A classic dive in the French Quarter. The food is good. Hamburgers are cooked under a hubcap. You probably can’t finish a side order of french fries. And, you’ll never know who or what you’ll see.
Go there late at night and the trannies will perform for you. Especially if they think they can get a rise out of you. I can use that name in this era of no fun, no fools, because that’s what they tell you to use. It’s all good fun. They laugh. You laugh. If you’ve brought an out of town quest, they sit there stunned, until they realize it’s better to join in. And, the pictures? Sheesh. They pose. The waiters pose. The cooks pose.
I tell you. It’s a kind of street theater.
I made this picture on an early Sunday morning walk. That’s why there is condensation on the window. Cold, dry air up against a window that has moist, warm air pressing against it, and guess what happens. The picture was easy. See it. Photograph it. That’s how I work when I’m wandering around.
I haven’t been doing that lately. There are a lot of reasons for that. But, it’s coming to an end. I miss working this way. I miss exploring. Photographing whatever happens in front of me. Whatever comes to me.
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.
No. Not the first picture that I ever made. If you’ve been around Storyteller long enough, you’ve seen my first picture when I published a black and white portfolio of my earliest work. The work was maybe 45 years old. I published the portfolio a few years ago.
This is the first picture that I made when I switched from DSLR cameras to mirrorless cameras back in the summer of 2012. I wasn’t so sure about these new fangled cameras so I bought a Sony NEX 5 and a kit lens. I loved it from the minute I started making pictures with it. I loved it so much that a week or two later I sent musical miss to Adorama in New York to pick up an NEX 7 (the top of the line back then) and a couple of lenses.
Lenses. They were an issue in 2012. Sony hadn’t made many of them. And, adaptors were pretty much useless. Flash forward to 2019 and there are plenty of native lenses produced by both Sony and Zeiss. Lens adaptors are great, to the point that I use my Leica glass on Sony bodies. If you want a sharp file, an image made with that combination will peel your eyelids.
Even though I’ve invested in newer and better bodies, I still have the NEX 5 and the 7, which I fried in a driving rain and ice storm during Mardi Gras. Even though it was top of the line, it had no weather sealing.
I didn’t know that I had a problem until maybe six months later when the moisture finally worked its way to the motherboard. That was exciting. No big event like an explosion. The camera functions just slowly stopped working, until one day I couldn’t turn it on. I sent it out for repairs. It was returned to me as being unrepairable. It could have been repaired, but the work and the parts would have cost more than a new camera. I loved that NEX 7. I may buy one again. They are so technologically old that they only cost about $300 for an excellent used one.
This picture. I made a couple of pictures before this one. Just test shots. I couldn’t figure out why the subject was out of focus. When I opened up the file on my big machine I could see why. The image wasn’t out of focus. The auto focus was so sharp that it picked a place that didn’t matter to me. Once I learned how to control that, all was good. Then there were ISO issues. Over the years of digital capture I’ve learned that you can’t really crank up the ISO without creating noise. So, I didn’t. That gave me motion blur all over the place on this picture. But, you know me. That’s one of my signatures. Of course, that’s changed too. Today, you can raise the ISO without doing very much damage. At least, a little bit.
Looking at this picture makes me think that I really ought to be prowling The French Quarter at night a little more. Maybe I will. Next week.
Sometimes they are simply a technique. Sometimes you see them. Sometimes you use them. Like I did here.
I like the picture in the mirror just fine. But, that’s not why I was looking at it. There’s a car coming. In front of that, there is a mule drawn carriage. I didn’t want to hit either of them. I also want to know if anybody is walking on that side. Good guy or bad guy, I want to know how to react.
Good guy because people walk all over the streets of the French Quarter. Bad guy because there are all sorts of car thefts, high jackings and robbery, done in the streets. Forewarned is forearmed.
All was clear except for the car and the carriage, so I waited by photographing what I saw. Since I mostly use wide angle lenses I kept the background and foreground scenes in the picture. A little context for you and me.
I was going to talk about New Orleans culture, but a fire got in the way. You know where. In Paris. France. Notre Dame burned. Early on, it looked like it might be a total loss. Now, we know it’s not. Already 400,000,000 Euros have been pledged to its rebuilding.
Just as important, after reading a long comment from a researcher who studies Notre Dame as well as other Gothic structures throughout Europe, I know that there is a cycle of boom and bust for the cathedral. For instance, the steeple that fell was built in the 19th Century. At one point, it was derelict and restored. Of course, the medieval wood is mostly gone, and the roof is cinders, but most of the art is safe. The walls are safe. And, the bell towers are intact.
It likely will be rebuilt again. In 100 years, people will be talking about the fire of 2019 while they are looking at it.
However, yesterday’s sadness was about more than the burning of what amounts to a Catholic Church. 856 year years of history was being stripped away. The heart of a city was burning. Art that should never die, was thought to be dying.
The core of the matter was something was burning. In many ways, the fire was a symbol for the past few years of upheaval and violence. For, the nasty turn to the right-wing. For the hatred of people not like ourselves. And, something even more than that. I cannot put my finger on it. But, it hurt. And, it scared me.
It may be because I live in a French city. After all, New Orleans was founded by the French. True. The French Quarter actually looks Spanish. That’s because when the city burned for the last time, it was the property of the Spanish who rebuilt it in their architectural style. But they city was split, for a time between The French and The Americans. That’s what Canal Street is about. The middle of the neutral ground was the boundary between the two countries.
Never-the-less, I feel better today knowing what’s left and what’s to come. What’s to come is elastic and flexible. Something we all need to be if we are going to make our way through the challenges of the future.
The picture. That’s what you really came for, yes? It’s a parade through the French Quarter. I chose to leave it even after the terrible news of yesterday. After all, that’s what we in New Orleans are about. This is one of those F8 and be there pictures. Except it was more like f 2.8 and I almost got run over. More than once or twice. Oh well. Whatever it takes, right?
The Satchmo Summer Fest. Day one. Dancing through the raindrops. And, watching Navy jet fighters roar by overhead.
As usual, the music started on time — not like in a club. It was old school jazz standards played wonderfully by bands that look like they time shifted from maybe the 1920s. Of course, the music is mostly that of Louis Armstrong, played in different versions by bands whose members weren’t born when he was at his peak. I take that back. I heard a slowed down, sweet version of “Wonderful Life,” played by Preservation Band that almost had me forgetting to make pictures. Now, that’s something.
I left early today, mostly because I needed to figure out recovery time. Working in the weather that we call summer is very draining. Even with proper hydration, I generally feel like a used wash rag when I get home. I need to rest a bit. After all, I am an old guy. Now, I have a better idea of what to do. For one thing, there are a lot of adult beverage companies that sponsor the fest. Enjoy them. Drink responsibly and remember that they work as a diuretic. That means unless you are drinking beer, have a drink followed by a bottle of water. Your body will thank you. So will the NOPD. Heh!
Luckily, I don’t drink. I also don’t eat when I’m working despite all the good food.
The discussion about the pictures is below the group. Read on.
Not a crime. Never was.
If you don’t capture it, it didn’t happen.
Satchmo Summer Fest 2018
The pictures. Hmmm. Knowing that I didn’t have all sorts of developing time, I made two sets of in camera files. I always make RAW files because that’s like a fully formed negative. All the data, all the information, is there. Anything else strips data out of the image file.
This time I made two sets of files. RAW and the largest JPEG files the camera could make. The in camera JPEG files are what you are looking at. Pretty impressive, eh? I suppose if all I photographed was editorial work I could get by making only in camera JPEGS. But, my work is way more commercial than that. That’ll teach me.
Housekeeping day two. I’ll be even later tomorrow. I want to work at the end of the sets. I want to see and hear some of the main acts. They don’t start coming on until about 5pm.
The tourists haven’t awakened yet. The only folks out are locals. Either they are getting ready for church. Or, they are getting ready to work. Or, they are just coming come from a long overnight shift somewhere in the Quarter.
Before they go where ever they are going, they stop for breakfast. At the Clover Grill. They can eat heartily. They can eat 24 hours a day. And, they can eat in a place that has been around for a long, long time. It’s one of those places where everybody knows your name. And, you’ll never know what will happen. I’ll leave it at that. If you ever go there I want you to be surprised.
Oh. You want to know where it is? Lower Bourbon Street. At Dumaine. On the corner. You can’t miss it.
The picture. One from the archives. When I first returned to New Orleans I used to go walking in the French Quarter on Sunday morning. The light was wonderful. There weren’t many people on the street. It wasn’t too hot, but I did have to deal with the early morning goopiness. Eventually, I stopped doing that in favor of photographing second lines. Because of the decline of the number of second lines, I may resume walking the Quarter on Sunday morning. We’ll see.
Even though this is an archive image, I’m pretty sure that I could go to the Quarter this evening, or any other evening prior to the heavy rainy season, and make just about the same picture.
That’s part of my inability to want to work in the swamp. I’ve photographed so much that it seems like I’m retracing my steps. I try to move forward. Not back. I didn’t even go to Tee-Eva’s second line. There were a couple of reasons for that. Chiefly, what I think was the 24 hour flu, since I wasn’t the only one who had it. But, after looking at the few pictures on various social media sites, it was not a big or long second line. The usual suspects where there. To my eye, the pictures looked like every other second line.
A second line. A commercial one. In the French Quarter.
In theory, I’m going to walk out the door and photograph a real second line tonight, Uptown to memorialize Tee-Eva. The 83-year-old legend who passed early last week. I’m pretty sure this will be a big second line, assuming that the weather cooperates. We are expecting a big storm. Around here, these days, that means flooding. That, and the start time is a little odd — 6pm. I’ll have to sneak across Uptown during rush hour.
The hardest part of taking a picture is often getting there.
Of course, the other issue is motivation. Now where did that go? An old friend and photographer commented to my post via Facebook, saying that it was a whole lot easier chasing light when we could make a little money from it. I suppose that he’s correct. As much as I have finally accepted the title of “artist,” I’m still motivated by cash. After all, dogs need high quality food.
You know, the pictures I make on the streets of cultural events have no value to anybody. In fact, they might cost money because the people in the pictures always want free copies. That’s okay. Without them in the picture, there would be no picture.