You know where that’s where I like to be. Don’t think twice. Unlike a second line, when you get jostled around, this is a little more dangerous. I am very respectful of trains in all their forms. Even our cute streetcars. As it got a little closer, I retreated back beyond that streetlight pole.
Then, I had to dodge cars.
Not really. You can see there is nothing coming.
The picture. It’s about light, energy, power and motion. Often times power is best shown visually with motion. It looks like everything is in motion. Trees, cars, houses. If I wanted this to be a perfect picture, I would have used a tripod. Again, you know me. Perfection is for angels.
I stood there and let the vibration of the passing streetcars make me vibrate. That’s one way of getting you — the viewer — there. To help you to feel what it’s like when a streetcar passes closely.
In New Orleans, we have streetcars. Streetcars. Not trolleys. Not trains. Streetcars.
I wouldn’t have my back up, but a women with whom I attended high school is in town with four of her “girlfriends.” They finally left the French Quarter and rode up St. Charles Avenue. On a green streetcar. A good thing to do. They took a walk into the Garden District on First Street. Another good thing to do.
But, one of her friends said they rode on trolleys. Arrrrrgh.
We don’t have trolleys. We have streetcars. It’s a big deal to those of us who live here. It’s a bigger deal to me because we travel so much and have learned the correct terms for more things than I ever thought I would see in my lifetime. Say the wrong thing in Paris and they glare at you.
They took a walk through the Garden District. Apparently, they liked our house. They photographed it. And, published it. No matter. We aren’t home and they didn’t know.
Then there’s that girlfriend thing. These women are all over 65 years old. How can they possibly be girls? Yeah, saying girl is a southern thing. They live in Southern California. I guess that’s south. Sorta. Maybe.
Is this a rant? Sounds like a rant. I assure you, it’s not. It’s just me commenting on stuff I think is funny. But, I will say I’m a little jealous. Not of them taking a trip to my adopted hometown. But, like so many of my high school classmates, the woman in question decided to live in Southern California. She grew up there. She went to school there. She worked there. She lives there still. She has really old friends. Friends that she sees on a regular basis. That’s what I’m jealous of. All of that.
Even though I claim my birth city to be Brooklyn, I really grew up in Long Beach, California. If you ask me where my home is located, that’s what I’ll tell you. Long Beach. Sometimes, I think I’d love to move back. All of us. Back. We could probably afford it. But, who will I be when I go back home? Will it just be another place? Will I find old friends? Do I want to find old friends? And crowds. I hate crowds. As I age that gets worse.
A friend of mine said — you can see her comments — that I seem to be doing some existential questioning. I suppose in this year of one word — learning — I am. I’m learning about me. In a way, I’d like to be that person that calls a New Orleans streetcar, a trolley. I know a lot of things about a lot of places. In the end, the question is, what for?
Before I finish let me make one thing clear. I’ve had a great life. So far. With the exception of the past few years when back and thigh pain became a thing, I’ve been fairly healthy. I’ve seen and done a lot of things. I’ve been to most of the continents. I’ve been to 49 states. I’ve lived all over the place. I’ve been the minority in many places. I’ve made a lot of wonderful pictures. I’ve been so productive, without really trying, that I’ve forgotten some of my pictures. And, yet.
Maybe I can win a lot of money playing Jeopardy.
The picture. A STREETCAR. It’s really not moving all that fast. But, at dusk and photographed with a low shutter speed and a little bitty F Stop, you can make a picture like this. Everything gets squiggly. It’s not the sharpest picture in the world. But, it sure is fun. Better yet, guess where I made it from. You guessed it. Through my car’s windshield. There was nobody behind me, and you can see what’s in front of me, so I was driving at about 5 mph. I’m supposed to be a professional. Kids, don’t try this at home. In a few years, my timing will be so shot that I’d better not try this at home either. Ouch.
We all have to make a living. Somehow. I’ve seen her before. I saw her on Sunday. Super Sunday. She’s really a sweetheart. Check her out. She may be working. But, she’s dressed for the day.
I never mask. Maybe I should. She’s inspired me. After all, there are all sorts of Mardi Gras themed inexpensive clothes at Wal-Mart. You know. The place that you go to buy things for walls. Ah ha.
The picture. It’s a great example of what I do. A kind of photography that I find to be very fulfilling. I go to an event. I use that as a spring-board for something else.
Like making an environmental portrait of somebody not directly a part of the day. This picture is also an example of not getting yourself so focused on one thing. Keep your head in the game. Photograph what you see. Don’t self edit in the field. Just keep looking and seeing. You’ll have plenty of time to edit at home, after the fact.
It’s Friday. I’m glad. This has been a long and strange week.
It came to a close in New Orleans on Tuesday. It comes to a close for me, here on Storyteller, today.
Despite my aches and pains, I had a good time. I made some memorable pictures, at least to me. And, I kept the volume low. That means I’m not machine gunning. I’m not over shooting in hopes of making a good picture. And, I didn’t over post.
All of that is important. For those of you who read Storyteller to learn a little bit about photography please think about that. To those of you who read me for some other reason, I hope you enjoyed the pictures.
We are now headed towards Uptown Super Sunday and St. Joseph’s Night. Both are huge Mardi Gras Indian, or Black Masking Indian, events. Yes. I’ll be at both of them. They take place in 8 and 10 days.
These events still excite me.
Apparently, they excite people from around the world. I’ve been photographing them for a long time. Each year they are more and more crowded.
A year or so ago, as I was backing up while photographing a tribe making their way to the main parade, the spyboy pointed behind me. I turned around and saw a wall of photographers making pictures. Everyone of them was decked out in very expensive gear. They were not the usual folks taking pictures with their phones.
They are part of the debate about what photographers actually owe Indians if we license a picture with them as a subject. The “foreigners” take their pictures and disappear into, well, who knows? Indians claim that their images are sold for thousands of dollars and they never see a dime. I don’t know about that. It’s been my considerable experience that much beyond the region and very few people care. It’s true that a friend of mine had a gallery show at UCLA and that I sold a couple of pictures to The Jazz and Heritage Foundation, but that’s about it.
At any rate, while the local photographers bear the brunt of the comments, we also pay the Indians 30% or our net profit. I do. And, I give them prints if they ask for them. Fair is fair. If they don’t let me photograph them, I have no pictures.
This picture. A sleeper. I almost didn’t notice it. It really is a decisive moment. I saw it and just reacted. I know that it was cold and the young Indian was just trying to arrange her clothes to keep her warm. However, I’m claiming this is her reaction to being told that last Tuesday was the last day of Carnival. And, that she would have to wait for another year. How many sleeps is that?
One thing New Orleans people do very well is to mask. Sometimes, the masks are best seen from behind. Like this one. Although this young woman looked fine from the front, it was the back view that was really special.
I photographed her both ways. This is the picture.
I talk about looking in every direction when I talk about sunsets. Many sunsets are very beautiful. Some are spectacular. That light. The light you are staring at, with a big round ball in the middle of it. You know what? It’s lighting something behind you. It’s painting the scene with golden, orange and maybe, even red light.
Make that picture. Find a setting in which there is something behind you to photograph.
After all, even the greatest sunsets are a dime a dozen. Everybody photographs them because that’s the first thing they see. Try Googling sunsets. I’m will to bet that there are 100 million pictures of them. Maybe more. Certainly not less. It’s the one picture that photo and stock agencies never want. Their files are full of them. But look behind you, photograph what you see and they may want that.
So too, with pictures like this.
Normally, I say that the face matters. But, not always. The mask mattered more. This time.
I do have a question about this picture. Something that I noticed while I was working on it. Look at the bottom of her head. There is a small plastic piece with two plastic ribbons streaming from it. What is it? And what is it attached to? I thought, for a minute, that it was attached to her mask. It may be, but if there’s a little plastic bit that does the job, it is sure hidden.
Those are a couple of things that inform my photography. It doesn’t matter whether the subject is a Mardi Gras parade, as you see in this picture, or if it is some other subject like a city at night. Sure, making tack sharp pictures of a city is one thing, but showing the city alive is quite another.
Both have a place in my work. I’m a storyteller. A complete story has both kinds of imagery and everything else in between.
Motion and color catch my eye first. In many ways, I should shoot video. Unfortunately, I’ve never been attracted to that process. Unfortunately? Yes, because that’s where the money lives. You don’t have to be a big time film maker to triple your income if you switch from stills to video.
I’ve thought about it. But, doing it in a way that actually is useful to somebody else really is the word I just used — a process. More equipment. More investment. More editing. Much more time. In many ways it is the real life study of the phrase “you get what you pay for.”
I try to make still imagery in a way that gives you a taste of the color and motion that I saw. Yesterday I posted a picture that pretty much illustrates the decisive moment. Today, this picture shows you how I arrived there. What I saw. What I felt. Same subject, made in a very different way. I wonder which you like better. For me, it’s this picture. It’s the energy of Mardi Gras. The energy of a parade. And, the energy of young adults doing what they enjoy. Playing music while participating in a yearly event.
I’d like to tell you how I made this picture. But… the best I can do is to tell you to slow down the shutter speed to at least 1/8 of a second. Close down the f-stop to at least f8 or maybe even f11. Then work away. Don’t chimp — look at your camera’s monitor — and just keep looking, seeing, and photographing. When you get home you might have something that works. Something that you like. I’ll tell you one more technical thing. Working this way insures that your image won’t have noise in it.
I explained to you that Mardi Gras is layered. Most people who come to town for the parades and Mardi Gras Day don’t really know how much is going on beyond what they see in the streets.
I tried telling a friend of mine that very thing on Facebook and he couldn’t understand. He’s a smart guy. A good journalist. He lives in Indiana, so maybe I should have known better.
Then comes today.
A friend of mine — a local who is very in tune with the city — sent me a text. Could he call me if we were awake? Sure. He wanted to know how he and his wife should dress for a ball tonight. They were invited at the last-minute. Aside from the big dances that are held after many parades, I didn’t even know that there were any balls this late in the season.
I asked him a few questions and I found that I really wasn’t sure how to advise him. Some krewes throw very formal balls. As I wrote earlier, I dress in evening wear. Sometimes. That means tuxedos are appropriate. Other balls require that you fully mask, but in something much better than you’d wear on the streets.
It just depends.
Since I didn’t know the group hosting the ball I was fairly useless. But, I told him that my feeling for most balls is that you can’t be overdressed. On the other hand, if he needs a tux this morning for tonight, good luck.
Around here, once we get into a holiday bubble this close to the big day, you may or may not even have a phone call returned. At this point, if I’m working with an out of town client, I tell them to consider me on holiday until Wednesday. They remind me that in other parts of the country and world Mardi Gras Tuesday is just another business day called Tuesday. And, I reply, “lucky me.”
The picture. Marching bands and me. I really like them. They make a parade wonderful. The drum major is warming up the tuba section prior to rolling. They were about ten minutes from start time so he had to keep them warmed up and in focus without harming their energy. It’s amazing how well a young teenage man knows how to do it. It’s instinctual and yet, it’s well-practiced. These young men and women work as hard as any athlete. Many are in better shape than their sporting brothers and sisters. Often they are working towards college scholarships, just like a sporting competitor.
That’s how I made this picture. I parked my car and started walking to the parade route. I saw this. Even without the woman sitting there, the house would have made a good picture. The woman just made the picture wonderful.
As usual, I asked if she minded being photographed. She was fine with it, so I made a few pictures. I thanked her and went on my way.
On the way back, between the second and third parades. I passed by again. She was still there, but she was sitting with a youngish man. The krewe and bands getting ready for their parade stopped and played and danced for them.
I asked one of the people from the neighborhood about them. It turns out they are just as I hoped. They are kind and friendly people. They decorate their house to this extreme for every big season. They just want to bring joy to their neighborhood.
Ain’t that something?
The picture. Arrgh. The sunlight was bouncing off all that green. Normally, I like the color added by reflection. Not this time. I couldn’t even make a pure, clean white. So, I worked on her face. I was trying to make that color as true as possible. I think I got it. Of course, the rest has sort of a green cast about it. That’s one of those compromises that I was talking about.
Since the color really doesn’t add that much to the picture, this might be a time to convert it to black and white. I’ll test it. I’ll post it if it works at all.
One more thing. Last night was a washout. At least from where I normally work. Lots of rain. Hard rain at times. Since I’m given to falling down these days, I don’t want to slip and fall. That really hurts. So I bagged it. So did one parade. The other two rolled late. Apparently, later, as the Krewe of Muses made its way downtown, the rain stopped, just leaving wet streets. I’m disappointed because my god-daughter’s mom is a Muse. That’s who was rolling last night. They are known for throwing shoes. Highly decorated shoes.
Tonight is a time when I traditionally sit it out. I catch my breath for the next four big days. I’m light on pictures, so out I’ll go. Three parades. All of them start rolling within minutes of each other near my favorite starting point. Yipee.
This post is driven by a couple of comments I read on Facebook. It seems that a small city in Indiana might not be able to have Mardi Gras because a bar closed.
Is that what you think of Mardi Gras? Sure, we have big parades. The krewes toss beads and other stuff. You know, “Trow me sumptin’ mistah.” There is plenty of boozing and a little debauchery, usually on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. But, that’s not all.
At the heart of it, Mardi Gras season — Carnival — starts on the Twelfth Night after Christmas when the wise men journey to Bethlehem to bring the baby Jesus gifts. It lasts until midnight Mardi Gras Day when the police clear out the remaining revelers. Night turns into day. And, it’s Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent.
In other words, it’s a religious holiday. Imagine that.
It’s also a time when we locals celebrate quietly. It’s more-or-less like Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one. We visit with friends and family. We gather around meals. We bring little gifts. The more blue blood among us go to fancy balls and events that are by invitation only. The big krewes, like Muses, have balls, lunches and other events for their members and guests. It’s an honor to be invited.
For our part, we host a brunch on the Sunday before Mardi Gras Day. Our friends and family mingle, eat, have a drink or two. If they want, they can walk up a couple blocks and see the parades on St. Charles Avenue. We are also lucky enough to be invited to two balls. We aren’t blue bloods. Imagine me in evening wear with a little mask. That’s what I do. That’s what they do.
There is a lot of symbolism. Mardi Gras Day is the day when the Indians reveal their new suits for the first time. For some, a year’s worth of work comes down to this one day. For others, they’ll show their new suits throughout the year. It’s a day when Zulu leads the parades. They mask in blackface. It harkens back to a time when they couldn’t afford masking materials. The so-called Take It Down movement wants them to stop. The Zulus just laughed and started dancing. As far as I’m concerned, the Zulus can do whatever they want. They are the soul of Mardi Gras. Maybe of the entire city.
The million or so tourists who flood our streets, drink way too much, and fight for beads and other “throws” don’t know any of this. It’s all a giant party to them. One day of being stupid. Some try to arrive on the day, itself. With blocked streets, heavy traffic and the parades they are lucky to get anywhere near in time for… what?
I’m not attacking the partiers. Sheesh. We need the money. I’m explaining what those Mardi Gras partiers in other cities don’t understand.
When I was exiled to the desert after Hurricane Katrina, I went to Mardi Gras in Old Town Albuquerque. Make no mistake, Christmas there is breathtaking. The onset of fall is wonderful. But, Mardi Gras? Not so much. It made my very sad. I think we went during our first year there. It was on a Saturday. Sheesh. Whatever happened to Fat Tuesday? I was so homesick that we flew back to New Orleans for a cobbled together Mardi Gras, because 80% of the city was still broken. It’s when I saw Zulu warriors — the real ones from Africa — walking in place of our Zulus because most of them couldn’t get home. If they could, they had no home to come back to.
That’s what Mardi Gras means.
The picture. This is the one I planned for yesterday. I intentionally made it contrasty. WordPress “helped me” by tuning it down. She walked by me while I was sitting on a wall getting ready for the next parade. I couldn’t catch up with her. That is, until we both walked into the local grocery store for lunch. I asked if I could photograph her. Even though anybody masking is fair game, it was our lunch break. Heh! I made some smiling portraits and I made this one. I like it best. My agencies will like the smiling pictures. They are trying to make money for us. Besides, you can see me working in the reflection in her sunglasses. Nice shorts, huh?