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Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Cinereal Mardi Gras - The Dark Side of Carnival

Many years ago I was asked by a friend why I didn't create more art that tourists would buy. It was a simple answer. I don't create the same art that a thousand others create. I wanted my work to reflect a unique aspect and not the same thing that every tourist wanted in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

I'd seen too many artists sell out to the easy buck. No offense to those who make a living with such art. 

I have one major rule in my career as an artist. "The artist with the most unique ideas is the artist that gets remembered." 

A good example was a recent estate sale that I attended of a great artist who had passed away. Her home was filled with her work. There was a variety of styles and compositions, but there was nothing that jumped out and said to me "this artist was truly unique'. Again the work was good, but it was the same as a thousand other artists I'd seen over the years. 

It is for this reason that while I have photographed the yearly Mardi Gras celebration for many years, that I rarely share the photos. Why? Because I am fighting with hundreds of others up and down the parade route who are doing the same thing. Why bother? What sets my work apart? For many years, absolutely nothing. 

As my photography work began to merge with my art, I started to see a new possibilities  and I began my surrealism series "A Step Beyond the Vieux Carre". Here there were possibilities for creating something truly different from every tourist and artist who snapped a photo of this majestic city. 

To date the series has hundreds of images. Some were taken years ago and some more recently. But they all share a surrealism that is more real in this city than what the average tourist ever sees. 

There are many images in the series of the most surreal part of New Orleans life "Mardi Gras". But a simple fact exists. Mardi Gras is already surreal! Its difficult to take an already surrealistic image to the next level. I've done it, but it is some of the most difficult imagery I work with. 

So what now? As another Mardi Gras approached, I considered going out and catching a few new images to work with. But should I begin to look in another direction than the series I had created?

A few months back I'd developed a new techniques that I called "heavy line black and whites".  I used the technique effectively in October to photograph the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel. 

Something about the strong bold line work really appealed to me. It brought an otherwise documentary photograph to a surrealistic level. 

So I wondered if the technique could be revised to work with Mardi Gras imagery. The idea was appealing to me. We all focus on the colors of carnival season. What would happen if I applied the concept here? Not just black and whites but subtle hues and heavy line work both on day and night images? 

I began experimenting a bit using older images taken over the past few years and taught myself the things that needed to be in the images to make the concept work right. It just didn't work with some images, and worked great with others.  I developed a series of images (seen below) that I felt represented the idea the best. And with this completed I can now engage fully with this years Mardi Gras and see if I can develop it into a new series. 

One last note. The name. I wanted something a bit surreal for the name of the series and I looked around for words that represented the concept of gray scale the best. The definition of the word "Cinereal" shares its roots with the word incinerate, which is simply to reduce something to ashes. It was representative in many ways. It not only was a good definition of what I was attempting with the images, but it also represented the day after Mardi Gras ended. Mardi Gras peaks on Fat Tuesday, which is the day before "Ash Wednesday". What a perfect word for this! 



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