Urbex deluxe.

U

rbex deluxe.

I wrote that in the picture’s caption and I liked it so well that I made it the lead line. I’m thinking it could be a good name for a band.

Anyway.

My past is coming back to haunt me. I used to photograph a lot of urbex, or urban exploration for the uninitiated. A publisher reached out to me. He wants to know if I was interested in publishing a book.

Interested? Sheesh. WordPress claims 90,000,000 users. Probably, 89,999,000 of us hope to publish a book.

But, I have a problem. I’m already committed to another publisher for two books of a very similar nature.

Hmmm…

For months of the lockdown, most of us were so bored that we gained 894 pounds per every three houses. Now, I have more work than I can do for the remaining year.

Because.

I haven’t told you about a picture agency who reached out to me. They are in a small sort of backroom corner of the picture business. They are hard to find.

They distribute and market the kinds of pre-framed art that you see in big box stores and online. This is where the money lies. Really big money because… well, think of it this way, companies line up to sell products through Wal Mart. Why do think that is?

While companies like Wal Mart set the price structure and keep the margins slim, this company has already negotiated those deals.

They found my work on websites like Art.com. An old agency distributed some of my work into websites like that. The agency doesn’t exist and now I have to ask for payment if they made any sales. This is going to take some inspection.

A new hobby.

Back to the mass distributing agency. This means that I don’t have to chase around trying to make new pictures. They want my archives.

This is a giant retirement fund that exists separate from my own retirement fund. That was the dream of photographers who made pictures for stock agencies. When those agencies were scooped up by bigger agencies and the market collapsed, those dreams died.

Maybe those dreams live again.

I just knew that my archives were worth something.

T

his is an example of urbex photography. This one of the few times that I had partners with me.

They were friends of friends. They were young which made them think that they were bulletproof.

Fine with me.

They had my back while I made pictures. We spent a day doing that.

Normally a day is way too long for me. I kind of reach my limit at about three hours.

But, they were driving so I could relax in between locations.

This bar/club was located at the end of Desire Street. Yeah, this neighborhood was the terminus of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

The city has been cleaning up this little bit of the parish. First, Club Desire was torn down. That broke my heart although after hurricanes and storms there wasn’t too much left inside that could be restored.

A couple of ruined buildings across the street were torn down including the only gas station for a couple of miles.

This bar was located about a block away from Club Desire. I haven’t been there for a while so I have no idea if this building stands or if it met the wrecking crew’s ball.

Anyway, the story is better than the technique. Wait for the people to be about where you want them and press the button.

Expose for the shadows and open up by 1/3 of a stop.

That’s it. No post production required.


Magical window.
Magical window.

See? I kept my promise. The end of the blue hour.

For now.

I was going to make this picture part of a little collection. But, I looked at it closely — you should too — and I was pretty amazed by all that stuff going on outside the window in sort of the background. And, the way it is sort of blurry and maybe a little magical. Like sort of a hidden garden. In a book.

I probably shouldn’t say this. It might hurt the mood of what you see. The blurry, and sort of foggy feeling is caused by really old window glass. Old glass is wavy, imperfect and looks a little hand-made. Even older glass becomes milky over the years. That always inspires a debate when you are restoring an old house. Keep it because it’s cool, but a little dark. Or, make the room brighter with more modern glass.

After looking at the picture and the rest of the take, I should go back and just photograph the window. I think that I could pretty much make the greenery look like a painting without doing very much post production.

To me, it’s odd that I didn’t take more time. Usually I work on a subject until it’s done. Or, as done as it could be. It could take ten minutes of a couple of hours. The time never matters unless I really have to be somewhere. Something must have felt “off” to me, so I worked too fast. I didn’t see enough. Or, look around enough.

I’ll go back.

 


Sean's.... again.
Sean’s…. again.

Back to the scene. Back to the work that I really should be doing… and showing you.

Of course, I’ll return to last weekend’s second lines, but I did some more exploring. I think those pictures are a lot of fun. Especially, since I brought a few friends with me who like seeing and photographing this stuff. They came here from Idaho. They didn’t want to see any of that typical touristy stuff. Oh no. So I took them on “Ray’s Mad Teapot Ride.” They also served as stand-ins for some of the locations that really were screaming out for people. These places really are ghost locations and ruins. But, having a person or two in them makes the pictures feel… well, some other way.

So.

You’ve seen both of these places. Two clubs. Same street. Different eras. The top picture is Sean’s – one time sports bar, one time music club, one time local dive. The bottom picture is a new interior picture of Club Desire. One of the birth places of what eventually became rock and roll after first being the home to some big band music, straight ahead jazz, bebop, jump blues and finally… photo rock n’ roll.

I’ve been photographing these places for a while. If you’ve like to see more pictures please use the search engine on Storyteller and you’ll find plenty of work.

Into Club Desire.... again.
Into Club Desire…. again.


Lakeview School, abandoned and overgrown.
Lakeview School, abandoned and overgrown.

A little change of pace.  A couple of you were asking what happened to my more dystopian work. You didn’t use that word, but that’s the proper term. I think one of you said the word that I normally use. Junk. So. Last week, no matter what else I photographed, I made sure to circle around looking for the more seamy side of things. The gutter. Where things are a lot more interesting, as Neil Young says.

This is the Lakeview School. I always forget about this place. I probably wouldn’t have thought about it, if another photographer hadn’t posted a different view of it on Facebook. Even then, I almost forgot about it until I was on my way to some place else. I thought, “What the heck, it’s only 96 degrees, the sun is just beating straight down, have no water and I’m wearing flip-flops.” Obviously, as unprepared as I was, it was a perfect time for a little Urbex.

Before, I write much further, let me tell you that I found what I needed at the school. But, I didn’t use it. Yet. I will. But, I’d like some company.

Anyway.

The school  was designed and built by E.A. Christy in the very early 1900s. 1915 to be exact. It is a huge example of California Craftsman-styled architecture. The Lupo Family deeded the land to the city in 1929 and eventually took it back in 2006. I’m not sure why. It may have had something to do with hurricane recovery. They sold it to a private developer over a year ago and nothing has happened. I did do a little poking around. There is no sign of an actual land transfer, so the developer may not have been able to fund it. One more thing, its abandonment was not Katrina-related. It was left to rot about 30 years previous. I’m not sure why. It’s very hard to find anything about the history of the place.

I walked around the building and a bit of the neighborhood in which it is located. Pictures are pretty much everywhere. They were just jumping out at me. I must go back. Twice. Once at dusk. I might do that this week. And, once… well, to explore around a bit. He says, with an evil grin. I’ll be properly dressed. Long pants, thick-soled shoes, a flashlight… oh, never mind.

The picture. It’s a little dirty. I was shooting on a brightly lighted sunny day. I need to add a little to the picture in order to give it the proper look and feel. The angle helps a lot.


Broken doors and painted walls.
Broken doors and painted walls.

Children's toys and over grown play grounds.
Children’s toys and over grown play grounds.

Inside the school. More paint.
Inside the school. More paint.

Urbex. Urban Exploration.

Lots of places do it in New Orleans. Urbex means investigating and photographing derelict old buildings. Usually, the buildings are industrial sized. The “experts” have a lot of recommendations for participating in this little task. The first thing the tell you is that you are trespassing. They tell you to use the buddy system. They tell you to wear appropriate clothes, carry a cellphone, a flashlight and maybe some water. All good ideas. Some of them are practical. Some, not so much. I won’t tell you which of the ideas I agree with except to say that I can turn pretty stupid if someone tells me that I’m on private property.

These pictures were made in Holy Cross. The Lower 9th Ward. But, the school is not Holy Cross High School, which has been the subject of great controversy. It moved to Gentilly, which has nothing to do with Holy Cross. This place was the Thomas J. Semmes School. It is located on Jourdan Street. You can see it from the St. Claude Avenue drawbridge.

It’s been broken into, vandalized, tagged with all manner of graffiti. A lot of stuff has been just left to rot. A lot of stuff is overgrown in the summer and rusting in the winter.

That’s all the bad news. Fortunately, this neighborhood is coming back. Slowly. But, it is coming back.


Inside
Inside

Rust never sleeps. Either does nature.

I like my own form of urbex. Urban exploration. It’s gotten very popular around the world. Explorers clump around in hiking books and take pictures of whatever they’ve found. They sneak onto private property. They cross over no trespassing signs. The jump over fences. Go around gates. There are even protocols for doing this. The buddy system. Wear heavy shoes. Bring water. Bring lights. Wear long-sleeved shirts. Wear long pants. And, so on.

I live in New Orleans. The city that care forgot. For as many of these mouldering old hulks that have been demolished and had their lots cleaned up, there are just as many still standing. They are right on the street. I don’t have to sneak, cross, jump or go around anything. Of course, even if I had to, I would never do any of those things. Oh no. Not me.

It dovetails nicely with my work in Central City. I can photograph residents. Then, I can photograph a second line. And, Mardi Gras Indians. On my way to someplace else, I can stumble onto or into something like this place. It all blends together nicely.

Lucky me. I live in an interesting place. You know what the Chinese say about interesting.

Outside
Outside


Ghost Buildings in The CBD of New Orleans.
Ghost Buildings in The CBD of New Orleans.

Ghost Stuff. I love it. You know that about me. But, I don’t usually show much of that work on Storyteller beyond falling apart places. For many people, that work is boring. By its very nature that’s all it can be. Sometimes it’s colorful. Mostly it’s not. But, it is about history, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Not all history. Just some of it. Knowing my local history is very important to me. We live in a house the was built in 1854. I’ve spent some time researching its history. But, not a lot. Yet. Prior to the storm, I owned a house that was built in 1837. It was the first or second common house that was built on an old plantation site. When I finally dug through all the old deeds and conveyances, I found the original document. It was written in French. How cool is that? In later years, that house gained some notoriety because two people were murdered there when it was the living quarters to an Italian food store and bakery. Some guy called The Axe Murder of New Orleans broke in and did the deed. He was, in his time, about as famous as Jack The Ripper was in England. Apparently he “worked” wherever he could walk to a streetcar. He was never caught. He disappeared. Some say he ended up in San Bernardino, CA. If you’ve ever been there, you know that it’s hell enough.

I don’t know that much about the new house, except it’s date of construction, the original builders and the past owners. But, I’ll dig more.

One more thing about that old house. The murder site. Every now and then I could smell fresh bread being baked there. I wasn’t alone. My dog would sit up and start sniffing. I don’t know what to make of that. Do you?

Anyway, These pictures. Two were made in Central Business District of New Orleans. The top two were made a few days ago. I like them a lot because you can see just how many buildings were built on that property. The middle picture shows the outlines of at least six. They grew taller as the decades wore on. What were they? I don’t know. I’ll have to start by Googling the address of the remaining building. The very bottom picture was made in the Lower Garden District at the crossroads of streets with two very interesting names. Race and Religious Streets. I don’t know much about Religious Street. But, Race Street once dead-ended up against an old horse racing track. As with some many things New Orleans, “it ain’t der no mo’.”

By the way, if you ever want to start rooting around online for these sorts of buildings and signs, you can Google Urbex, an acronym for urban exploration, or for ghost signs. I’m sure you can figure that one out, but just in case, they are the old fading signs of a bygone era that show up on the sides of old buildings. There are quite a lot in New Orleans… where time moves at a very slow pace.

Many buildings across many decades.
Many buildings across many decades.

Ghost Signs
Ghost Signs

 

 

 

 

 

 


Abandoned buildings have a certain sense of mystery, but not in this case
Abandoned buildings have a certain sense of mystery, but not in this case.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but because of the sink’s brightness, this picture is about the sink. Okay. Where it is located is not a mystery. It’s in a mechanic’s workshop of an abandoned gas station in Central City. I snuck in to make a picture. Well, not really. I just walked in through an open backdoor. Like many abandoned things, the front is closed up nice and tight. But, the back entrances always seem to be left wide open. I think it’s just a bluff. And, it’s a lot less expensive to not seal everything up tightly. Casual passersby won’t try to break in. Only the more dedicated people like me will actually find a way in to make their mischief.

The real mystery to me is why the sink still remains. Usually, when buildings are abandoned, they are also trashed by folks who steal and sell scrap. Sometimes, they don’t even wait that long. When I owned my first house, pre-Katrina, I had an ancient iron fence and gate. You know, one of those 1800s wrought iron things.  My neighbors suggested that I take a picture of it because it would be stolen. It was. Three times. It always ended up in one antique store across Lake Ponchartrain. I think that they had a standing deal with the thief who kept taking it. There is some kind of law in the state that says if you find your stolen building item in a store, the owners have to return it to you. No questions asked… or answered. That’s why I kept getting it back. How did I know to go to that store? I can’t remember exactly. But, it seemed like it was common knowledge.

The picture? Nothing to it. Sneak and point your camera. Post production? Yeah. Lots of it. I wanted the picture to make you feel something like I felt.


This rusty pump house is all that is left of a once thriving shipping and bulk distribution business.
This rusty pump house is all that is left of a once thriving shipping and bulk distribution business.

Well. I’m back to it. Chasing weather and looking for junk. It’s sort of cool how my main business has also become my hobby. I guess an old friend of mine’s words have become true. He once told me to “get a hobby job.” He’s Chinese. That’s a literal translation from Mandarin. It might not mean what you think it does. It means that you should make a career choice that is so fulfilling to you that it becomes a labor of love. With that, working 50, 60, 70, 80 hours week is meaningless because it’s all good fun to you. I’m lucky that way. I have two hobby jobs. I get to work 160 hours a week.

Anyway, as Sam Abell of National Geographic fame says, “when the weather turns bad, the pictures get good.” Monday was on of those classic New Orleans summer days. Storms blowing in and out. Very goopy humidity and about 90 degrees. Goopy is a technical term. I doubt any of you need an explanation.

So, I chased clouds and weather. I also did a little urbex work. I learned a new term for what I do. It’s not that new. It’s just new to me. It means urban exploration. It’s what my photographic hobby is about. Some. I set out to make larger landscapes with heavy cloudy skies. I accomplished that. But, there were lots of little pictures I found along the way. This is one of them. The picture title comes from the title of one of musician Neil Young’s songs. His version is about not letting age, maturity  and sophistication slow you down. My version is about rust. Getting to this picture proves another old photographic adage. Sometimes getting there is the hardest part of making the picture. I don’t know who said it first. But, my old friend John Fulton told it to me. There was something kind of large in the way which blocks any access to the levee. A US Marine base. I’m not messing with those guys.

The rest is pretty simple. I got there. I took the picture. Than I made the picture come alive in post production. I cheated, I used a plug-in called Summertime. It gives the picture a nice early summer glow.