train Stations. Hospitals. But, you can see  the width and depth of this house. That narrow door opens into what was a kitchen area and then into one more back room which could have been a bedroom. There is a bathroom near the kitchen. That’s it. I was pretty sure that I didn’t need to take all of the normal precautions. The rest was easy. Point and shoot.


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This is the scary picture that I originally set out to shoot.

So. In yesterday’s post I told you that I went to the Le Beau Mansion. I had one picture in mind. But, I published something completely different. The picture I posted yesterday was light and colorful. An ode to spring, if you will. But, that wasn’t my original vision or intent. I was just being flexible and the cool spring air inspired me.

This picture was my original vision.

Very moody. Very mysterious. The mansion looks haunted. You can feel the ghosts slipping around. Halloween is breathing down your neck.

How did I do it? Well, you have to start with a cloudy sky. The sky needs character. You expose for the sky, intentionally keeping the shadows dark. And, you build from there. You darken the sky. You modify the colors.  You add a lot of gold tones to everything. You bring down the highlights. And, pretty soon… you have eerie.


Spring at Le Beau
Spring flowers at the haunted Le Beau mansion.

I went out to make a picture of the haunted Le Beau mansion. I thought it would be a great day because the sky was overcast, but the clouds were defined. I wanted to make a scary picture. A cloudy day works best for that because it’s a little flat. You can add a lot of “mood” to the picture in post production. But, things changed. They always do. Right? I made the picture that I set out to make. It was easy. I had that picture stuck in my head. For months.Every time the sky turned cloudy, I thought to myself, “I should drive to Arabi and photograph Le Beau.” You know how that is. The thought passed through my mind and just kept going. But, not yesterday.

I actually got my act together and made the drive . It’s not far. But, there is a lot of trucking traffic so the drive takes a while. This area is past Jackson Barracks. And, very near to the Domino Sugar factory. I think part of the Le Beau Plantation land is now part of the sugar factory. There’s a lot of interesting history to his little area.

Anyway. As I wrote, I made my planned picture. As I was walking across the field in front of the mansion, I was happy to see all the spring flowers and little blooms. Aha! That was really the picture. So, I got down low and made this picture. My usual approach to shooting little flowers is to use a macro lens and capture every possible detail of the flower. But, not this time. I was kind of lazy and didn’t feel like walking back to my car to get it. Besides, I thought it would be cool to position the house in the background. I also wanted to layer the picture. So, both the foreground and the background are soft, while the middle area is sharp and shows off the bright yellow very nicely.

Newly inspired, I decide not to rush out  of the area. I made some other very cool pictures that I’ll be publishing in the next few days. They are all very different. Sometimes when I wander around, I sort of get stuck in a groove and shoot the same general subjects. Not yesterday.

In all, a pretty good day.


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The bridge over the Mississippi River.

I really like this bridge. It was one of the few bridges in the world were it trains look like they are flying. And, from the right angle, you really think that they do. This is The Huey P. Long Bridge. Locals call it “The Huey P.” It was completed in 1935 to replace The Walnut Street Ferry. It was named after the late governor who was assassinated eight months before the bridge was completed. It’s history is very interesting. Southern Pacific Railroad proposed the bridge in 1892. With the development of The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, a state constitutional amendment was passed giving the City of New Orleans the right to build and operate the bridge even though the bridge is really located in Jefferson Parish. Design began in 1925 and a few pilings were driven into the river to allow the congressional authority to continue. Financial problems during the depression cause further delay. The construction finally started in 1932. It continued for three years with few problems. In 2006, major reconstruction began which created wider lanes and other structural changes.  It is just now nearing completion. The picture was actually made in a place where seven years ago I couldn’t have driven.

This is how things kinda go around here. It only took 43 years from the original proposal to completion of the bridge. Prior to reconstruction, plenty of people drove across it. But the lanes were very narrow having been designed for 1930s car and trucks. Think about it. Some of those double duallies and Hummers take up both of those 1935 era lanes just to drive in a straight line.

Anyway. Before I go on an anti-big pickup truck rant…

The picture was made on one of the new sections of the roadway leading from the bridge to The Eastbank of the Mississippi River. I couldn’t have done this a couple of years ago. Once you get used to this new route it really is quiet smooth. But, the freight train above me is running on rails that haven’t changed since the 1930s. Yes. Of course, they been well maintained and some rails have probably been removed and replaced. But, the basic configuration is still the same. Me? It’s another of my “through the windshield pictures.” Hold the camera steady on the dashboard and push the button. Let the auto-everything functions do their thing.


Spring Rain
Rain reflecting color through the windshield.

Rain. And, more rain. Accompanied by a fairly cold wind. Apparently the wind picked up fast enough to hit Gulf Coast Alabama with hurricane force winds. In fact, it blew a stranded Carnival cruise ship that was in for repairs free from its moorings. This knocked the guard shack into the water. Last month the ship was stuck out to sea for days. Talk about a bad luck boat.

But, none of that is in this picture. This picture is just rain drops and lights reflected on my car’s windshield. Very simple. This is just point and shoot when I came to a stop light. I focused on the windshield rather than the street. I made art. Well. A kind of art. Or, something.