Music, inside out.

Before the fall.

A story about a musician.

I’m not even sure how to tell this story. It’s a story of greed. It’s a story of stupidity. It’s a story of loss. It’s the story of Ervin Mayfield.

Trumpet playing Mayfield was one of the pillars of the New Orleans jazz community. He is a Grammy winner. He is one of about five top trumpet players in a city that has a trumpet player on every corner.

In my picture, he is talking to his audience in Central City. He’s holding his instrument in one hand, and knowing him, he’s smiling as he talks to his musical fans. He is an outgoing guy.

Later, the roof fell in.

As it stands today, he has been indicted by the grand jury of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. It seems that he and his partner Ronald Markham, steered about $1.4 million from the New Orleans Public Library’s Foundation Board to themselves between 2011 and 2013. He also spent thousands of dollars in donations on travel expenses that were not connected to library business. He spent money on items like a 24 carat gold-plated trumpet that cost $15,000. Or, $2,000 at Harrah’s Casino, $23,000 at Saks Fifth Avenue. He spent thousands of dollars at big New York City hotels including a breakfast bill for over $1,300 for two people. That’s a lot of food. trust me. We like “hot cooked breakfasts.” We could never spend that much money in a hotel dining room.

This whole thing is sort of an old story, but the trial is coming up after many delays, so I thought I’d tell it to you. I’m sorry to do it.

But.

It’s a New Orleans thing. Corruption and the city go hand in hand. Congressman Bill Jefferson was found to have $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He had no idea how it got there. He’s in prison. Mayor C. Ray Nagin — the mayor who went nuts on television in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — is in prison for fraud and a couple of other charges.

Corruption appears at every level. Once, when I first arrived in New Orleans, I needed a city business license. I was told it would take at least six weeks to process. But, the clerk said, if I needed it quicker it could be processed in one day with a fifty dollar cash payment to him. When I complained to his boss, he shrugged his shoulders and called it an “expediting fee.” Indeed. I expedited it right out of the city. I registered my business in Jefferson Parish, where it still lives today.

New Orleans has always been a rough port city. If you are “from here” you know the stories. You also know that many of those little illegal side businesses are coming to an end. If you read what I had to say about all the newcomers to the city you would think it is all bad.

It isn’t.

There’s a flip side to that. They come from places where the city government actually works without bribes. Where potholes are repaired before they can swallow a car. Where the water company is actually efficient. Where people don’t worry about crime taking place in your front yard.

So, the very people who are tearing at the fabric of New Orleans culture are also demanding government transparency. There’s two sides to every coin, isn’t there?

On one hand, I want to protect our culture. The Mardi Gras Indians, the Baby Dolls, and every social and benevolent society matters to me. So do the street musicians, the brass bands and the kids who hope to follow them. It’s one of the reasons I moved to New Orleans, and one of the reasons I came back after Hurricane Katrina. But, I’d be willing to trade a little of that for a fully functioning city government. For safe streets. For solid infrastructure.

It must be my age. I probably didn’t think twice about most of this when I first arrived. Now, I do. I’d like to see our street repaired and repaired before I die. Of old age. At ninety. That’s 25 years. Is that too much to ask?

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The survivor.

New Orleans stories.

Some I have to dredge up from deep in my memory. Others not so much. This is one of the others.

I was walking down the street in Treme. I was headed to a second line. I didn’t know there was a second line that started earlier. A jazz funeral. As I passed by, I saw this man sitting on a box in front of what I assumed was his home. A couple of friends were standing with him and talking.

Look at this man. How could I not ask if I could make his picture? He said yes and I did my thing. Afterward, I asked if he was headed to the second line that I came to photograph. He shook his head and said no.

One of his friends told me something that sticks with me to this day. He said that this man had just finished playing in a second line. A jazz funeral. I asked, “who was it for?” His friend replied, “his brother.”

Looking at the picture now, I can see the pain in his eyes. But, it never occurred to me when I was photographing him, just as it never occurred to him to shake his head no, and say something like, “not today.”

It’s good portrait. It’s nothing earth-shaking, but it matters to me.


Brass band out there.

They came out to play.

And, so they did. If a second line starts and rain falls in the middle of it, everybody keeps going unless the rain starts blowing sideways and upside down. Anything else is just a drizzle to them. And, us.

There’s a lesson in that. Don’t be denied.

There’s a lesson in that too. Here we are on the tenth day of January and I’m already reading about people who are starting to lose their way in 2019. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the leadership in The United States just isn’t up to the job. I watched both speeches last night. Afterwards, we all said the same the same thing. “That’s a half hour of my life I’ll never get back.”

For other people, the year started out terribly. People got sick. People got fired. A friend died.

You know what? That’s life. As John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Suck it up. Pull up your big boy and girl pants and move on. In a war long ago and far away, when something really bad happened, the African American troops used to say, “Ain’t no thang. Drive on.”

Drive on, indeed.

For anyone who thought that just because the calendar flipped from 2018 to 2019 things were going to get easier, disabuse yourself of that notion. This may be the hardest year yet. Hopefully, when we come to the end of it, all the hard work, suffering and some pain will be worth it. Maybe. Maybe not. We may have another year to go.

This is your “Come to Jesus” speech for today.

Now, don’t make me come out there and give it again. Heh. How many of us heard something like that when we were growing up? If you were like I was, it was a daily occurrence. Or, it was this variation. “Just wait until your father comes home.” Or, “Apologize to her right now,” said with a stamp of your mom’s feet after you did something to your sister. I’m just talking here. I wouldn’t know anything about that. Heh. No. Not me. Never. Heh.

The picture. It’s a couple of weeks old. I’m trying to photograph second lines, but post them less because I’m not sure that you understand them. That’s what the numbers say, anyway. When I make good picture  — something like this one — I know you understand music, I’ll post it. Besides, the guy playing his trumpet right at me is my pal on the scene, Kevin. He likes seeing his picture. He’s a musician. What do you expect? It proves that he was out there. For that matter, it proves that I was out there.

Website update three. I have two more things to do. Figure out how to make my portfolio be found and accessed easier. And, figure out how to attach PayPal to those images. I want that to be seamless so that when you want to buy or license an image, you don’t even have to contact me. Did you read that? YOU. BUY. LICENSE.

 


In the middle of things.

In the middle of things. That’s how I like to work. Sheesh. I’m in the middle of the band. I’m making pictures with a 10mm lens. That means I’m close. Real close. I might even be in trouble. Check out the saxophone player. He doesn’t look too happy. He might be looking past me. Or, he’s shooting daggers at me.

Oh well. He’ll get over it.

This is what I like to do. Standing on the sidelines taking pictures isn’t me. Those pictures pretty much look the same to my eye. Mixing in. Working with a wide lens. Those pictures look different. Feel different. That makes me smile.

Of course. I haven’t been able to do that very much over the past six months. Pain and fear of falling in the middle of the street created a lingering, limiting self-doubt.  I’m not used to feeling that way. So back at it I go. I recovered pretty quickly this weekend. That’s a good thing.

Funny thing. When the brass bands started playing, I started swaying. I realized that I didn’t feel the usual back and leg pain. Maybe that’s it. Not only do I need to listen to more music. But, I need to listen to brass band street music. A little loud. A little chaotic. And, a whole lot of fun.


What it means.

Music. And, stuff.

What does that mean? For me, music is a continuation of photography. Musicians make music that often becomes the sound track to my own work. It drives my style.

For instance.

If I’m in the zone, and I’m photographing a second line and the music is chaotic, so are my pictures. If I’m out in the country looking at stuff on a warm spring day and I play gentle, peaceful music, my pictures will look that way.  Better yet, they’ll feel that way.

Except. Lately.

Next Sunday is Super Sunday and St. Joseph’s Day. All in one. A big, huge, Mardi Gras Indian day. The day will start at about 11 am and go on into the late night. Normally, they are at least three days apart. Maybe even more. If I played street music before I left for the “battleground” I would be too amped up to do my work. The zone I need to be in is calm and focused. It’s going to be a long day. Running a marathon is better than sprinting.

Oh. What will I listen to as I go through my routine? Likely, the music of Ludovico Einaudi.

This picture. I made it at a second line. I like little symbolic details. They can speak the world in one simple picture. A little picture. Yes. There’s lots of post production going on. Don’t ask. I don’t remember. I just tinkered until I got to a place I liked, saved that and went to another place.

Now.

I want to talk about something I just read. A quote by Ansel Adams. I knew he said it, I just couldn’t remember it exactly. It’s about the word “take,” or now, “capture.” If you notice, I never use “capture.” I sometimes use “take.” I mostly — like 95% of the time — use the word, “make.”

Adams never used the word take because he thought that it was too aggressive. That the photographer was not working with the scene to make the picture. For me, the word capture is even worse. It’s even more aggressive. The word could be best used when you defeat an army and take  — or, capture — prisoners. I come from the school of that says for a picture to be truly successful, “you don’t take the picture, you let the picture take you.”

That may be why there are billions of marginal pictures floating around on the internet where they will live forever. Too many people are busy capturing stuff. You probably don’t want me to get into the discussion of the internet and eternity. Do you?

Happy Sunday.


Tuba, a tool of the trade.
Tuba, a tool of the trade.

… the truth, everything else is just cheap whiskey.

There you have it. Cheap whiskey. Nothing more. Nothing less. I think I’ll forget about any rumors about anything until I know it to be true. For me. At any level. Anywhere.

That said, tools of the trade. That’s what these pictures are about.  Sparkling. Glowing. Well used. Beaten up. Doesn’t matter. They serve a purpose. A great purpose. Just like cameras are for me. I once had someone tell me that they were mostly using their smart phone, even the they had a closet full of beautiful Nikon cameras.

Whaaaa?

I may buy new camera bodies. Experiment with new lenses. They are well maintained. But, they are my tools. Of my trade. They aren’t beautiful to me. They are technological marvels. Think about the digital processing ability in those little, tiny bodies. Whew. Amazing. But, Beautiful? Not to me. I buy them, trade them and sell them when I need something that helps me do my job a little better.

I recently bought a new lens. An 18-105 mm G Series Sony. After all the trials and travails of the last second line, I made a couple of really good pictures. Whether we all agree on the causes, we all agree that the second pretty much was chaotic. And, not in a good way.

This lens. Is magic. I made more keepers than I do on a good day. As I said to a friend, my pictures at this second line are a result of technology and luck. Not talent.

I want to amend that slightly. No photographic talent. When you push me, I push back. Not physically. Although it almost came to that with the undertaker. Nah. I just grind away harder. Some people flow like water. I really admire that. Boy, do I admire that. Me? I have a sort of grinding ethos. Like a marginal New York Yankees baseball team.

The pictures. Pre-parade. While I trying to sort out the mood of the parade.  The tools of the trade. If you look closely at the top picture, those guys have all the tools of their trade. A tuba, ragged jeans. And, a beer.

Sparkling brass.
Sparkling brass.


Horns and drums.
Horns and drums.

Belonging. Home. Place.

I haven’t been on the street in a long time. Probably six months. The last time I was out, the weather was hot. Ground temperature was around 114 degrees.

I decided to do what I do best. Make pictures of our culture. In New Orleans. In any kind of weather. It was very cold yesterday. Below freezing. That didn’t seem to matter. To me. To the second liners. To the benevolent society — the Perfect Gentleman — hosting the second line. The parade had already been postponed once because of bad weather. Heavy rain. They wouldn’t be denied a second time. They traded their normal Sunday slot for Saturday in order to walk.

Home.

I know a lot of people on the street. We don’t always know each other’s name. We just nod and say hello. Other times we do. They call me Mr. Ray. Or, Mr. Photographer. I was reminded of their feelings for me. So many of them were worried about me. They asked where I had been They asked if I was okay. They were happy to see me. This place, for better or worse, is home.

I pretty much beat myself up yesterday. No matter what, I usually walk about three miles a day. Sometimes with the dog who sees things. Sometimes with the rest of the dog family. Or, my family. The humans. Yesterday, between the second line, and the first parade of the Carnival Season and the dog walks, I walked around nine miles. I was tired last night. I’m fine today. Ready to go. To the next second line. The Lady Jetsetters. In a couple of hours.

The picture. For those of you who have arrived at Storyteller in the past few months, this is really what I do. The tinkering is for fun. If it becomes a kind of art, that’s great. But, I started my career as a photojournalist. Even today, it’s where I find refuge with or without a paying client. I understand the streets and I understand the people.

There isn’t much to this picture. See it. Try to find a little different angle. Shoot it. Post production is minimal. I just made a few improvements. I didn’t really want or try to change it into something else.


Keeping cool and dry.
Keeping cool and dry.

Hot. Hot and wet. Hot, wet and humid.

Yep. That’s a New Orleans summer. I was telling somebody in yesterdays comments that eventually you get acclimated to our summer. You have to, because in the words of Rosanne Cash, “It’s hot from March to Christmas.” Besides, our humidity keeps your skin soft and moist. You have fewer wrinkles because the minute you go outside you are hydrated in a global sauna. Heh!

You do find ways of keeping a little cooler and dryer. Typically, my pace slows down. I walk on the shady side of the street. I eat cooler foods. I drink a lot more water. Stuff like that.

This guy, may have found the best of a couple of worlds. The umbrella keeps him a little cooler and on a day like last Sunday when there was intermittent rainfall, it kept him a little dryer. Besides it looks kinda cool. And, it attached to his head. How’s that for fun?


Trumpeting away in the Hot 8 brass band.
Trumpeting away in the Hot 8 brass band.

Not like yesterday. Thankfully.

I don’t think I could write about something so tragic. So sad. Again. At least, not two days in a row. So, this second line was small by comparison. It was tight and compact. It wound its way through Central City. It was also a pretty happy event.

I decided that one picture is enough. A simple, but luckily, very well lighted portrait of the trumpet player in the brass band called Hot 8. They played in support of the Lady & Men Rollers, who were celebrating their 20th anniversary. You’ve seen this musician before. He and the band works a lot. All over the city. Around the country. And, often, the world.

In many ways, the Hot 8 mirror yesterday’s post. Among many other things, they’ve played at three jazz funerals. For three of their own members who were shot and killed in the past 18 years. A friend of mine mentioned that the city is 19th on the list of the world’s most dangerous cities. I’m beginning to wonder. What am I doing here?

The picture. I added a little color and glow to enhance the way the light fell upon the subject. For the most part, what you see is what I saw. I don’t know what BMGZ means. Next time I see these guys, I’ll ask.