It was a beautiful day in New Orleans. I was doubly excited. Soon I would not only be photographing, but living a unique experience. I had been following the obituaries on the newspaper ever since I had moved into the city as a stringer for the A.P. bureau. Not that I am obsessed with the dead or the dying, but there were a few things on my list to photograph while here: the city, voodoo ceremonies, and a jazz funeral.
New Orleans, after New York City had been good to me. Very good indeed. I had let my hair loose, relaxed, enjoyed the humidity and the heat, and the very unexpectedness of life. The city was alive. It was not “alive” as in alive with people, like they never slept. It was the city itself that was alive! It, she, lived, breathed. I loved the fact that to the puritan Boston and to the hyper New York as well as to the rest of the big cities of the United States, she held her head high. To every pauper, there was a rich person, to every white, one black. It ran in contrasts, it teemed with contrasts, it lived on contrasts, and it, she, did not care.
The streets lined with wood houses, some beautiful in their time, but in desperate need of repair. But for every modestly rotting old house, there was a sparkling new mansion.
At night, after the tourists retired to their hotel rooms, the musicians would meet up, and jam with the city and its lurkers, its people, until the dawn broke somewhere over the levy towards the east.
Jackson square would be empty by then, Bourbon Street, all but a late drunkard pissing on a corner. Everyone, almost everyone would be in Vaughn’s, where past midnight huge pots of rice and beans would be served, next to bottles of Louisiana hot sauce.
Back in 1998, that was my city. Not quiet anyone’s by nature, but I liked to think for the brief period that I lived there that it, she, was mine. With its crime, its tolerance, its beauty and its decay, its music, its noise, its colors and its shades, New Orleans was a good place to die.
So, on that sunny morning, sipping my coffee in my black tiled kitchen, and perusing the Times-Picayune spread over the counter, I saw exactly that. An announcement for a jazz funeral, in the obituaries section. Before long, me and my camera was at the place where the ceremony would take place. Me, a large crowd of mourners, the casket, and a big brass band…