Most of my photo essays are about serious topics. But lately I’ve been adding fun topics as well. Even when I do, there’s always a serious message lurking just below the surface and that’s the case in this story.
To celebrate my wife Tobi’s birthday we went to New Orleans, a city she had never visited. To get the full experience, we stayed on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. We knew it would be crazy, particularly at night. What we didn’t anticipate was being there on Halloween- that’s crazy on steroids!
This story got its start on the shuttle ride from the airport. The driver, a long time resident of New Orleans, offered a monologue about the city from its historical roots. The topic that caught my attention was his description of the yellow fever epidemic that occurred during the 1800’s: “If you got yellow fever there was a pretty good chance you were going to die; so what do people do when they think they’re gonna die- they have as much fun as possible.” That was his explanation for the constant party atmosphere in the French Quarter. Whether or not that’s the real explanation, the message I got was about living in the moment, a definite challenge for me. With that in mind, a story idea emerged for “NOLAween”: a reminder to live in the moment. We spent most of the day and late into the night on Bourbon Street. I photographed the revelers whose presentations ranged from simple masks to over-the-top costumes.
I thought a lot about the value of living in the moment that day. But the morning after I realized there can be consequences as well, and that became the story-within-the-story.
By NOLAween day, preparations for the evening were already in place. The iconic French Quarter balconies were the perfect place to watch the chaos for those lucky enough to get onto those perches.
Shops got into the act with all sorts of grizzly items in their windows.
The proprietor of a hat shop showed his latest creation. I was so impressed that I bought a hat, but not that style!
Many shops were on the street during the day handing out trick-or-treat candy.
Some dropped their treats from the sky which was quite a surprise to this passerby.
The balcony benefactor revealed.
People started performing early including these newlyweds. Assuming these were costumes rather than their usual attire, they show just how seriously people take NOLAween. Most people were more than happy to pose for pictures. I wished them a happy honeymoon, but they didn’t seem enthused- probably a second marriage.
Combining orange cargo shorts, green pants, flowered hat, one black sock, one white sock, and balloons with body painting was a creative masterpiece- some things just work.
Let The Games Begin
We stepped off the Steamboat Natchez at 9:00PM on NOLAween night after a great dinner cruise. We were hotfooting it towards Bourbon Street when we ran into a parade of bikes that seemed to be on fire.
They passed by and disappeared into the night.
Bourbon Street was totally packed- is that a leopard in the foreground?
It takes courage to go against the flow of this crowd.
The costumes shown on Bourbon Street ranged from simple to spectacular, with more of the latter. People put great energy and creativity into NOLAween. I’ve made an attempt to put costumes into groups.
There’s nothing easier than putting on a mask and heading out the door. Most of the masks were works of art in their own right... Is that a smile or a growl, or maybe something he ate?
Two faced- get’s you coming and going. Is that his hair or the mask’s hair?
Unmasked- he needed access for his Hand Grenade® cocktails.
Simple but effective- if he sneezes it could be dangerous.
Is that the Phantom of the Opera? No it’s a McDonogh 35 Roneagle. (McDonogh 35 High School, New Orleans)
The famous “baby oil and bandage” costume- but it’s so 2016.
Trump made several appearances at NOLAween. Looks like his “wind-power” was lighting that mask- who said he’s not into alternative energy.
The only thing scarier than her mask was that blue stuff she was drinking.
This guy could use teeth-whitening strips.
Is that Hannibal Lecter?
At least he has great eyes!
Even Presidents got into the act: “Hey Donald, it’s me Barack over here by the ATM... Long-time no-see bro.”
“Just between us Boar-Rock, do I look a little orange to you? I never ate Cajun before.”
Some people went for total emersion... This guy’s not living in the moment- he came out of costume for a call.
“I been diving all day lookin’ for a man-eating fish. Anyone seen ‘em?”
“I’m over here just finishing dinner.”
Rather than wearing a mask, some people painted their faces... Our friend from earlier in the day celebrated NOLAween with Pinnacle Vodka. It’s definitely the two different socks that made his costume work. And look at his eyes!
Love her NOLAween shirt.
“Aren’t You Gonna….Say Hello?”
Cheer up- it's NOLAween!
Many if not most people went to great lengths to create imaginative and very compelling costumes... The “Beast”.
What would NOLAween be without vampires?
Bela Lugosi would be proud.
WOW! I used this image to calibrate color on my computer monitor.
“Pardon me, I chopped your hand off by mistake- MY BAD!”
“Spirits Of Bourbon- Home of the World Famous RESURRECTION”, the blue drink seen on Bourbon Street. This is what happens after one too many.
Too much fabric softener.
Speaking of over-the-top: these police costumes were perfect right down to the Tasers and horses. (Just kidding- the police did a great job keeping NOLAween safe!)
Skeleton formal wear.
His hair and coat matched perfectly.
“Stickem’ up dude!”
This is what happens when you mix whites with colors.
“Comin’ through with tonight’s catch-of-the-day.” Cajun chefs will cook almost anything, or anyone, with red beans.
Her magic cape.
This is what happens when you shave with an old blade.
He got too close when a Tesla backfired.
Whatever she is, there’s another one in the background.
Elon Musk under cover with a new prototype.
The real Spider Man.
How did he get a date with Sigourney Weaver?
Rather than over-the-top, this is an over-the-bottom costume.
A NOLA tradition is throwing beads from above to the adoring crowd. People on the street will do all sorts of antics to get attention from the balconies... A few Hand Grenades® got these bead bombers in the mood.
Pirate choosing his victims.
Standing quietly just won’t do it.
Showing some energy. It looks like he's blowing fiery orbs.
She wants beads and won't take no for an answer!
She opens her magic cape.
“Hey up there!” (There’s a tradition for women to expose themselves for beads- she was about to make that move.)
It was this little doll who captured the prize!
NOLAween made me think a lot about living in the moment. I always live in the moment. Unfortunately the moment I live in is not the moment I’m living in… at the moment!! I live in anticipation of some future moment that may never come. As the years add up, that future gets less likely. NOLAween was a reminder to relish today because tomorrow may never come.
And what a reminder it was. People were so creative, so happy (at least on the surface), so friendly, and it was totally safe, except for the ear drums- it was so loud!
The next morning I got out just after sunrise to see the aftermath of NOLAween before any cleanups. It wasn’t so bad and certainly they are very used to this sort of party on Bourbon Street, like every night!
Someone left their shoe balanced perfectly on an old telephone box.
A mask left behind.
The condition of the street made me think more broadly about living in the moment. On one level it’s about smelling the roses and that’s a good thing. But there can be a dark side if living in the moment causes people to forget about the consequences of their actions.
That can lead to others having to clean up the mess, and that’s the story-within-the-story.
Published November 13, 2017