I’ve been back in New Jersey for over three weeks now. Of course, I miss New Orleans. I miss the new friends I made while I was there. The friends I’ve had to check in with after the news of yesterday’s tornado. As someone who prefers calm, I miss the energy. As someone who prefers quiet, I miss the noise. As someone who prefers the fresh air of nature, I even miss the onslaught of questionable aromas wafting about me. I miss the food.
I’ve only recently dropped off my films to be developed. One roll of color and three rolls of black and white. It takes me a while to shoot through an entire roll, and the third roll of black and white was little more than halfway spent by the time I returned home. Finding things to photograph, just to get through the roll so it can be processed, can sometimes be difficult. Waste not, want not.
Here are the digital images that have been shared so far on various social media sites, each accompanied by a caption. Sometimes the words are plentiful, sometimes brief. I’m still figuring out what to do with them. I hope you find something you enjoy.
New Orleans [Series – Part One]
An obligatory, ‘remnants of Mardi Gras’ image. Don’t worry, generally the streets get cleaned up fairly thoroughly, though I like to imagine New Orleans is a city where you can always find a bit of confetti, all year round. The trees, however…I’m not sure the trees get cleaned up. For some of them, it looks like an impossible task. Many are too far away from balconies, and so would require roadworks crews to come with a scissor lift or cherry picker, and I just don’t see that happening. Not being a resident (and I’m often a bit sour about that) I can’t rightly say what happens to the remnants of Mardi Gras that find themselves caught hanging in trees, like some bedazzled Spanish Moss.
Yesterday’s post mentioned Spanish Moss metaphorically, so today I’ll post some images of actual Spanish Moss. In such a small format, these images look incredibly visually busy, a flurry of gray tones, as though the eye is forcing an image to appear from some old television static. So be it. That isn’t too far off from what it’s like seeing these scenes in person, despite there being color.
Light passes through the tangles of Spanish Moss and hundreds, thousands of small leaves shine as others have shadows cast onto them. These oak trees, known as live oaks, are hundreds, some possibly over a thousand years old. City Park has the largest “collection” of live oaks (Quercus virginiana) in the world. It is a special feeling to walk amongst and underneath these beautiful trees.
Just be sure to watch out for alligators if you visit. I’ve never seen any, but apparently they are there.
I’m a sucker for a bright, open airport. Really I’m happy in any airport because of the potential for travel. On my first day in New Orleans I arrived early, around nine in the morning. I had been to MSY a number of times before, but didn’t remember it like this. The new North Terminal, designed by César Pelli really shines. It’s a massive, 650,000 square foot white concrete and generously windowed space. Light just floods in. There’s Jazz music playing constantly in the background, of course, and I’m not sure if this was even remotely part of the design philosophy, but with the hustle and bustle of of that New Orleans Jazz, the relatively darker bodies of travelers stands out against the all-white, all-bright space like tiny music notes dancing across a stave. It’s sheet music that’s come alive.
Though I arrived early, and with plenty of time to leisurely walk about, I was so excited to be back in New Orleans that I nearly jogged through the airport and out to grab a cab. It was a United, of course. A New Orleans staple.
The last image in the bunch was the only shot I took in my departing airport, Philadelphia International. It’d be unfair to compare the two. One’s new, the other, old. One was illuminated by the morning sun, the other was still sleeping as the sun rose. The difference is like night and day.
I wasn’t sure what to say about the botanical garden. I kept comparing it to previous ones that I have been to. Brooklyn, Bronx, D.C., Sand Diego…
It didn’t seem right. While all botanic gardens have similarities–they’re usually always in one of those easily recognizable conservatories–they differ vastly on the inside. They usually have the crowd favorites, the showy and orchids, while also housing plants native, introduced, or thematically relevant to the surrounding region.
In the end, here’s some free-verse–a catch-all term I use because I generally don’t enjoy style restraints–describing a bit of the experience.
White orchids/ with delicate pockets of color/ Ink stains on softly bleached petals/ Plants that look like expensive handbags/ Plants that look angry/ Plants that look like they’re just asking to be squished/ Little puffy orbs—/ I didn’t know onions bloomed like that/ Careful! Don’t squeeze that itty bitty bee/ A little purple plant growing in it’s own little pool/ And plants that could could make a zebra shy/ Plants that’ll remind you of your dad’s paisley tie/ And my oh my, someone left a herd of green elephants in here/ Look, they must just be resting out of sight/ They’re there. They’ve got to be, I say/ though I can only see their ears./ How d’you suppose they fit them all in here? / in that archetypal architecture,/ White with a dome and seemingly made of sticks/ Bent this way and that/ naturally unnatural,/ I think that’s what we call “man-made”/ (A curious distinction)/ At least it looks nice/ Always a comforting sight/ Against those blue skies, some bright clouds/ Somebody somewhere has a barbecue going/ No alligators today/ And it’s all good down here in the Big Easy/
I’m sure there’s a Tom Waits lyric or two in here. Some sort of down-and-out narrative about a wholly singular individual, rife with tongue-in-cheek references citing the hypocrisy of society “at large.” If there was, I’d make a mess of it.
To complete the name dropping theme we’ve got going here–something that my college groomed me to do for gallerists–we’ve got a sort of Waitsian (see above) jazz and booze fueled narrative arc with a Duane Michals meets Daido Moriyama approach/aesthetic.
In one aspect, photography is the art of suggestion through inclusion (and therefore also exclusion), strengthened through sequence. We point the camera at something (hopefully) interesting, and afterwards we sequence images together to construct a narrative, to carry a theme, or to reveal contrasting elements in relation to one another. Photography is silent, static montage. And sometimes the story is everything that happens between cuts (scenes).
There’s not really enough here, in these scenes, for that. The story, if there is one, isn’t developed much. There’s something interesting going on with the first two images. The photographer looks at an empty booth, the empty booth looks back and there’s no photographer. Or both images were about being alone. Pretty basic stuff, but the contrast makes things look nice and moody.
Maybe it’s all about light, and in the last image the photographer is only revealed in shadow, as a shadow. Getting into some high school level poetry metaphor here.
Last night a tornado touched down in New Orleans. It destroyed parts of the Ninth Ward and Arabi area of St. Bernard Parish, areas still recovering from Hurricane Ida. As of this time, it is confirmed that one life has been lost.
The last two times I visited New Orleans a tornado struck shortly after I left. This time it was several weeks, last time mine was the last plane up before the tornado touched down.
I can’t help but reflect on the quiet stillness of the house where I recently stayed.
It was a guest house, although that label masks a darker history to it. My room was on the ground floor, shielded from the bright light of day, and an over-enthusiastic motion sensing light, by thick curtains of vibrant orange that made my drowsy mornings feel like they were illuminated by an eternal sunset.
As I said, it was quiet. I could hear whenever the landlord walked through the front door, his footsteps through the carpeted foyer, into the kitchen, and on to his office. Where he worked was a room filled with books. Books of history, of art theory, of sales records, all materials he would use to help him appraise the value of art, furniture, and the various estates of his clients, all of whom sounded like they were descendants of French-American South aristocracy.
The property was set back from St. Charles Street by two blocks. Never once did I hear the sound of the passing streetcars. Not even when I sat out on the porch which was adorned in that most southern of ways, with indoor floor lights and ceiling fans.
It was in a sort of limbo, the borderline between the CBD (Central Business District) and the Garden District, and when I asked for a specific answer, I was left feeling more confused about where I was.
Only once was the silence interrupted when two or three loud bangs cracked through the air. Stephen, the landlord, paused what he was saying, looked at me, and asked “Now were those gunshots or fireworks?” Truth be told I wasn’t sure. The area allowed for either to be true. While they may have sounded more like gunshots, I assured S they were almost certainly fireworks.
We continued talking, and after a half-hour had passed with no sirens to be heard, I assumed my reassurance must have been accurate.
It was such a quiet place.