AKA Abraham Bacoln

A little promotion
June 8, 2010, 10:09 pm
Filed under: New Orleans, photography

So you’ve probably already read about this if you follow me on Twitter or if you keep tabs on me through Facebook, but I’m gonna post it here for posterity. There’s a local news site, inthekNOwla, and they decided to interview me for their Artist Spotlight series.

It’s very flattering, of course, to have someone want to write a little bit about what you do. It also feels strange to be getting interviewed and having attention rise at the same time as my photography inspiration and productivity declines. However, as much as I want to say, “Why are they interviewing me? I hardly ever make anything good anymore” it doesn’t negate the fact that they liked my existing stuff enough to write about it.

I’m in too good a mood for any sort of serious self-deprecation, so I’ll just say thanks to everyone that has constantly reminded me that I’m doing good work here and that I should keep it up. I had a pretty good day because of this interview, so I’m gonna ride that for a while.

A tour, proposed
February 24, 2010, 10:08 pm
Filed under: photography, Tennessee

If you have the time, please read until the end. A question for you is waiting there. I can’t really put the question down without explanation, though. I apologize in advance – by necessity the following is going to be kind of rambling. I’ve been trying to put my thoughts together for weeks and I can’t seem to find a coherent whole around which to organize this mess, so bear with me.

For over five years now I have lived in New Orleans, and for most of that time I was living with someones who, like me, were from Tennessee. Are from Tennessee. I guess you don’t stop being from Tennessee, even after you die, do you?

For the last five months I’ve been living alone, and this has had an effect on me. This is the first time, amazingly, that I have lived by myself not in Tennessee. Every other place I’ve lived I’ve had someone with me, and that person has always shared my experiences with regards to growing up in the South.

I already feel like I’m losing my train of thought. I’m struggling here.

I found myself recently talking to my friends, specifically Paul, about what it was like growing up in Tennessee, and how different it is from here in New Orleans. I found myself talking at length, and marveling at the reactions of my listeners.

What it boils down to is this: I am just now beginning to realize, while living alone and not constantly in contact with someone who shares my experiences, that where I grew up was unique, different, and in some respects worth celebrating and embracing. All places are, of course, I’m not implying that my home state is somehow special. But unlike all other places, I have a personal connection to this one.

A segue: there is a musician, Jim White, with whom until recently I was only vaguely acquainted, musically-speaking. His songs, especially those on his album The Mysterious Tale Of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus, revolve around what it means to be from the South, and what God means in the South, and what conflicts and struggles we all suffer and redemption we achieve by virtue of having grown up there.

Another segue: my landlord had a temporary tenant staying in her part of the house. He disappeared for a few days, and I thought he’d gone back home. When he appeared again I inquired as to his absence and he informed me that he had rented a car and gone up to Memphis to visit the stomping grounds of all the blues greats.

Shortly after I heard this I found out that a filmmaker had become entranced with Jim White’s Wrong-Eyed Jesus album. He was fascinated with this land and this music and wanted to know where it comes from, so Jim took him out in some busted car and toured what he calls the South, and they made a film, and they recorded some great performances, and … it’s not a documentary, it’s not a normal movie, it’s … an event. It is Jim White’s South as presented by Jim White. It is Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.

But still, it makes my head spin. It makes my stomach tighten up in a way I can’t explain. White mentions how he grew up in the South but because he was not born there he never considered himself a true Southerner, until one day he made the decision to return and force his way through all the experiences he had until he could come to grips with what it meant for him to be who he is.

Now we come to me, and you can see clear where I’m headed. I spent the years 2007 and 2008 back in my hometown in Tennessee and the whole time I was there I was busy fighting with school and personal issues and I feel like I ignored my surroundings. Sure I headed out with my friends into the woods to go rock climbing, or have bonfires, and sure I got a few pictures while I was there.

But the more time I spend alone and away without companions that are linked in to what it means to be from Tennessee, the more I find myself describing my experiences and my hometown to people that have never been there. I recently showed my book of pictures of Cookeville to someone who has never been anywhere near there, and I couldn’t even follow her reactions. My head was pounding lost in the thoughts of what it truly meant to have been there, and how this pitiful little book couldn’t begin to convey what my hometown really is.

Those two years I was back in Cookeville I spent documenting with my camera the things that to me were unique about Cookeville from the perspective of one who was from there, who had seen the same old tired things a million times. Suddenly I found myself looking at this book of images with someone who didn’t know what the square looks like, or Jefferson Avenue on a Saturday night with cars sitting in the parking lot of the People’s Stockyard (1947) watching everyone else slide on by wasting their time with nothing else to do.

And this … this fed into my desire to see Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, and my desire to see all of Tennessee anew with fresh eyes. To visit Tennessee as an outsider, and take the photographs I have forever ignored because “I’ve seen that a hundred times.”

I feel inspired by White’s music. I feel inspired the story of touring the Memphis blues land. I feel inspired by the photographs of some of my fellow Tennesseans, and how they show me the land that I’m from in ways I’ve never expected and may never be able to recreate.

So here is what I propose:

This summer I plan to drive from the west side of Tennessee to the east, over the course of a week or more, ignoring all the major interstates, and trying to understand a little more about where I’m from. I’m going to try to take the pictures I’ve automatically dismissed, and bring back something I can show to anyone and say, “This is the Volunteer State. This is how it grows from the flat rich soil of the Mississippi River to the sharp steep hills of the Great Smoky Mountains. These are the people you would meet, the roads you would travel, the homes you would see.”

I want to do this. I need your help though.

If you’re from Tennessee, or have spent time there, what are the locations that hold a special place in your heart? If you could pick one thing to show a stranger to best represent what you love about Tennessee, what would it be?

If you’ve never been there, what do you want to know? What would you want to see?

And finally, I may need an assistant. I may need someone to drive for a while so I can shoot out the window and capture the moment. Someone who is patient and will understand when I have to turn the car around and go back to something I just saw, or will understand when I want to spend an hour in one spot waiting for the sun to go down just right.

I really do think I need to do this.

A little more blood, please
December 7, 2009, 7:19 pm
Filed under: photography

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes get images stuck in my head and can’t relax until they’re brought to life. This is the most recent one:


I would love to tell you why one day I ended up with the idea of hair coming out of a faucet, and then the realization that it should be bloody hair, and that it should be a nice white basin instead of a grungy work sink, but I can’t. These images appear unbidden, sometimes unwelcome. I mean, really, do you think I enjoy watching a movie and finding myself distracted by the thought of bloody hair in a sink?

While thinking about this intrusion over the past day or two I’ve come to realize there are three different kinds of photographs in my world:

The first type is the opportunity photograph. I wander around with my camera and look for something to document. Sometimes these come out well but most of the time they’re only average. I rarely get truly excited about my spontaneous opportunity photographs – they function mainly to alleviate boredom and keep my camera skills from going completely and utterly dull. I won’t deny though that occasionally I get that “HOLY CRAP” moment from having been in the right place at the right time.

The second is the meticulously planned photograph. These are always my favorites, and they’re the ones that materialize in my thoughts and crystallize over the course of a few hours (or days, or months) and one day I finally get them out and gone and finally feel relief. These are also everyone else’s favorites, if Flickr and casual conversation are reliable metrics. They also usually involve props – lately props that I have to go out and spend real money on, since I don’t keep dentures and jack-in-the-boxes and hair and octopi and fake blood around the house.

The third type is special – it’s the photographs that don’t get taken. For every sticky idea I get that grows in my head and feeds on weird dreams and festers until it’s time to be created, I have five that go nowhere. I keep a checklist online of photo ideas, and it seems that it stays populated with those that just aren’t quite good enough. For example, some of the items currently on my list are: corndog, cardboard box half-person, manticore, someone in the will-call room, shadow with a hole in it. I don’t need detailed notes because just reading the words reminds me of the full image. So often, though, that image just never comes to life. It’s not that I don’t have the time to make them, or the resources, or skill – I just end up letting them drift. It’s only every fifth one that really grabs me, that I end up thinking about over and over until I find myself at Party City trying to find a cheap blond wig and debating store-bought fake blood versus making my own. I ended up making my own, of course. I always do.

In short, there’s no explanation why I take the photos I take. Either I’m there with my camera, or there’s some dream-inserted image that won’t let me go, and one way or the other I end up with a picture.

Anatomy of a Photo IV
November 10, 2009, 9:38 pm
Filed under: photography

I thought that perhaps I’d talk a little bit about my horrid sneakbeast rabbit. I know I said a little bit about him in my last blog entry but here are some more words:

Somewhere over a year ago I got the idea that I should take a picture of a feminine figure holding a stuffed animal. The animal would have ghastly human teeth, though, and the model would be directly interacting with the teeth physically, but in a detached way. Without trying to describe it too much more I’ll show you, because the end result was surprisingly close to my initial vision:


… so there. Now you see what I’m talking about. I’ll touch on a few points that I wanted to bring up about this image. For starters, I specifically did not want the model’s face in the shot. I wanted this to be very directly and intently about the stuffed animal. By composing the image with the head out of the frame I sacrificed part of the human element. In case you haven’t heard it enough, the first thing we look for when we see a human figure are the eyes, because they tell us so much about what’s going on. The expression on the face is a close second, or perhaps a larger part of the first look. By removing this the viewer is left without that initial road map and is forced to try and discern emotion or intent from body language alone.

Secondly, I wanted the model to be distinctly feminine. I chose one of my friends who I knew had long hair and a graceful neckline, and put her in a dress with thin straps to show off her shoulders. For a while I debated something more directly titillating that would also bare the ribs and stomach, but decided that would make too bold a statement, too distracting and possibly gauche, and so I declined to do so.

Thirdly, I deliberately posed her with a fairly formal posture. I wanted her upright and nearly stiff, because I didn’t want her body to act as a reaction. In other words, when the viewer first sees the picture I don’t want them to read her body language in that split second before they see the rabbit. I don’t want them to think, “What is this woman reacting to?”

Lastly, her finger is resting in between the rabbit’s teeth. This is the image I’d had in my head and I was glad to see that it worked in real life. To me it feels like the woman is making a statement about the rabbit, as if she’s intentionally interacting with it. This begs the question about her posture, though: is she stiff and upright because she’s nervous about what’s happening? Is she at ease? Is this routine, or something out of the ordinary?

A bonus was the tension shown in her hands. I didn’t plan for it, but she ended up giving some dynamism to the picture through the strain in her fingers. It could even be interpreted as if she is subduing the rabbit, as if she’s preventing his escape.

As I mentioned in that earlier blog entry, to finally get this photo done was an incredible relief. It was the longest-running planned photo that I’ve had to date, and to finally see it on the screen instead of in my head was a great load off my shoulders. I’d finally finished that One Big Thing (even though I’ve done projects far more grand) that had been plaguing me. Shortly after I posted it I was talking to my friend Kathy and I said, “I’m grateful I’m done with that. Now I can get rid of that nasty little rabbit.” Kathy implored me to think more about what else I could possibly do with the rabbit and my photography. I told her, “I don’t have any more images in my head for it. There’s nothing left. I had the One Big Thing and that was it, I didn’t plan for it to be like this. There aren’t other ways in which it can interact with people. I mean the only other thing I could possibly think of is maybe someone holding it by one foot, faced away from the camera, but that’s not really what I made the rabbit for.” Kathy said, “So?”

And there I was, with the first rabbit image not a week old, left thinking, “Well maybe I could get one more image out of it. I want … yeah. Someone holding the rabbit by the foot. The viewer can be left to wonder if it’s a favorite toy being dragged around, or if it’s something distasteful that the person doesn’t even want to be carrying.”

It took me a few weeks to finally see the right location, the hallway outside my friend’s apartment. It took a few weeks more to get our schedules lined up correctly so that she and the rabbit and I could all be there at the right time. But line it up we did, and I got this:


… which honestly is not nearly as moving or dynamic an image as the first one, in my opinion. In some respects it only works after having seen the first one, because then you truly understand what it is she’s carrying.

With regards to the photo itself, I think I did a decent job of not portraying the model’s relation to the rabbit object as positive or negative. Maybe the viewer thinks differently. I took the picture just by the window at one end of a long hall to give some perspective. The first image was very deliberately flat and I wanted this one to have good depth. I chose this hallway because it is narrow, dark, and a bit beat up. As for the model, I tried to get her to give up a tiny bit of motion. Again, to me, with her weight shifted to her right leg her body language says ‘hesitant’ but it could read on first impression as motion. Hopefully either way the viewer is left wondering exactly how she feels about the rabbit and where (if anywhere) she’s going with it.

So those are the two important rabbit pictures. Those are the two that had the most thought put into them, the two that mean the most to me. In the weeks between them I took a few others to pass the time. They aren’t nearly as significant but I do feel that I should mention them, so here they are:

1.) The self-portrait wherein I literally embrace this creature that I have created and try to show the viewer how I feel about my monstrosity. Interpretations on the emotion stated in my gaze have varied wildly and I’d love to hear yours.

2.) A vision of what it might have looked like had I not physically pieced together this abomination but instead found him whole, already existing in our world. I aimed for something cinematic, hoping that the off-camera flashlight would help the viewer feel as if they were not alone, as if someone else had laid the light upon this scene and there was no reason to worry because they were not experiencing the situation alone.

3.) Finally, I wanted a point-of-view image so that the viewer could imagine interacting directly with this thing. What would one of us truly do if we saw this climbing up our wall or coming in our window? Would we meet it head-on?

And with that, finally, I have finished with the rabbit. He’s going to live in a house far away so that I can not hear his teeth clacking together at night, and so that he does not upset my guests when they enter my home. Maybe one day in the future I’ll need him again for a photo but perhaps by then he will have left his new home to find his true place in the world.

September 30, 2009, 11:13 pm
Filed under: photography

I feel very accomplished after my quick vacation to Tennessee because I got a picture finalized that had been in my head for well over a year. It even turned out somewhere near 90% of how I had envisioned it so long ago. I’m very pleased. Oh, yes, which picture?


That picture. I guess it goes without saying that I had to construct the rabbit, since you can’t just go buy a rabbit that has human teeth in it already. Part of the delay was finding the teeth, which proved difficult in Cookeville. Turns out that you can find just about anything you need down here in the Humid City – if you know where to look.

So that was one bit of satisfaction – taking a picture that had plagued me for nearly a year and a half. Seriously, I have had this image in my head for so long and now that it’s finally taken I feel relieved. Also, I absolutely hated having that rabbit in the same room as where I was sleeping … until the picture was taken. Afterward it was as if I had exorcised whatever demon was plaguing me. I thought our muses were supposed to bring comfort and not cause distress. If making the pictures chases them off and lets me sleep better then I’ll do whatever it takes.

Another bit of satisfaction came from taking these panoramic images: Tennessee Tech campus and south Cookeville. About a year ago (almost exactly the same time as the toothed stuffed animal started plaguing me) I took a self-portrait in an elevator which prompted one of my friends to ask, “Where … did you find an elevator in Cookeville?” That has stuck with me since then, and it makes me think about this ground-based culture in my hometown. There’s nowhere in Cookeville to go up, to get above it all and look down and get some perspective. Okay, yes, that statement has more than a literal interpretation but I’m going to avoid that road. Anyway, turns out that if you know the right people you can get to the right places. It’s silly, but I don’t feel at liberty to come right out and say from where I took those panos, but if you’re a Cookeville native it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. Regardless, I hope you enjoy seeing that sleepy little town from a different perspective.

And finally, as I was looking through my photostream for various images that reminded me of my personal timeline, reminded me when I started fixating on the denturebeast and also the comment about elevators in Cookeville, I found the following quote. From me.

During last semester I’d get a little stressed and anxious and the best way I found to relieve that (no off-color jokes, please) was to go out and take pictures.

Now that semester’s done, I spend the day at work, and when I get home I have nothing pressing to do. So now where is my inspiration? Where’s my anxiety and desire to create? I can’t find it. I’m feeling kind of tapped out here.

And that is indeed a relief, to know that this isn’t the first time I’ve been through this. Part of the reason I write (and photograph) is to get things out of my head. The problem with this is that often once they’re out, well, they’re all the way out. Forgotten. Because of this I put myself through the same tortures over and over, apparently.

But yeah, anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt a little creatively challenged, and now I’m sure it won’t be the last. We’ll see what comes of this.

Plateaued, but on the path
September 21, 2009, 12:19 pm
Filed under: photography

Why do I feel like I’m in a creative slump when I’m still producing good photographic work at a fairly constant rate?

There’s a small critique group with whom I meet here in New Orleans, and sitting for hours discussing the works of artists of all mediums, styles, and calibers has helped me understand better the imagery I’m producing with my camera. More importantly being forced to discuss my photography with others who won’t let me bullshit my way out of the conversation, who encourage (or force, actually) me to truly look at what I’m creating – that’s been very helpful for me. Because of these meetings I have been able to better clarify my thoughts on why I feel like I’m at a creative low point and why I’m disappointed with my rate of production.

When I was fifteen I started playing bass guitar on a whim. I could hardly differentiate the bass line from the guitars in the music I was listening to but that didn’t matter, I liked the way it felt and sounded when I played it. I never took any lessons but I spent most of my spare time playing. When I was sixteen someone said, “Wow, you’re pretty good – how long have you been playing?” I was proud to be able to reply, “Oh, only about a year. I haven’t had any lessons or anything, I just kind of picked it up.” That was a good feeling, to think that I was naturally talented.

Of course time shortly showed me that whatever’s considered good for a kid that’s been playing for one year without lessons is pretty mediocre – or even a little bit sad – when it’s been two years, or three. I didn’t have any drive to improve my playing and I was still treating the bass as a part-time distraction, not even a proper hobby.

With regards to the creative learning curve I shot up rapidly at the beginning, quickly reached a low plateau, and stayed there. With the bass I was content to remain where I was as a beginner. I could clearly see the path ahead of me, and where I could have gone had I taken lessons, or learned to read music, or even figured out a way to practice (as opposed to just screwing around) but I didn’t care to go down that road.

And now I’m transferring that understanding of natural creative talent and the inevitable plateau to my photography. A while back I went through my photos to determine when I personally felt I took the step from “a guy who likes to take interesting snapshots” to “someone determined to create proper photographs” and I mark that time as January 2006. That means that before I know it I will have been doing photography seriously for four years. In some ways that’s depressing to me.

Okay, so honestly if I showed the me of four years ago the photos I’m producing now, he (I) would be astounded. But me of today, me-right-now, is not content. I think my natural talent has taken me as far as it can. In terms of the creative learning curve, I’ve had my rocket upwards and now I’m on my plateau. This is where my overall frustration with my photos is coming in to play. When I was just starting out I learned something new every week, and for a while it was every day. I figured out how better to compose images, how better to edit (both in terms of post-production and also how much to show to other people), how better to visualize in advance where the capabilities of my equipment and brain could take me.

Now I’m missing that feeling, that “Eureka!” of finding or understanding something new, and I don’t know how to spark it. I’m certainly not saying I’ve mastered photography and have nothing left to learn – far from it! – but as the slope of the learning curve levels off the tidbits of learning become smaller in scale. There’s a difference between the huge pure joy of discovering how to manipulate depth of field to good effect and the tiny, almost insignificant, self-congratulation when I think, “Oh, in this situation I should just go ahead and under-expose by a half-stop before I even start shooting” because of learning from past experiences. It used to be that I could see where I needed to go when I would look at photos and say, “Wow! How did they DO that?” Finding that out was my goal. Now I know how they did it. Now I don’t have clear milestones ahead and I feel like I’m trying to track my predecessors on rocky ground. I’ve gone from having huge road signs to sifting tiny pebbles.

When I look through the photographs of others to find the ones that I envy, the ones that are so good that I grit my teeth and can’t think of anything other than just how much I wish that I had been the one to take it, they usually fall into one of three categories:

1.) A photo taken at a location that is foreign to me or to which I do not have access.
2.) A photo taken using huge props, great studio, paid model, or any other indication of someone having poured money into the shoot.
3.) A photo taken with a kind of creativity that originates from a higher plane than mine, something I can only hope to be able to tap into eventually.

The first two I can rationalize away if I spend long enough trying to convince myself that I should. For example the vast majority of the viewers of my photos do not live here in New Orleans so the locations that I think are mundane are indeed foreign or exotic setups to them. Just because I see them every day does not negate their potential usefulness or beauty. Likewise I have been able to come up with some pretty good photos with found props, hastily-rigged home lighting, and so forth. Most of my visions can be created on my budget, even when I get extravagant.

That leaves the creativity, something I can’t force, cajole, plead, or otherwise magic into existence. I am left in despair when viewing the work of Chema Madoz for example. Every single one of his images sends me into a whirlwind of emotions – “I love it for its incredible stark simplicity. I love it for its tone. I want to have been the one who took this image. I need to have been the one who took this image. I can never recreate it because he’s already done it better than I ever could. I’ll never be able to take pictures like this.” For every. single. image.

The upside to all of this rambling discussion is that when you understand where you are, you can hopefully see how you got there and – if you’re lucky – where you’re going. I know I’m frustrated with what I’m creating, and how I feel I’m never making anything new. I know that I rail against the idea of repeating anything in my photography – I don’t like to use the same prop or theme or idea more than once if possible. I know that this artificial and unnecessary restriction is part of what’s keeping me stuck here in this trough.

But meeting with other people, people that don’t know me and don’t know where my photography has come from or is going … that helps. Their opinions (at times blunt or loving or both) help me see that I’m not repeating myself too much, that I am indeed on the right path. To these people that don’t live inside my head my work is indeed fresh, and welcoming, and enjoyable. It’s giving me a little bit of space to stop worrying and just go back to creating.

I just have to accept that the honeymoon is over and I don’t get that adrenaline rush every time I learn or find something new, and that my discoveries will be smaller, but they’re still discoveries. I’m still on the right path.

More Miller’s Crossing
September 12, 2009, 10:15 pm
Filed under: photography | Tags: ,

I got some info from the internets (aka blog commenter droudy) on two more of the Miller’s Crossing filming locations, so I have updated the original blog entry. Go check it out, if that’s what you’re into.

Miller’s Crossing, twenty years later

My favorite movie of all time is the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing [IMDb, Wikipedia]. I have no idea how many times I’ve watched it, but I love it more every time and that’s no exaggeration. The first time I watched it was in 1994 at Walter Biffle’s place on 8th St. in Cookeville, and I don’t know if it was the size or volume of the television or everyone else there watching it, but I missed so much. My eyeballs were pointed at the screen the whole time but there were so many lines and situations that I didn’t really grasp. I think that’s part of why I like it so much – every time I watch it I see something new. Those things are getting less significant each time, with as many times as I’ve watched it, but it still holds true. I would love to have seen it in the theater on the big screen.

The first time I watched it I had never even been to New Orleans. Some time after I moved down here I watched it again and I’m ashamed to say I missed it. Then I was reading an article about Miller’s Crossing and it said, “filmed in New Orleans” and I heard that record needle sound effect and had to go watch the movie immediately and there it all was! New Orleans is all over this movie! It’s set not in NOLA but in some nameless city, yet it was filmed here and it shows.

Later while searching for information about the movie I found Mike McKiernan’s Miller’s Crossing production notes page wherein he lists several of the filming locations. I can’t thank Mr. McKiernan enough for this information, for it made this whole writeup possible.

Miller’s Crossing was filmed in 1989. Before Katrina I always meant to walk around and photograph some of the locations to show what they look like now, but at that time I wasn’t into photography and just never had much motivation. After the storm I swore I was never coming back here (shows what I know, right?). Now I’m here and I realized I need to take the pictures because A.) I know what I’m doing with a camera now, and B.) it’s been TWENTY YEARS since they filmed here. That’s astounding to me – I can’t believe it’s been so long.

I tried to prepare as best I could – I took screenshots from the movie and printed them out and put them in a binder which I left in my car so that whenever I was out and around shooting I could try to match the angle and lens as best possible. I shoot almost exclusively with prime (fixed focal length) lenses and let me tell you I’ve never wanted a quality zoom lens more than when I took the bulk of these shots. Changing lenses while standing in the middle of the street in the sweltering New Orleans summer heat while holding the reference printout in the other hand trying to match the perfect angle … that’s for the birds, man.

But now it’s done, and I can show you the results. They’re mostly exteriors. If you read McKiernan’s site you’ll find that most of the interiors (aside from the International House) were either sets or heavily modified rooms, so I didn’t go searching for them. Everything else I’m going to present chronologically.

[I know the image quality on the thumbnails is low, but I have a lot to show and wanted to save bandwidth. You can click any image for a larger high-quality version.]

One: street scene

This is where we find Tom talking to the guy who takes the bets to the bookie. It was filmed in the 2000 block of Magazine Street right in front of what is now Aidan Gill and Juan’s Flying Burrito. The woodwork detail you can see above Tom’s head in the first screenshot is still there:

Two: knocking over Caspar’s joint

This was filmed in the 800 block of S. Peters Street in the warehouse district. The concert venue Republic is one of the businesses in that block now.

Three: “The old man’s still an artist with the Thompson”

The Coens got permission to film on Northline Street in the Old Metairie neighborhood, a posh residential area. Many of the houses on the street look like Leo’s house (though his was built on a stage, of course, so that they could burn it down). It took me a bit of cruising until I found the shot at the intersection of Northline and Hector. I was mainly looking for the brick fence with the lamps that is visible on the right side of the screen in the car explosion scene. I also used the shapes of the trees to confirm that I was in the right place.

I’ve talked to someone who lived two blocks away on Hector and he said he remembers clearly the night of the filming and the loud explosion, though he hadn’t realized that it was for Miller’s Crossing.

Four: Tom calls Mink

When I watched the movie after learning it was filmed in New Orleans this was the moment I wanted to slap my forehead. There’s nowhere else this could be. There’s the green streetcar. There’s the huge Whitney Bank on St. Charles Avenue, arguably NOLA’s second-most famous street. The thing that got me the most was the Whitney Bank lighted clock on the corner. Whitney puts one of those on every single one of their banks, and they’re the bank I use, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed the clock before. [228 St. Charles Ave]

I’m pretty sure the phone booth was a prop, but I can’t swear that there wasn’t one there 20 years ago.

Five: the cops raid the Shenendoah Club

I got lucky on this one. I was using Google Street View to look for locations downtown, and I was pretty sure I knew that this was right near the Whitney Bank building, and it is. It’s just around the corner in the 600 block of Gravier Street. Funny thing is that the space that the patrons are exiting is not actually from a building, it’s a maintenance alley between two buildings.

Six: shootout at the Sons of Erin club

I think this is the one that got me the hardest. When I first read McKiernan’s page I said, “CHURCH STREET! I was down there just last week on a delivery and I didn’t even recognize it!” Sure enough next time I went back it was staring me in the face. It’s a short street, one block long, between Camp and St. Charles (between which there is usually not another street). As you can see during filming they had to erect a fence behind the police side to hide the parking lot.

I guess it goes without saying that the trees have grown a bit in the last two decades.

Seven: cafe interior

This shot is literally on screen for only a second or two. I never would have thought to include it, but when I was taking my photos on Magazine St. I was discussing the project with someone who mentioned that the cafe interiors had been filmed at what is now Mojo Coffee House [1500 Magazine St.]. Sure enough, while the countertop has been moved, the tin wall paneling is still there.

I included an exterior of Mojo so that you can understand how weird it is that when Tom walks out …

Eight: Verna confronts Tom outside the cafe

… this is where we find Tom when he exits the cafe. In reality this was on Picayune Place, a little alley one block long that sits between Camp and Magazine. The side on which they filmed doesn’t really look all that different now except there are more bars on the windows. The architectural details on the posts and walls are still there though.

I figured I’d throw in this wide-angle shot from the start of the alley to give you some perspective:

Nine: The Barton Arms

This one may well be my favorite. It’s an apartment building called The Fern located at 7904 St. Charles Ave. I was hoping this building was on St. Charles because in the movie you see a streetcar run behind Tom as he looks up to the building at the sound of gunshots. However, I couldn’t tell if it was two separate filming locations (as in the case of the cafe interior and exterior). I drove down St. Charles looking for any apartment building that could possibly fit the bill. Towards the Uptown end of St. Charles the apartment buildings get more modern, and I’d pretty much given up. With only two blocks left before the riverbend I spotted this building. I figured it was just wishful thinking but no, it was the true location. I only wish Tom’s apartment had been real and not on a set – I’d be kicking down doors to try and rent it.

Ten: The Royale

This I found solely thanks to droudy’s comment on this blog entry. Sure enough right there at 913 Magazine Street is the building they used for the exterior of the Royale.

Eleven: “You can’t hijack me, Tic-Tac, we’re on the same side – or didn’t you get that far in school?”

Again thanks to droudy’s comment I now know that this was filmed in the 400 block of Gravier Street. They filmed it with the cars in the movie traveling the wrong way down the real-world one-way street, so I’m going to blame my direction of travel for not finding this one myself. Okay, that’s no excuse but I have it now and that’s all that matters.

I enjoy seeing how much the tree visible behind Frankie and Tic-Tac’s car has grown.

Still Not Found

And now is where my fellow New Orleanians can help me out. I’m down to one last location that I can’t seem to find. A few people have commented that they think this building was where the new WWII expansion building is being constructed and therefore is gone forever. I’m not completely convinced but I sure haven’t been able to find it yet. Regardless, if you know exactly where it is (or was) please let me know!

Eddie Dane follows Verna from the boxing gym:

And so ends our journey through the landscape of Miller’s Crossing, twenty years later. One more time I need to thank Mr. McKiernan for his valuable information on filming locations. I feel I should specify that all screenshots are of course property of Twentieth Century Fox, and all photographs are mine and I really rather wish you wouldn’t steal them.

If you want to send someone a quick link to this article you can use the following pre-shortened URL: http://bit.ly/mc20yr

[EDIT: it occurs to me that nowhere in this blog entry did I use the terms “then and now” or “before and after” but now that’s been rectified]

Camera and bag, maybe in that order.
August 1, 2009, 2:23 pm
Filed under: photography

I’ve had enough people asking about my camera that I figure I should write an update (since not everyone follows me on Twitter and why should they anyway? I just make a bunch of noise and never impart anything useful).

The story in brief is that I sent my lens in to be fixed as it was back-focusing. The first time I got it back it still didn’t work right. I sent it in a second time with a CD with samples of the problem. It came back un-fixed. Canon convinced me to send in my camera body with the lens – WHICH I HATED DOING WITH ALL MY HEART – and eventually it all came back fixed, pretty, and sparkling clean.

So … aside from a few days of anxiety and some irritating conversations with Canon’s repair department, all is well.

Partly related? Tangentially related? Anyway, somehow related if you use your imagination is that I got myself a new non-camera bag. My old and busted bag needed replacing because it was A.) old and B.) busted. Plus it was kind of a stupid messenger bag design with pockets on the main flap, which meant that every time you opened it they tried to spill their contents, even if zipped, and … yeah, enough talking about that. It sucked.

I set out to find a new non-camera bag and came across Rothco’s Classic Messenger Bag in black. If you do a Google search for that item [*] you will find that it is seriously popular because ZOMG IT IS JACK BAUER’S MESSENGER BAG, MOST MANLY OF BAGS EVAR.

I have never watched even one minute of 24 but by the time I finished price shopping across several sites and reading customer reviews I found that many men are convinced that this bag alone will allow them to kill terrorists. Me, I … um … *nervous cough* I ain’t got no terrorists to kill, but this bag does allow me to carry things to and from the office with ease.

Aaaanyway the point here is that some people said, “I even use this to carry my camera gear” and I thought that ludicrous. I have a Lowepro Slingshot 100 that has been my tiny heavy baby for a couple of years now. Okay, fine, it’s not the bag’s fault that it’s heavy, it’s the gear’s fault, but you understand. The Slingshot is like the perfect camera bag. I can’t imagine keeping my stuff in any other. But! Last night I had the strange desire to go photograph drunken tourists on Bourbon Street, something I have never done, and I didn’t wish to carry my conspicuous camera bag. I emptied out my Rothco Classic Messenger Bag (JUST LIKE JACK BAUER USES ON 24 AMIRITE) and put my camera body and two lenses inside. Turns out it did a fantastic job. I got the picture I wanted and I was comfortable during the entire excursion. The interior section was more than large enough for camera + lens, and the smaller pockets are the perfect size for additional lenses. Now don’t get me wrong – I won’t use this as my primary camera bag. All my gear is already packed back in the Slingshot. Should I ever again have a specific need for just camera + lens, though, I will consider the messenger bag.

I think that’s it.

Yeah, that’s it. Anything else?

How you been? How’s your camera?

Fine? Great.

Listen, I gotta … go … do that one thing. I’ll catch you later.

Anatomy of a Photo III
July 29, 2009, 11:17 am
Filed under: photography

Today’s Anatomy of a Photo is about the frustration of failure. Bear with me here as I ramble over, under, and around the point. Hopefully I’ll get there eventually.

The other day when I was at the craft store looking for spray adhesive to mount my most recent photo poster I found a set of fifteen glow stick bracelets for one dollar – assorted colors even. I love glow stick bracelets except obviously I never wear them nor do I know anyone that would, and they’re too small for cat collars, so … I bought them anyway. They seem like a good kind of emergency prop, you know?

Fast-forward a week or so and we arrive at yesterday. This is the part I can never explain, the part that revolves around the stupid things that happen inside my head without me asking them to. While cooking bratwurst I suddenly had a vision of a regular hot dog with a red glow stick poking through both ends (having been inserted through the dog longways). It was one of those moments I enjoy wherein I find the weird juxtaposition I’m always longing for. When I was a kid I was afraid to cut open a glow stick because whatever was inside was obviously not for eating and would probably kill you in horrible ways instead of turning you into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or something*. So what better thing to put a glow stick into but something you are supposed to eat? Or the other way around – what better to put into something you’re supposed to eat than a radioactive pink glow stick?

This is the other part I can’t explain – why that idea derailed and I never bought the hot dogs. I got fascinated with the idea of an atomic apple instead, using the green glow sticks. Why? I don’t really know. I think it has to do with the fact that glow sticks put off light (duh). To make them obvious and glowy, well, you have to photograph them in dim lighting. A hot dog is a complex beast with multiple toppings, all of which have their own colors, and all of which would be lost in murky light. So … better to go with an apple, a fairly recognizable shape (as long as you turn it so that the stem is in profile). A banana was also briefly considered but I feared it would turn brown around the entrance points while I was shooting, and who wants their fruit puncture wounds made so blatantly obvious? Not me. Not me.

With that great green apple in mind I went to the grocery store with an expired glow stick. We shop at a small neighborhood market where we know all the cashiers, which explains why eventually Pinky came up to me and said, “Kevin, what in the world are you doing?” I told her I was looking for the perfect apple for a photography project, and while saying so I bent the glow stick around the apple I had in my hand, pantomiming the awesome forces that were to be unleashed from this humble fruit. She shook her head and walked away. A different cashier completed my transaction.

Originally I had planned to use this apple as a test apple but I have a history of trying “test” photographs that end up taking forever and turning into the real thing because I have no patience nor willpower when it comes to waiting until the light is better tomorrow. In this case, well, it kind of ruined my photo. By the time I got home all my natural light was gone daddy gone and I resorted to using lamps, which never ever works for me and you’d think that with a few years’ of experience under my belt I’d have learned by now, but no. I haven’t.

I used a disposable chopstick (you keep those in your kitchen, right? They’re insanely handy. Ask them for extras next time you pick up your Chinese carry-out) to push holes in the apple because it (the chopstick) was the same diameter as the glow sticks. I originally wanted the glow sticks curved around the apple kind of like the atomic symbol, you know, an atomic apple, but the sticks were too short and wouldn’t make graceful curves but instead big bunny lump ears. I settled on straight through, then, like some kind of horrid landmine. A little spiky luminescent abomination.

I needed a base for this glowapple to sit on, of course, and I couldn’t think of anything interesting. Books? No. Wine bottle? No. Cat? Maybe, but no. Eventually I realized that one thing I rarely use in my photography is ice. Ice! I envisioned this glowing apple atop a hill of ice, shining like some tribute to radioactivity, the prize awarded annually to the grower of the best frankenfruit.

Just in case you were ever thinking of piling ice cubes into a mound, well, let me save you the trouble and state the obvious: ice is slippery and does not mound well.

So there I was, ice mound slipping into ice flats, the lighting also flat and lifeless since I was trying to use various combinations of lamps. The background was uninspiring and I couldn’t get the apple piled high enough to get it out of view of the baking tray I was using to collect the water from melting ice. I couldn’t make a far off telephoto shot work, and I couldn’t make a close-up wide-angle shot work, and oh did you know that cold will slow down the reaction inside a glow stick and make it last longer? This is cool if you need to keep one overnight, but in my situation the ends of the glow sticks that were resting on the ice were hardly glowing, while the other ends (in the air) were blazing away, so it just looked cheap and unbalanced.

Finally I got frustrated with the whole damn thing and just threw the pan, ice, glowapple and all into the kitchen sink and went to clean up the front room and put the lamps back in place. I reviewed one of my test shots on the computer and it was just as miserable as I feared. All this “work” lost put me in a foul mood – not to mention I had used the only three green glow sticks from the assortment pack, which meant I couldn’t do the apple shot again even if I figured out how to make it look good. I spent some time reading, some time goofing off on the computer, and by then I’d forgotten all about my miserable failure. I went into the kitchen to put my water glass in the sink and there it was.

There was something pleasant about the glowapple sitting in the sink in the dark, with the light from the street coming in. We’ve all gone to the kitchen in the middle of the night and seen the dishes in the sink. It’s the very picture of American domesticity. Okay, maybe you are perfect and wash your dishes every night, but some of us occasionally let it slide. Anyway, the apple set so innocently in the mix seemed to fit perfectly, while at the same time obviously it was something completely out of place. Likewise to me personally the moment seemed perfect – this monument to earlier failure tossed casually aside suddenly became the very thing it wasn’t: an opportunity for a decent photograph.

I went and got my camera, ramped up the ISO so that I didn’t have to dig out my tripod, underexposed the shot by two stops so that the room would remain dark and the exposure time would be short enough that I could do it hand-held, and … there you have it. Nothing at all like I originally envisioned, certainly coming across as a hand-held snapshot, but still containing a little bit of something interesting.