Working the street.

Busking.

A hard way to make a living. These days, in the music industry, distribution is king. Without that, you struggle with tours and merchandise sales. If you are working the street, you have none of that.

You have the music. You have a tip jar. And, maybe a few cheaply recorded CDs for sale.

Cheaply is an understatement. Just like digital photography, and auto photographers, everybody with a computer thinks that they can record and master music. Sure, there’s a few folks with passion and drive. For the most part, music recorded, mixed and mastered on a computer sounds like it. You really have to like the songs to listen to that poorly recorded sound.

Take a look at her. She’s got her violin. Her tip jar — well — wagon, and she’s waving a CD around. I admire her. That’s hard work.  It was cold that night. She’s wearing a glove on one hand. Yet, she’s smiling and chatting up anybody who’ll listen.

That’s what it takes.

Let’s bounce. Back to photography. You can have all the best gear. You can have all the learned technical skills. You can even make a good picture or two. Without that energy, passion and desire, you ain’t gonna make it.

Like a good musician, a photographer must woodshed. That means taking pictures when you aren’t traveling. When you aren’t getting paid. When you don’t feel like it. That’s how you get good. You work in all kinds of weather. You walk. You look. You make pictures. You work on them at home. You even keep the real losers so that you can learn from your mistakes.

Then, when you are traveling on your own. Or, when you have a paid assignment. The pictures come easily. They find you. You are ready. You’ve practiced. That’s one of the things “ten tips that will make you a great photographer,” never tell you. Work. Work. Work.

The picture. One of those French Quarter nights. Wandering around. Practicing. Looking for pictures. Not caring about showing them to anybody. Or, about money. Just working for the joy of it. Knowing me, I used a 16mm lens, set at f 4.0 and the shutter speed was maybe 1/30th of a second. Most is sharp, except for the CD she is waving around. That’s okay. Her face is sharp. That’s another thing. A picture like this one needs sharpness somewhere. It’s not like those whirly-burly things I photograph sometimes when everything is moving. That’s a whole other skill.

Questions? Please ask.

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The quiet side.

The quiet side.

Most people think of the French Quarter as being loud. They think of people always partying. They think of the typical New Orleans craziness.

Let me tell you, we ain’t all that crazy.

We don’t spend much time in the Quarter. When we do, we rarely walk around on Bourbon Street. It’s usually too crowded. With partiers. And, bad guys. And, it stinks. Literally.

We do like walking in other parts of the Quarter. Like this place that I photographed. It’s way down river on Royal Street. People actually live here. People make their homes here. There are no bars. No clubs. Tourists rarely come down the street this far. It may actually be safer than the more heavily populated areas of the Quarter. There’s nobody to mug. Nobody to rob. Well, there are. But, they are very street smart.

If I ever lived in the Quarter, this is about where I’d do it. But, that’s not going to happen. But, it sure is nice to walk around this part of the Quarter. It’s also much harder to photograph. No matter. Making a successful picture when there isn’t a lot of action going on defines a “street” photographer. Or, it should.

One more thing.

I made this picture without a tripod. I rarely carry one when I work on the street. It’s too cumbersome. It takes too much time to set up. It attracts too much attention. That’s the last thing I want. You just have to learn your craft. The trick is to expose for some mid-tone. I used the street signs. It gave me enough detail in both the highlights and the shadows. I also knew that I was going to correct the exposure issues in post production. They say GIGO. But, not if you plan for it. I thought about what I was doing before I did it.

Housekeeping. I’m going to refocus Storyteller back to where it sort of began. About the photographs. A little bit about New Orleans stories.

Because.

I think some of the NOLA stories I tell you are confusing, especially to people who come here as tourists and mostly stay in The French Quarter. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, they usually stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. The chores of daily living are done for them. For the most part, they are protected from our random and violent crime. When it rains, they don’t have to deal with flooded streets.

They don’t know what it is to live in a city that is very hard on the people who live here. I suppose that can be true of any place. But, most places aren’t described in the loving terms that people use to describe New Orleans. Or, really the Quarter.

Anyway. Back to the basics.


Music everywhere.

Music takes me everywhere.

I live in a city made of music. I live in a city made of ancient culture. I live in a city full of food. They all seem to be struggling.

Musicians can barely earn a living. You see some amazing musicians playing on the street. Some are in between gigs. Others are scraping by.

The folks who are the culture believe the city makes about $900,000,000 a year off of their cultural pursuits, which is killing them. That’s a lot of money. But, tourism is our only real business.

And, food. Our food is great. But, at our current rate of restaurant expansion there seems to be one restaurant for every 300 of us.

Something has to give. Or, not.

The biggest issue might be the newest of comers. The ones who want to gentrify everything. The ones who don’t like second lines on Sunday because they create a racket. The ones who came here for all the stuff I’ve written about… for years. But, when they get here they want the city to be just like the place they came from.

Of course, the newcomers have added a lot of stress to the housing situation. Many of the culture bearers rent, they don’t own, their homes. Their landlords see big money and sell their homes out from under them. They leave the old neighborhoods. They usually head upriver. They come home for whatever their festivals happen to be. They don’t admit this of course. One Baby Doll lives in Natchez, Mississippi. That’s a long drive for one event. Yet, she does it.

So.

There was a meeting between a lot of the culture bearers and the city this week. The city claims that they want to protect them. Losing this ancient culture means significant tourism losses. I missed the first meeting. I’ll make sure I’m there for the next one. Based on newspaper reports, a lot of issues got side tracked. I’ll see what I can do to address some of those issues. Unfortunately, for me, this might be a case of good intentions being the road to hell.

The picture. Music really is everywhere around here. I passed these buskers on the way to someplace else, as I do with a lot of my subjects. I made some clean shots of them playing, but the guy passing by seems to add something to the picture.

 


Real street photography.

Now, this is street photography.

A picture of the street.

Nah. That’s not what the photographic world means.  In actual fact, the photo world doesn’t know what it means. It’s a catchall for just about every kind of unplanned work. A friend of mine thinks that you just stick your camera out there and push the button while trying to remain anonymous. What happened to the decisive moment? Or, photographer and subject interaction? Then, I guy I follow on WordPress started posting art museum pictures that he took secretly, saying this was a street photography technique.

I can tell you that some of the greatest working photographers do not work secretly.  They work in fairly close with ether a 28mm, 35mm or 50mm lens. You can’t miss them. One thinks when he is working with a 50mm lens that he is using a telephoto.  It’s funny. But, real.

Caution. Rant coming. Sorry too. This is normally a family blog.

Cut the bullshit. Stop the gutless, scared approach to photography. Stop taking pictures from across the street with a telephoto lens. Stop traveling to foreign countries to stick your camera in some surprised person’s face who won’t say no. Because they don’t speak English.

Engage your subject a little, even if all you do is hold your camera out and point to them. And, make sure they can see your work. I once made a picture in Thailand of a farmer way in the back country. He spoke little or no English. After, I was done and was thanking him, he looked at me and asked, “Digital?” So, I showed him what I did. I left him smiling. And, if you can, give your subject a print. Even if you have to mail it to them 8,000 miles away.

See that line about leaving them smiling? Do that.

Some photographers will say that’s not street photography without being to define what street photography really is about. I’m not buying that.

That’s it. Rant over.

The picture. It really is of the street. It’s funny what you can see if you live in the moment. Just a little. I made it with an iPhone. I promised myself that I would stop doing it. This picture shows why. Technically it’s terrible. It looks great on the phone’s screen. But, anywhere else…

 


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After the rain.

A change in seasons.

A change in thinking. It started last week. A friend said, in comments, that my mother raised a good son. I said thank you. But, but, but…

You know how that goes. And, how it still goes.

It seems like everything is a trigger. A song. A smell. A book. A movie. A picture.

You know.

It’s interesting. A lot of stuff has been coming out of closets. Sort of a spring cleaning. There are boxes along a couple of walls.

What a great metaphor.

Boxes along the walls. All these things.

The pictures. Clouds are fun to photograph. I think you just need some kind of a subject in the foreground. That’s what I tried to do in both pictures. Oh… the bottom picture was made through my car’s windshield.

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Big storm coming.


Listening to her Big Chief sing.

You could say that I’m confused.

I have three fairly important shoots to show you. Where do I start? How do I start? I did the easiest thing. I cherry picked for today. I haven’t had time to curate, let alone develop, and finish the images that I made this weekend. I just picked a picture that I like to show you.

Call it a teaser.

This is mostly what you could call a street portrait. But, it’s more. She’s listening to her big chief sing. She was standing on a short stage with Big Chief John and a couple of others. I was working slightly below her. Pictures made at this angle often have a majestic look to them. This one certainly does.

So.

There will be lots more pictures coming this week. I’m pretty sure I’ll run into next week when Easter Sunday images will be current. There are the big French Quarter parades and an Easter second line way, way Uptown.

At least I have a schedule. Of sorts. It’s funny. I’m trying to move towards the more artistic work like I published yesterday. Cultural events seem to be getting in the way. I suppose that’s good. Depending on how you look at it.

Oh. I have yet to experiment with culture and turn it into art. Somehow that seems sacrilegious.


Hot 8 Brass Band

He kept posing for me. That was great. You know me. I wanted a little more. I dropped down and photographed looking up. This gave the musicians sort of an iconic look to them. It also cleared out some of the background which was a little too noisy, especially with a very wide angle lens.

As I mentioned earlier, this parade — The Lady & Men Second Line — was about the first one I photographed since last May. Even though I am feeling physically better, I still have to knock some rust off. If I photograph a parade a week for the next month or so, I’ll get a lot better. Of course, Mardi Gras will get in the way. There is some discussion about that. Mostly, in my head. I haven’t missed a Mardi Gras parade season since my return from New Mexico in 2011. That’s good. But, I am thinking about bowing out this year. Most of New Orleans is closed for at least a week of that time. It might be a nice time for a road trip. Or, not.

What do y’all think?

Make no mistake. I’m not a Mardi Gras Grinch. I have neighbors and friends who hate carnival season for every kind of reason. Not me. I’d just like to see what Tuesday is like in the rest of the country. You know, the day we hold so dear down here. Mardi Gras Tuesday. Fat Tuesday. It’s just another Tuesday in most places.

And.

The next day is Ash Wednesday. It’s also Valentine’s Day. Worse. Easter Sunday falls on April 1. April Fool’s Day. I know some Catholics who are going to be really messed up over these two cross-bred holidays. Heh!

The picture. I didn’t do much more than bend my knees and simply take it. I cleaned out the shadows and added a lightly gold toned glow making the image look and feel like I made it in early morning.

By the way, yesterday’s wide angle lens discussion was driven by a comment that they can be hard to use, difficult to control. I mentioned in my comments that I’ve used a 20mm or 24mm lens as my go to lens for most of my career. The trick is not to produce an image with total front to back sharpness. The picture becomes very busy if you do that. Shoot around f 4 or f 5.6 and let the subject pop out. Or, you can stand back and make sort of a panoramic sort of picture that is about as sharp as you can make it.  Mostly, you need a sharp foreground subject and not just a general scene. That means you probably have to work close. Many “street photographers” don’t like to do that.

This method of working isn’t “my” method. I was taught by one of my mentors who was taught by one of his mentors who was taught by…  oh you get it. It’s only “my”method to a lot of very new photographers who can’t be bothered to study the history of their new “love.” And, who think they don’t need help because everything is on YouTube. That might very well be. But, it sure is nice to have a real human to talk to when you don’t understand the concept. And, yeah there are rules. Like it or not.

 


Christmas balls everywhere.

Now it’s Christmastime.

I found this picture.  Actually, the dog who sees things found it. My head was wrapped in thought. Or, fog.

I walked right by it. The dog saw the shiny object and had to investigate. Good thing too. I had a back up picture for today, but it is plan B and all that it implies. How last-minute is this picture? I’m writing this at 11:40 am Central Standard Time. I according to my phone, I took it at 10:48 CST.

The dog saved me yet again.

So. What was I thinking about?

Going forward, I suppose it could be called. If this messed up Republican budget plan gets passed, it strips away a lot of deductions that are normally there for artists. Artists of all stripes. Photographers. Painters. Musicians. Designers. The list is endless. Somehow, I just know that it’s going to stretch into entire industries. This is going to hurt all of us. Then, there is the next step. Tax revenues are bound to fall. The current crop of Republicans will use that as a trigger to cut Social Security benefits and Medicare. I’ve paid all my life into those accounts. Now they are going to try to claim that I can’t have that. Hmmm…

I wrote, yesterday, that my real home is Long Beach, California. I may visit there, but if this budget and thinking goes forward, I’m pretty sure I’ll never live there again. I’ll probably pass through the Pearly Gates (I hope)  from some place like Costa Rica, or Peru. Or Hong Kong, or Thailand. That sounds exciting. But, those places aren’t home. And, as you know, I have really mixed thoughts about New Orleans. And, Brooklyn.

The picture. Oh that. 🙂 See it. Press the button. Do a little post production to make it pretty. And, stuff.


Leaf in the street.

Street photography. At its best.

If you are a photographer, this is kind of an inside joke. If you aren’t, let me explain it to you. I’d venture a guess that about 80% of “new” photographers call themselves street photographers. That means wandering around and taking pictures of whatever you see. Most of them don’t have a clue. Street photography, at its best, has an element of the decisive moment. It can also mean some kind of engagement with the photographer’s subject. Lately, there has been a trend of hiding the camera, or just sort of pointing and shooting. This is justified under the mistaken thinking of “what does it matter if you get a picture?” To which I reply, “A picture? How about THE picture?” And, “What are you so afraid of?”

One more thing. I don’t ever “get” a picture. I make a picture.

Anyway. This is a street photograph. At its best. Or not. I took a picture of the street. With a fall leaf laying on it. Then, I did my tinkering… and there you have it.

Funny thing. Somebody added me to a Facebook street photography group. I’m not exactly sure why. It’s a downtown (where The French Quarter is and further down river) hipster group who meet at a beer laboratory. Whatever that is. I think when I was growing up, that would simply be called a beer bar.

Two other points. I’m just a photographer. I don’t sub-classify myself. For instance, most street photographers of this generation have no lighting skills. I can light. Sometimes so subtly that you don’t realize I did it. And, I don’t drink. What am I going to do in a beer “lab?” Experiment with water?

The picture. I was crossing the street. There was a nice red leaf hanging around, so I took the picture. I did my post production thing in order to make some kind of art. Or, so I claim.

Yeah. I know. Very snarky this morning. Here’s why. Even though I always put my main computer to sleep, Apple thought it would be a good idea to fix some stuff remotely. I know this because things like their cloud which didn’t work properly since the new OS was installed now works. When I finally gave up and rebooted the computer this morning, one of their first prompts was to ask me if I wanted their help to set it up. Huh? I will, a little later, send their executive group a little legal love note reminding them to stop invading my privacy. Harsh? Maybe. But, sometimes these things have to be done.

I ought to send them an invoice for my lost time. That’ll make them smile.