Homage, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, 2012
Before beginning our Mississippi River tour, I spent a day in Memphis in order to photography a cultural phenomenon known as Graceland. Built in 1939, this white columned mansion ten miles from downtown Memphis became the home of the singer Elvis Presley in 1957 until his death in 1977. Today it is the prime tourist attraction in Memphis, drawing over a half million visitors a year. I have little interest in either Presley or his music, but I always enjoy photographing quirky, incongruous subject matter. I was sure I would find it at Graceland and I did. For many visitors, the place offers a quasi-religious experience. I followed a long line of Presley Pilgrims as they snaked their way through a self-guided tour along the many corridors of Graceland. The building includes a museum containing hundreds of artifacts, paintings, records, costumes, and awards. Here, a woman pauses before a Presley portrait. Hands clasped, she follows the tour’s progress on headphones. She seems almost at prayer. I isolated her in darkness by spot metering on the bright painting. Her white shoes repeat the brilliant whites in Presley’s costume.
Graceland guard, Memphis, Tennessee, 2012
A guard watches over a showcase displaying early Presley memorabilia. There was a large security presence at Graceland. I asked him how he liked his job. He told me that he was very proud to be a part of this place. I tried to catch that feeling in this image.
Jumpsuit, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, 2012
I was drawn to the color of this costume and to the green background in the painting just behind it. I layered the image to make the young singer in the portrait seem to almost be hiding behind the orange sleeve of his costume. The image expresses the vulnerable nature of a poor boy that, for better or worse, used his instincts and talents to forever change the cultural landscape of the United States.
The Jungle Room, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, 2012
Some visitors wept when they passed the gaudy “Jungle Room,” the most famous of Graceland’s twenty-three rooms. It boasts shag rugs on its floor, walls, and ceiling, an indoor waterfall, and this large Teddy Bear leaning on one of Presley’s guitars. I zoomed in on that bear, seated on a fur-covered chair featuring arms carved in an African motif. Presley would often unwind after his performances in this room, which one biographer called “an example of particularly lurid kitsch.” This room, like all of Graceland, remains in a 1970’s time warp, still very much as it looked on the day when Presley suddenly died of prescription drug-related causes on the floor of his Graceland bathroom.
Tribute, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, 2012
The tour of Graceland ends in “The Meditation Garden,” which was where Elvis went to reflect on any problems or situations that arose during his life. He is buried there, alongside of his parents and grandmother. His fans still leave memorials, even thirty-five years after his death. This vase, along with an American flag, stood next to his grave. The luminous glow of the blue ribbon, as well as the hand-lettered tribute scrawled on a paper heart, symbolize the longing Presley still manages to stir among his fans.
Gravesite, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, 2012
The tiny cupid resting on the edge of the Presley gravesite appears to drift between shadow and light. I moved in on it, my frame abstracting the bronze grave marker just below. Given the looming prospect of Graceland’s long range plan to make this entire section of Memphis into an international tourist destination hosting up to two million visitor a year, this tiny cupid slumbering on the edge of a tomb, becomes a stunningly incongruous symbol of innocence.
Gospel singer, Greater First Baptist Church, West Helena, Arkansas, 2012
This image is a good example of a photographic advantage granted only to those on an organized tour. We were taken by bus to a local church to hear a stirring half hour concert of gospel music presented specifically to our tour group through the efforts of the travel agency that serviced our visit to this small Arkansas town on the Mississippi River. I could move freely about the church, finding vantage points and moments in time that captured the fervor and energy of the singers. This particular photograph features one of the most powerful voices in this choir. I had to use a slow shutter speed of 1/10th of a second, and a high ISO of 1600 to make this picture. Indeed, there is evidence of camera shake visible in the details, the result of using a hand-held 375mm lens at such a slow shutter speed. The slight blur caused by camera shake creates a positive effect here – it seems to make the image vibrate slightly, offering a concussive illusion of robust sound. The softly focused supporting singers in the background add important context to the image. Gospel music such as this is an important aspect of life along the Mississippi River, an appropriate launch for our eleven-day cruise through the region.
Young listeners, Greater First Baptist Church, West Helena, Arkansas, 2012
These young children listen attentively to the gospel concert pictured in the previous image. Rather than make a close-up of them, I layer this photograph with two rows of church benches, giving context to the image. A number of children joined our group attending the concert of gospel music. Some were seated on stage with the singers, while this pair seek anonymity in a back row. All of these children were locals, and most likely were in attendance at the request of the singers themselves. All of them behaved well throughout the concert, although the young girl in red did briefly fall asleep towards the end of the performance. (She most likely has grown up with this music, and must hear it even in her sleep.)
Music shop, Helena, Arkansas, 2012
When on tour, I find that I make some of my favorite images during the “free time” that is usually granted at the end of a particular visit. In this case, we were given an hour or so to prowl the streets of Helena, Arkansas. Most of our cruise passengers used the time to visit local museums, and do a bit of souvenir shopping. I used my hour to seek expressive photographs. Many of Helena’s shops were closed or vacant, but its lone music shop was still in business. Musical expression is at the core of this region of Mississippi valley. We would hear a gospel choir in a neighborhood church (see the two previous images), and the town also is widely known for its annual King Biscuit Blues Festival. For me, this long established music shop symbolized what Helena is all about. I talked with the man behind its counter, and he told me that the world seems to have forgotten this place. I asked him if I could photograph him, and caught his melancholy mood in this environmental portrait. He stands surrounded by musical instruments of all kinds, yet his store remains virtually empty of customers most of the time. In a world where most people now can buy anything on-line at a cheaper price, such establishments as this are an endangered species.
Illinois State Memorial, National Military Park, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 2012
The second port on our eleven-day cruise along the Mississippi River was at Vicksburg, the scene of one of the most decisive battles of the American Civil War. The Union army laid siege to this city from May to July, 1863. We toured the battlefield by bus, which made thoughtful photography virtually impossible for most of our visit. However, the bus made two stops, including a precious few moments at the Illinois State Memorial. This marble and granite building is modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, and the names of all 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg campaign are inscribed on bronze tablets along its interior walls. I was drawn to the huge golden eagle perching high over the entrance pediment. I used my long telephoto lens to contrast the color and texture of the eagle to the stone façade of the pediment and dome of the building. Its gilded wings stand in contrast to the deep blue-sky overhead – they appear to be already in flight.
Cemetery, National Military Park, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 2012
Seventeen thousand Civil War Union soldiers and sailors are buried here, of which 13,000 remain unknown. This is the largest National Cemetery in the United States. It occupies ground once held by Major General William T. Sherman’s men at Vicksburg. Not all of the those buried here were killed at Vicksburg. Many are reburials from battlefields elsewhere in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. While our tour group visited a nearby museum featuring a Union gunboat, I broke away in order to take advantage of a setting sun casting its light on the carpet of leaves covering the cemetery. Instead of diluting the image by attempting to photograph the massed gravestones, I use only a single gravestone to anchor my image. This stone marks the grave of an Illinois Sergeant. I use it to represent all who rest here. I layer the image by including another stone in the middle ground, representing the unidentified soldiers make up 75 per cent of the burials here. The background of this image adds critical context. We see the masses of headstones in the background, indicating the scope of this cemetery. I bring the top edge of the picture down, abstracting the huge tree dominating this background. This framing calls attention to the tree's multi-branched shadow reaching towards the two lonely graves that float upon the field of fallen leaves.
Taps, National Military Park, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 2012
Our tour was accompanied by a group of college professors who provided daily lectures on the places we were visiting. Among them was James Robertson, author of National Geographic’s recent book, “The Untold Stories of the Civil War.” One of those stories describes the origin of “Taps,” the most emotional and familiar military bugle call. Since its inception in 1862 as a military signal to extinguish lights at days end, Taps is also sounded at military funerals, flag lowering, and memorial ceremonies. Robertson arranged to have our tour present at the moment the Vicksburg National Military Park lowered its own flag. My vantage point places this bugler against a setting sun, his fingers pressing the valves that produce the call’s poignant tones. This ceremony at Vicksburg honors the memory of the armies, North and South, that fought and died here 150 years ago. The first and most familiar verse of "Taps" well defines the moment seen in this image: “Day is done, gone the sun, from the hills, from the lake, from the skies. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”
Father of Waters, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 2012
After our tour of the Vicksburg battlefield, we returned to our ship moored on the banks of the Mississippi to find the river reflecting the orange afterglow of sunset. I made this image just before reboarding, and used the curving shoreline to symbolize the snakelike flow of the river itself, which bends and twists its way from Vicksburg to the sea. The orange water and sky incongruously bring a mood of peace and silence to a place that once knew the roar of Union Navy gunboats, as they bombarded Vicksburg’s Confederate defenses not far from this spot. It was here on July 4, 1863, that forces under the command of Ulysses S. Grant sealed the doom of the Confederacy, allowing Abraham Lincoln to say “The Father of Waters once again goes unvexed to the sea.”
Glen Auburn, Natchez, Mississippi, 2012
This magnificent “French Second Empire” house was built about ten years after the Civil War ended. Just over 100 years ago, this was the home of a family of Jewish settlers, the wholesalers, retailers, traders and suppliers that once made up one third of Natchez’s 150 businesses. Today, the home is privately owned. It boasts 14-foot hand painted ceilings, and two-foot thick brick walls. Its servant’s wing now houses the bedrooms of six children. The huge home dominates a knoll in the heart of the city, and dwarfs it’s neighbors. Because I was on a walking tour, I only had a few moments to make this image. Fortunately, the sun broke through a heavy overcast just as we passed this house, and I was able to make this layered image featuring the rich reds, greens, and blues of the surroundings, all of which herald the ornate architecture of the place. The white picket fence, dappled in shadow, offers a base layer to the image. The autumnal trees create a gate-like opening in the next layer, while the house, and the cloud splashed sky overhead, complete the composition.
Texada, Natchez, Mississippi, 2012
Texada is the earliest brick building in Natchez. It was built while Spain ruled much of the American South – sometime between 1793 and 1805. From 1817-1820, it served as Mississippi’s state capitol building, before the capital moved on to Columbia and Jackson. It is the earliest surviving state capitol building in the United States. I photographed only part of the building, because I wanted to feature the two trees that frame one of the front windows. I cropped the trees to stress the thrust of the branches reaching upwards, as well emphasizing as the coiled roots at their base that seem to lie as much above the ground as beneath it. The image itself speaks of the roots of both a city and a state, and these tree roots anchoring this image serve as an appropriate metaphor.
Vapor trails, Natchez, Mississippi, 2012
I’ve created a frame within a frame composition here to draw the eye towards the tower of Natchez’s Federal style 182-year old First Presbyterian Church. The tower’s weathervane points toward dual vapor trails diagonally sweeping the deep blue sky overhead. The image offers us an incongruous juxtaposition of theology and technology.
A mark of time, Natchez, Mississippi, 2012
When visiting a place rich in history, I look for comparisons between rejuvenation and decay. I found such a comparison while on a walking tour in old Natchez. The exposed red brick of this very old building drew my eye immediately. It emerges through crumbling layers of paint and plaster. I climbed the steps of a neighboring porch and used its Victorian woodwork as a framing device here. The imperfect curves in the decaying plaster and paint strive to echo the perfection of the curves in the porch woodwork. The decaying building, contrasting to the immaculate woodwork, gives us a sense of the mark that time makes on the works of man.
Dawn on the Mississippi, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2012
As an independent traveler, it would have been very difficult for me to make an image such as this from the middle of the Mississippi River. However, since I was a passenger on this touring ship, I am able put the viewer into the center of that river. The key to the image is the fluttering flag, flying from a diagonal flagpole in the back of the ship, identifying the national registry of the vessel itself. Meanwhile, a tug that usually pushes barges along the Mississippi, crosses the river just behind us, lending a sense of scale to the scene. A bridge, carrying traffic across the river, frames that boat. It also guides the eye towards both the flag and the splash of golden sky at the left edge of the frame.
Contrast, Baton Rouge, Lousiana, 2012
Once again, my vantage point on the rear deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the Mississippi River allows me to draw a contrast that otherwise would have been very difficult to make. As we sailed past a replica of a vintage Mississippi paddle wheeler, I noticed white clouds of smoke belching into the morning sky from nearby oil refineries. I waited until our ship carried me into a spot where I could juxtapose the antique smokestacks of the paddle wheeler to the billowing clouds of present day smoke, and made this image. The original paddlewheel boats on the Mississippi were an important part of the American economy in the 19th century. The present-day oil industry along the river has long since supplanted them.
World War II memories, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2012
I made this photograph as our ship sailed past a dry-docked World War II destroyer, the USS Kidd. I abstract it by exposing for the sky, instead of the ship, thereby creating both a silhouette and far more detail in the threatening clouds overhead.The ship becomes a symbol, allowing the viewer to project his or her own imagination on to the image. It rests on a cradle, keeping it high and dry at the end of the year. When the annual snowmelt raises the level of the Mississippi, the ship lifts off its cradle and floats in its mooring. Here a worker handles maintenance on bow of the ship, lending scale and bringing a touch of human values to the scene. On April 11, 1945, a Japanese suicide plane struck the USS Kidd during the battle for Okinawa. Thirty-eight American sailors lost their lives, and fifty-five others were wounded. The ship, now a memorial to those men, is under the supervision of the Louisiana Naval War Memorial Commission. My image speaks to the memory of those men, and that war.
Haunted Oaks, Rosedown Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana, 2012
Rosedown, a cotton plantation built in 1835, remained in the same family for 120 years. It is surrounded by haunted groves of ancient Southern Live Oaks, which set a mood redolent of the Old South. It was raining as I made the photograph, and a light mist sifted through the hanging Spanish Moss. The flat light produced a wonderful color palette. Among the vines appropriately embracing this tree are “Resurrection Ferns,” which seems to die when dry, and mysteriously spring back to life when wet.
Entering the past, Rosedown Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana, 2012
The statue at the base of one of Rosedown’s mighty Oaks seemed to be asking us to move back into time with her. The sculpture beckons to us from the 19th century, while the enormous Southern Live Oak, it’s massive branch echoing the statue’s gesture, has been here even longer.
Cameo, Rosedown Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana, 2012
The interior of Rosedown still contains many original items belong to the Turnbull family, which owned the plantation from 1834 to 1954. Time seems to stand still within its walls. This large cameo is mounted on an ornate track. It probably represents the owner’s sister, who once owned some of the land upon which the plantation stands. The ghostly subject seems fixed in time, utterly compatible with the ornate frame, track, and vintage wallpaper.
Silver Service Rosedown Plantation St. Francisville Louisiana.jpg
This house has survived through many eras, never losing touch with its sense of elegance. Queen Victoria took the throne of England just two years after Rosedown was built, and much of the home remains furnished in items acquired during her 64-year reign. The ornate Victorian silver service is displayed here below the hanging crystal prisms of two table lamps. I was drawn to this scene by those prisms, which throw glowing reflections on the gauzy curtain behind it. The repeating diagonals seem to hint at the Art Deco era to come.
Memories, Rosedown Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana, 2012
I found this album, also from the Victorian period, lying on a curving couch next to the strands of a shawl. The surroundings were a perfect match for the ornate design of the album itself. The album holds many memories of the ever-changing family that once lived in this home, and I made my own memory of it here.
View from Oakley Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana, 2012
The nearly 200 year-old Oakley Plantation hosted the painter John James Audubon for four months in 1821. Audubon was paid $60 a month, along with his room and board, to tutor the daughter of Oakley’s owners. When he was not teaching, Audubon roamed Oakley’s 100-acre forest, filling his sketchpad with notes and drawings for his famous series of bird illustrations. I photographed part of this forest through a steamy windowpane, capturing a scene that Audubon himself might have viewed as he worked in Oakley’s living room with his pupil.
Understatement, Oakley Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana, 2012
Nearly all of the old plantation houses we visited on this journey were filled with massive amounts of Victorian furnishings. However Oakley Plantation was the exception. Its rooms have been restored in the style of the late Federal Period (1790-1830), reflecting their appearance when John James Audubon visited the home in 1821. This image captures the understated essence of the place itself. A dignified portrait, placed just off center over an elegant Empire sofa, dominated the room. I chose to include only the top of the sofa, comparing its graceful curve to the rigidity of the rectangular gilded frame enclosing an oil painting of a thoughtful young woman. The geometric relationship of the abstracted sofa and the portrait creates a sense of tension that seems almost hypnotic.
The House that Sugar Built, Houmas House Plantation, Darrow, Louisiana, 2012
Wade Hampton, the largest sugar producer in Louisiana and the largest slaveholder in the South, built Houmas House in the late 1820’s. Thirty years later, this plantation was the largest sugar producer in the United States. I made this image of one of its living rooms by night, lavishly decorated for the Christmas season. I shot through a window, obtaining a perspective that would have been impossible to create from within the house itself.
Apparition, Houmas House Plantation, Darrow, Louisiana, 2012
While touring the upstairs bedrooms at Houmas House, I noted a reflection forming a monstrous face on one of the headboards and made this image of it. Later, our guide mentioned this headboard, and said that many people see a ghostlike figure of a woman reflected within it at certain times of the day. I photographed what I saw, and allowed my camera to interpret the scene in its own way. The headboard resembles a tombstone, while the ornate wall hanging behind it adds a vintage context. Houmas House is well known for its ghostly atmosphere – it was featured in the Bette Davis film “Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”
Art treasures, Houmas House Plantation, Darrow, Louisiana, 2012
The present owner of Houmas House has installed an art collection that takes visitors by surprise. Two of the most notable treasures are placed within inches of each other on a mantle in one of the living rooms. The gilded clock is said to have belonged to the estate of Marie Antoinette, and later purchased by Napoleon. Our guide told us that the painting just behind it is attributed to the French painter Eduard Manet. The woman in the painting is likely Manet’s niece. I bring the two treasures together by framing them in Christmas decorations. By shooting from the side and cropping into the frame itself, I allow the woman in the painting to look at us through the spray of drooping blossoms.
Lincoln visits the Deep South, Houmas House Plantation, Darrow, Louisiana, 2012
One of the most incongruous sights in this old plantation house was small statue of the Confederacy’s opponent, Abraham Lincoln. It is a miniature replica of Gutzon Borglum’s 1911 life sized statue of a “sitting Lincoln” outside the court house in Newark, New Jersey. Borglum, who also used Lincoln as one of the faces on his monumental sculpture at Mount Rushmore, treats Lincoln as very human here, a far cry from the brooding Lincoln of Daniel Chester French that graces the Lincoln Memorial. The Houmas House copy of Borglum’s statue is coated in silver. When I photographed it, it reflected the warmth of the orange lighting within the room. I shot the statue at an angle to make Lincoln seem to be look directly at us, one hand resting on a leg, the other on a bench near his stovepipe hat. Ironically, this Lincoln is visiting a plantation house that once controlled the lives of more than 800 slaves.
Gaugin at Houmas House Plantation, Darrow, Louisiana, 2012
I did a double take as I walked past what I thought looked like a Gaugin painting hanging on a wall in one of the Houmas House rooms. I asked our guide if it really was a Gaugin, and she said it was indeed an original, unsigned painting by the famous French artist. She said the present owner of Houmas House had purchased it an auction in New York. It is said to represent the painter’s Tahitian mistress. I noticed the diagonal lines in the upper right hand corner of the painting, and returned that evening to photograph the painting through a curtained window. The curtain forms a diagonal along the right side of my image, and rhythmically repeats the flow of the diagonals in Gaugin’s painting.
Eavesdropper, Houmas House Plantation, Darrow, Louisiana, 2012
While photographing in the vast gardens at Houmas House, I came upon two members of our tour group conversing under the gaze of this apple-clutching sculpture. The marble statue is most likely a metaphorical interpretation of Eve contemplating her original sin. My fellow travelers seemed to take no notice of Eve. The marble lady pretends to be otherwise involved, but could well be eavesdropping on what appears to be a serious family discussion. At least that’s how I saw it. I converted the image from color to black and white. The original color image featured the lush green environment, which competed with the quiet mood and silent dialogue incongruously playing out in this image.
Modesty, Houmas House Plantation, Darrow, Louisiana, 2012
While this begrimed figure may use a drape to modestly cover her otherwise unclothed body, nature goes one better here by overwhelming the sculpted body within a cloak of living green leaves and yellow flowers. The incongruous blend of art and nature offers a double helping of privacy to this well worn 19th century work of classical sculpture. I moved my subject to the left side of my frame, allowing it to gaze into additional cover if needed.
Rusting Angel, Houmas House Plantation, Darrow, Louisiana, 2012
In the farthest corner of the Houmas House Gardens, a rusting metal statue of an angel blowing a horn stands forgotten and forlorn. Orange rust and green moss coats the entire surface of the statue -- nature and time will leave an inevitable mark on metal left outdoors for decades. I made this image as an ironic comment – the statue probably represents Gabriel, an angel that supposedly will blow the trumpet heralding the end of time itself. Yet the colors rendered by the inevitable cycles of time itself are evident throughout the image – the rust, moss, and the carpet of dead orange leaves upon the ground are all measures of nature’s continual toll. I first thought that the rusting angel might have been a grave marker, but I saw no inscription of any kind upon it. The angel is probably simply an ornament of wealth, possibly carried to this farthest corner of the property by the Plantation’s slaves more than 150 years ago.
The Alley of Oaks, Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, 2012
I made this image from the balcony of Oak Alley’s Big House, just as the sun momentarily broke through a heavy overcast. I waited for the three figures to divide the quarter mile long red brick walk into thirds, and made this image. It is one of the most photographed spots in the Old South. Most pictures made from this spot attempt to balance the rows of facing trees evenly. However, instead of making a static centered image of these facing double rows of Virginia Live Oak trees, I reveal mainly the row on the left by placing the sidewalk over on the right side of the frame. This off-center placement gives the image its tension and sense of movement. French settlers planted these trees here 300 years ago. When Oak Alley Plantation first began growing and harvesting sugar in 1839, these trees were already more than 100 years old and fully mature. Since Live Oaks have a lifespan up to 600 years, these trees are still considered to be middle-aged. The green growth on the limbs and trunks of the trees is called Resurrection Fern. This plant appears to shrivel and die when dry, yet manages to uncurl and reopen to a vibrant green when water becomes available.
Napoleon, Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, 2012
A bust of Napoleon Bonaparte still sits upon the piano in the living room of Oak Alley’s “Big House.” The French Emperor was, in effect, Oak Alley’s prior landlord, until he sold all of Louisiana and much of the American west to Thomas Jefferson in 1804. A curtain in the background creates a gauzy tent-like effect, which I found appropriate for a man who spent much of his professional life living in battlefield tents. I squeeze the Emperor between that “tent” and the Christmas greens that seem to offer him a safe haven.
A haunted place, Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, 2012
This doll in Oak Alley’s Nursery was cradled among gauze curtains. It is wearing an original dress that spans the centuries. I saw it as a symbol for the young children who must have once lived and perhaps died in this very room over the first 130 years of its existence. Many believe Oak Alley is haunted. Some employees claim to have heard the weeping of a woman or a child at night in the vicinity of this room. I post-processed this photograph to age the image, stressing its peripheral shadows and removing the warmth of its colors. In doing so, I was able to emphasize what appear to be tears upon the doll’s face.
Slave cabin, Laura Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, 2012
Laura Plantation was built in 1804, the very year that Louisiana became part of the United States. It is unique because six of its slave quarters, built over 160 years ago, still remain. I was able to enter one of them and make this photograph of the fabrics, baskets, bowls, and pottery that survive to this day. The contrast between the rich colors and the grim surroundings is striking.
Decay, Laura Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, 2012
One of the greatest advantages of visiting the Laura Plantation is that many of its original buildings are still standing, most of them as ruins. While the manor house itself has been carefully restored, other structures speak of the passage of time itself and the toll that nature has taken upon them. This outbuilding, which once housed tools and materials, stands only a few yards from the main structure. Its walls are decaying, the boards broken and etched in moss. This image shows only a small portion of the building, but it serves to represent the condition of the whole. It gives us a more realistic look at the age of the building than a restoration ever could.
Asleep, Laura Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, 2012
Touring plantation after plantation takes its toll on tourists. I found one of them catching a quick nap on the porch of Laura Plantation’s gift shop. I contrast his relaxed posture to other tourists who chat just around the corner of the building. A massive jar separates the conscious from the unconscious here. Meanwhile, the patterns and colors of the wooden siding and porch flooring tie the entire image together as a work of geometry.
Oil Platforms, Gulf of Mexico, 2012
Our river cruise dramatically changed its character as we left the Mississippi River Delta behind and moved into the Gulf of Mexico. We followed a prescribed course through the Gulf from New Orleans to Pensacola, Florida. We were rarely out of sight of the massive off shore oil platforms that loomed through the mist. I placed two of them into this frame as we cruised past them at dusk. I contrast both scale and visibility here. One is large, the other small. One is clearly defined while the other seems lost in the fog. A flame glows at the top of a tower on the closest platform, flaring away unusable gas drawn to the surface along with oil. Oil platforms such as these may be essential economic machines, however the flame glowing above this tower reminds us of the risks involved when fire and oil are present. Not far from here, a BP platform exploded in 2010, killing eleven people, and polluting the Gulf of Mexico with twenty million gallons of oil – the worst spill in US history.
Welcoming committee, Pensacola, Florida, 2012
This Brown Pelican, draped over a railing, lethargically greeted us as we arrived at Pensacola, Florida, our first port in the Gulf. I liked the horizontal thrust of the railing, the incongruously limpid posture of the bird. This image is a good example of how selective focusing can help organize a photograph. Using a long telephoto lens (375mm), I focused on the pelican, throwing both the foreground and the background out of focus. The pelican is the only sharply defined object in the picture, and seems to be luxuriating on the softly focused fencing.
Wings of the past, National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida, 2012
In Pensacola, we toured one of the largest aviation museums in the world. We viewed more than 150 different planes, many of them suspended in simulated flight from the ceiling of this museum. In this photograph, I incorporate three naval planes that flew their missions during the early years of the 20th century. The huge tail at right belongs to the only surviving Curtiss floatplane, the NC-4. In 1919, it became the first plane to fly across the Atlantic, stopping twice in the Azores on the way from Newfoundland to Lisbon. The plane was given by the Navy to the Smithsonian after its return to the US but was too large to be displayed there. It is now on loan to Pensacola’s museum.
Vintage warrior, National Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida, 2012
Many of the historic naval aircraft on display at the museum are poised along the tarmac of the museums own airstrip. I found this early jet fighter crouched in the shadows, and used my spot meter to expose for the bright reflection on its nose. By converting the photo to black and white, I make the plane into an abstraction, a shadow of its former fearsome self.
The Blue Angels, National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida, 2012
The Blue Angels make up the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron. Formed in 1946, the Angels are the second oldest formal flying aerobatic team in the world. Over the last 66 years, the Blue Angels have flown before more than 250 million spectators. The Pensacola Naval Air Station is the squadron’s home base, and the nearby National Naval Aviation Museum’s most impressive exhibit features a formation of Blue Angels suspended from the ceiling of its vast atrium. I climbed to the second floor of the museum and made this image of four of the Blue Angel’s Vietnam War Era A-4 Skyhawk jet fighters seemingly plunging through the museum itself. I made this image so that the distinctive Delta Wing configuration of the Skyhawk fighters can echo the triangular geometry of the structure surrounding them.
Lighthouse at Christmas, Pensacola, Florida, 2012
The Pensacola Lighthouse is the oldest light station and tallest lighthouse on the U.S. Gulf Coast. First used in 1859, it has flashed its powerful light, visible 27miles out to sea, for the last 154 years. In this image, the lighthouse is decorated for Christmas with seven strands of incongruously tiny lights. I moved as close as possible to the tower in order to stress the cords of miniature colored lights rising into the late afternoon sky. The lighthouse had not yet activated its beacon, leaving the colored bulbs to provide the only electrical illumination here.
One hundred and seventy seven steps, Pensacola, Florida, 2012
Visitors are welcome to climb all 177 cast iron steps spiraling to the top of Pensacola’s historic lighthouse. I preferred to stay below to photograph the ornate 19th century vision of geometry working within geometry. The image takes us back into another time, a blend of both vintage engineering and expression.
Great Blue Heron, Pensacola, Florida, 2012
This bird was on hand at the dock to watch our ship depart Pensacola. A setting sun paints the evening sky at one corner of the frame, while the heron readies for flight from the roof of a building at the other corner. The building also reflects the warmth of the sunset on its reddish, patterned brickwork.
Cruising Mobile Bay, Alabama, 2012
As our ship cruised towards Mobile, this placid seascape expressed a sense of calm. The bands of overheads clouds place their shadows upon the placid waters of Mobile Bay, revealing only a distant refinery on the horizon. Yet all of us were made well aware of the fierce Civil War battle that raged upon this very spot in August, 1864. It was here that a Federal fleet commanded by Rear Admiral David Farragut fought and destroyed a Confederate fleet and gained control of the last important port of the Confederacy. The battle was marked by Farragut’s bold dash through a minefield that had just destroyed one of his ships. The mines were called “torpedoes” at the time, and according to legend, Farragut uttered the famous phrase “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” That story did not appear in print until several years later, and some historians doubt if it ever happened, but it remains a fixture in US Naval lore.
Endangered Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Alabama, 2012
Fort Gaines defended the Confederate port of Mobile during the American Civil War. It fell to the Union Navy following Rear Admiral David Farragut’s defeat of the Confederate fleet defending the port, one of the three Confederate forts to be captured in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Federal troops accompanying Farragut’s fleet used their artillery to quickly force Fort Gaines to surrender. In this image, I’ve stressed the huge Christmas bow that graced the entrance to Fort Gaines during my visit. It’s bright red color contrasts to the rich green grass covered moat that once protected the fort. This bow could be also be interpreted as a potential memorial to the historic fort, because it is currently facing devastation by nature itself. It sits on the eastern end of Dauphin Island, at the very edge of the Gulf of Mexico. Ongoing erosion is destroying ten feet of sand dunes and beach each year, causing the fort to be currently listed as one of the ten most endangered Civil War battlefields in the United States.
Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana 2012
We spent the final three days of our journey in New Orleans. As we arrived, we found miserable weather awaiting us – leaden skies, light drizzle, and chilling wind. I looked for opportunities to use the adverse conditions to my advantage, and this image provided one of them. The centerpiece of Jackson Square, at the historic heart of the city, is a heroic equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, who defeated the British army at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. The light was absolutely flat, so I fragmented the image into thousands of tiny pieces by photographing the upper half of the statue through one of the trees surround the square. By focusing on its bare branches, I throw both rider and horse into ghostly soft focus. A cluster of tiny dead leaves is sharply visible on the soft statue in the background. Blended leaves, rider, and horse speak of the faded glory of the past, which is what I intended both Jackson Square and its statue to symbolize.
Mardi Gras Mannequin, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
Mardi Gras is celebrated here in the spring, yet it is promoted all year round. This passive mannequin, displaying Mardi Gras beads and costume jewelry in a shop window, is costumed in an incongruously spongy headdress, and wears this jewelry not only in on her head, but also on her nose. Yet she seems to be quite unaware of her mission. By moving in the subject, I stress the fine details that give this image its incongruous qualities.
The Queens of Proteus, Antoine’s Restaurant, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
Our ships tour group lunched at Antoine’s, the oldest family-run restaurant in the United States. It was started in 1840, and has been operating in its present location since 1868. We toured the numerous private dining rooms in the restaurant – one of them honoring the Mardi Gras Carnival Krewe of Proteus. On one of its walls, I found a photographic chronology of the Krewe’s Queens, going back into the 19th century. All of the portraits seemed to recede in comparison to the 1897 Queen, Juanita Lallande. For some reason, her print was much brighter than any of the others. She seems to ponder the moment, while the others are simply posing for a picture. I place Miss Lallande near the upper left hand corner of my frame and photographed her from an angle. Because of my camera placement, most of the other queens appear smaller and certainly darker. This woman, shown here forever young, comes through as a person, rather than just a ceremonial symbol. ( I researched Ms. Lallande, and found that she not only ruled the Proteus Krewe at the 1897 Mardi Gras – she both sponsored and launched the US Battleship “Louisiana” in 1904.)
Peacock Mardi Gras Mask, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
As a symbol of Mardi Gras, the festival most often associated with New Orleans, this gilded mask of Peacock feathers conveys the mystique and bravado of the annual festival. I found this mask in the window of a store on Royal Street, and filled my frame with a sea of purple, green, blue, and gold textures. The space left for the eye certainly draws the eye, as well.
Gathering of angels, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
The famed French Quarter of New Orleans is the city’s oldest neighborhood. Some of its present day buildings were built under Spanish rule, however a majority of them were refurbished in the Victorian Style after the Louisiana Purchase. Wrought iron balconies such as this one can be traced back to the 1850s. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this veritable gathering of concrete angels gazing through the balcony’s lavish foliage. The flag of Italy is only one of a number of flags that fly from this balcony – the building is most likely a hotel or bed and breakfast. I made this image on a cold December day, populating the frame with incongruous angels large and small. They may have been placed here in salute to the Christmas season.
On the street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
Evening has fallen on New Orleans. We had disembarked from our cruise earlier in the day, and from then on, I was free to make images when and wherever I wished in New Orleans. I made this image while looking for street shots just off the notorious Bourbon Street strip. The man at the far right seems to have failed at persuading the young couple just in front of him to eat at a small Middle Eastern restaurant. He looks as if he is still pleading with them, even though they pay no heed. Or perhaps he may just be asking them for financial help – there are many such folks on the cold wet streets of the Big Easy. The answers exist in the mind of the beholder.
Primary colors, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
The blue man with red lips, seated in a yellow gallery with blue Mardi Gras beads around his neck, makes for a shocking study in primary colors. I framed the seated sculpture in a corner windowpane, thereby layering the image and adding the illusion of depth. The rectangular paintings on the wall behind the sculpture echo the rectangles within the window, while the dark blue door brings the relationship of colors here full circle.
Reflecting history, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
When I passed the window of The Historic New Orleans Collection’s Museum, this 1840 portrait, known as “Creole in a Red Headdress” by Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans, made me stop in my tracks. The painting, recently acquired by the Historic New Orleans Collection, offers a memorable insight into the rich cultural history of the city. The window also reflects an array of 19th century windows just across the street. I made this image to blend this reflection with the haunting portrait, illuminating a slice of New Orleans history.
Bourbon Street Scene, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
The weather changed for the better on the final day of my visit to New Orleans: the sun finally appeared. Since I was photographing on my own, and not tied to the rigid schedule of a tour guide, I could take all the time I needed in search of expressive light and its effect on human values. While walking along Bourbon Street, I noticed a group of three men conversing in the shadows of portico supporting the façade of a 19th century building. I studied their relaxed body language from across the street for several minutes, moving my vantage point to change their relationship within the frame. (I never could have done this if I had been with a guided tour – the group would have already departed while I watched and waited for body language to fall into place.) Finally, the man in the foreground turned away from my camera, and leaned his head against the pole supporting the portico. The crouching man wearing a hat was talking, while the other two men listened. Six elements move the eye across the frame – the bike chained to the post, the red fabric in the window, and the three men, carefully separated from each other by a minimal amount of negative space. Meanwhile, the glorious morning light plays along the curb, sidewalk and the sills of the windows, as well as on the man at far right, who sits atop a newspaper container. Light itself becomes the stage upon which this photograph plays out.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
This burial ground, founded in 1789, is the oldest existing cemetery in New Orleans. It features 600 tombs, allowing for multiple burials. It is the interplay of light and shadow that gives this scene it’s meaning. The cemetery seems haunted, lonely, and decaying, yet rich in symbols of immortality.
Shattered, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
Vandalism is rife in this inner city cemetery. This tomb, nearly 200 years old, seems to have been shattered with the force of a cannonball. More likely, it was a rock or hammer that defaced this piece of New Orleans history. Some of the tomb’s elegant cursive engraving incongruously survives the brutality of the vandal’s work.
Ruination, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
I compare a damaged classical sculpture and several begrimed headstones to a pile of bricks and stones that once were a tomb. This contrast is incongruous -- the ruins seem more colorful than the memorials in this image. A large family vault at left provides context for this scene of ruination.
House of Blues, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
New Orleans is often regarded as the “birthplace of jazz.” While jazz did not develop solely in the Crescent City, the town did provide a crucible for its birth and early growth. Music was at the core of the city’s Creole culture, often expressed through its brass and string bands. Meanwhile, the city’s African-Americans brought a looser and less structured form of music to the table. The musical traditions of these two cultures merged to create Jazz, a truly American art form. The House of Blues is one many New Orleans venues for jazz music. Its façade is layered in vivid red, yellow and blue paint – primary colors that express the energetic spirit of jazz itself. Images of instruments, flames, and performers bring additional context to bear. I give the image further energy by stressing its dimensionality, angling my camera upwards to better contrast the box office to the mural painted on the wall of the building. My goal: to stimulate not only the viewer’s sense of sight, but also the sense of sound.
Jazz, Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
New Orleans honors not only the history of jazz music, but commemorates the contributions of the individual musicians that helped develop it as an art form. This statue, created by Kimberly Dummons, salutes the ragtime musician Buddy Bolden, who, at the turn of the last century, was the first to “rag the blues” for dancing, creating an early form of improvisational jazz in the process. All three of the figures in this statue represent Bolden, a tribute to his genius. I moved in on these figures to blend them into one – the very essence of ensemble music. Bolden, regarded as the “King of Jazz,” inspired an entire generation of New Orleans jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, who as a youngster listened nightly to the silver magic of Buddy’s notes. A 30-acre park honoring Louis Armstrong now dominates the area just north of Rampart Street. Buddy Bolden’s statue is in the park’s “Roots of Music Sculpture Garden.” Armstrong’s own statue stands only a few yards away, likely still listening to Bolden play.
Cigar Factory, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
While exploring New Orleans on my own, I stumbled across a small cigar factory doing business along Decatur Street. The aromatic smell of the place recalled a bygone era when New Orleans cigar manufacturers could import tobacco directly from Cuba. This factory still manages to obtain enough fine tobacco to turn out 30,000 had-rolled cigars a year. As a photographer, I always try to stress the human values inherent in my subject matter. In this case, "less becomes more" as I emphasize the craft and care that goes into making a cigar. It is the language of the fingers that carries the point home. The fresh leaves and the completed cigars on the top and bottom of the right hand side of the frame supply the context we need to appreciate the workmanship.
Old Hickory, Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, has been doffing his hat in Jackson Square since 1856. It is one of several such statues still standing around the country. (One of them can be seen just opposite the White House in Washington’s Lafayette Park.) Sculptor Clark Mills worked on this statue when Jackson was still alive. The former US President even came down to New Orleans to lay the cornerstone of its pedestal, but died before the statue was completed. The statue is most often photographed in full gallop, and pictures of it usually include a view of the famous St. Louis Cathedral in the background. I take a different approach here, limiting the scope of my image to only the head and neck of the rearing horse, along with Jackson himself. I did so because the late afternoon light seemed to be also sculpting Jackson and his horse. The play of light and shadow brings energy and expression of its own to the scene. I chose to stress that here, rather than just describe the appearance of the subject. Meanwhile, I also abstract the Cathedral by concentrating on only its softly focused clock and facade. The clock’s hands stand at almost four o’clock, subtly connecting Jackson’s hat to his face. Known as Old Hickory, Jackson looks supremely confident here as he basks in the afternoon sun -- he seems to sense that his place in history is firmly intact.
The French Connection, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2012
This statue commemorates the bonds that exist between France and New Orleans. It stands just outside the city’s French Market, a gilded representation of Joan of Arc, the “Maid of Orleans.” This statue is an exact copy of those that also stand in Paris and in Joan of Arc’s birthplace at Orleans, France. When Charles de Gaulle visited New Orleans in 1959, he presented this copy of the statue to the city as a gift from the people of France. However, the city could not afford the $35,000 price tag to erect it, and stored it for eight years. People in both France and New Orleans eventually raised the money, and the statue was originally placed at the foot of Canal Street, but later moved to its present location at the French Market.
I made this image specifically to close this gallery. It embraces the heritage of New Orleans as well as many of the places we visited on this cruise through the Mississippi Valley and the Gulf Coast. Louisiana’s roots remain French. The territory was claimed on behalf of Bourbon king Louis XIV by the French explorer LaSalle in 1682. New Orleans itself was named for the Regent of France, the Duke of Orleans. Finally, Napoleon sold New Orleans, as well as the entire Mississippi Valley and much of the Gulf Coast, to Thomas Jefferson in 1804. The three flags that fly above the statue underscore this “French Connection.” The Bourbon, Louisiana, and American flags all float in translucent colors upon a deep blue sky. Joan of Arc herself, seen here as a symbol in deep silhouette, represents the heart of this connection. Her own flag, the banner of her patron, Charles VII of France, echoes the thrust of those that fly overhead.