Topic: New Orleans (3 posts)

Aerials in Louisiana

We fly out of Hammond, northwest of New Orleans. My pilot's name is Ashley, a flight instructor. She is 28 years old, 7 months pregnant and a good pilot. Contrary to what you might think, flight instructors are very often newer pilots rather than veterans. We cross Lake Ponchatrain, made famous as the back door monster that broke through the levees and flooded the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina almost ten years ago.

You can see why.

Imagine a storm surge coming at this from the very large Lake Ponchatrain. It simply overwhelmed what the Army Corp of Engineers had built to protect the city and the now infamous 9th Ward. Were the same circumstances to present themselves today it would happen again.

We head south of the city, staying with the meandering Mississippi River. I am struck by just how much shipping and industry there is along this mighty river.

It isn't as clear this day as I would like and the light is not perfect but it is a striking landscape nevertheless. I've been driving down into this area for the past few days, down to Jean Laffite Barataria, towards Venice in the delta, along the river on Route 39 down to Pointe A La Hache, taking the ferry across the river and then north up Route 23 back to the city.

From the air it is all about the river, barges pushed by tugs, or anchored along the shore. There is oil too,  processing facilities and derelict plants.

I am shooting out the right side of the Cessna as we fly south. At one point I ask Ashley to turn us around so I can see what is off to the east. Past all the activity on the shore I learn there is this other, this expanse as far as the eye can see of this:

This, of course, is the river's delta as it floods out and disperses into the Gulf. Imagine being a European explorer, sailing up the Gulf and into this morass of marsh and shallow water. A practically impossible task to find solid ground or even to know if the marsh ended.

You have to understand this about shooting aerially. You are moving by vast amounts of information at 100 mph or so.This calls into play a very different set of sensibilities and motivations than when standing on the ground. At this point in this flight I am caught in a dilemma: is this flight about visual documentation of a place with a remarkable history and some exceptional things going on below or is it for me to find things to photograph because I am artist? So far, it is much more the former and much less of the latter.

Sometimes my job when photographing from above is to find things I can relate to as "pictures"... yes, abstracting what is 1000 feet below the plane but also working as a designer and an artist to make pictures that are mine, to own the work. This is never easy, of course, but at this speed from a moving plane and it being the first time seeing all this, it can be overwhelming.

So, what did I find? Did I latch onto something I could call my own, or at least relate to in terms of my work?

Stay tuned.

Topics: New Orleans

Permalink | Posted March 31, 2015

New Orleans 2

A friend asks, via email, if I am falling under the spell of New Orleans?

Let me see if I can answer that.

After last week's wonderful dinner with two young friends at Pascal Manale Restaurant literally a block away from where I am staying I decide, on my own this week, to go back for oysters. I arrive, walk up to the bar and ask for a beer and tell the bartender I'd like a dozen oysters. He pulls the beer, puts it in front of me and says that will be $10. I give him the money and he says to take my beer over to the other side of the room where the oyster bar is. He says, "not bad for 10  bucks, eh?"

He shows me where to get the necessary ketchup and horseradish. There is no one at the oyster bar and no seats. I am the only one there and it is early so only a few people are at the bar. The oyster bar is well worn white marble with a trough at the back. I get ready and wait. Soon enough Thomas arrives and starts shucking. Quickly, he puts a shucked oyster in its half shell right on the bar. I eat it and take a sip of my beer. Next minute or so he puts another oyster on the bar and I eat it. I notice he's alternating between big ones and little ones.  They are very cold, salty and local from a nearby Parish. And yes, they are wonderful.

I can't help but ask obvious questions as Thomas shucks oyster after oyster. Nine dozen he says he saw one man eat a few years ago. I tell him what oysters cost in New England and he whistles, saying he sure is glad he doesn't live there. Me too, I am thinking. Oh shit, I think. I do live in New England.

New Orleans casting its spell?

As I am downing each oyster I am counting as Thomas lines them up on the bar, balanced right side up in the trough, thinking to myself with sincere loss, this is going to end sometime. We get to twelve, Thomas having shucked and me having eaten and Thomas provides one more, with a flourish, a baker's dozen in the land of oysters in New Orleans. I slurp the thirteenth, grateful to have it. I have paced this well as I now have the last sip of the Presentation Ale before me. Thomas is cleaning up the thirteen shells and I realize this is over. I ask him if I may leave him a tip and he nods and says, "sure". I put $5 on the bar, thank him and walk out of the restaurant.

These are from my neighborhood on Danneel Street.

Is New Orleans casting its spell over me?

You think?

Topics: New Orleans

Permalink | Posted March 17, 2015

New Orleans 1

It took what seemed like forever to get here and now that I am here it seems I've been here a long time. I drove from Boston to New Orleans last week. Don't know this town at all and am enjoying learning my way around a little. I am here principally to attend the SPE Conference (Society for Photographic Education) coming up this weekend but have rented a place for two weeks in the city.

Waiting to take a bus tour of damage from Katrina, this happened:

along the river downtown in mid day fog as thunderstorms were rolling through and the air was like putty, thick and viscous. I saw this and was so shocked I ran back to the parking lot to the car to get the right lens. This is a typical "one shot shoot" in that it was all there was.

Okay, so shoot me if this comes off sounding like "ten hot tricks and tips to wow your friends" but I tweaked it a little:

not hard to do. Many ways to do it. I use Viveza quite often for this. There, tips and tricks over.

So, day before yesterday, in the rain, I photographed in a very different way, working to make a series or perhaps a couple of connected triptychs (sixtychs?), sliding along under buildings's overhang to stay dry in the swamp*, going click, moving four feet to the left, going click, moving along four feet to the left and going click, moving along four feet to the left; well, you get the idea.  

all glistening in the rain and fetid. Perfect, actually.

and then towards the end something sticking in there, imposing upon the space with total disregard

curving out like one of those elevated concrete ramps that take traffic off in a new direction on the interstate, 

and then at the very end, after I'd made this last one

I turned to make this, this skull sitting on the top shelf of a bookshelf about 8 inches from where the camera sat on its tripod:

Just go with it, I heard myself say.

I did.

* BTW: the swamp pictures are from Jean Laffite Barataria Preserve, south of the city.

Topics: New Orleans

Permalink | Posted March 11, 2015