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Notes From a Native Son: Standing Still to See the Good Times Roll

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Cherren Bartholemy sports oversize sunglasses as a dance team rehearses on the Mississippi River levee before the start of the Point a la Hache community parade. Many small communities have their own parades some with handmade floats.

Finding fresh moments when photographing a place close to your heart can be a challenge. When that place happens to be New Orleans—a city so lively, complex, vibrant, and beloved that it is a character in itself—the challenge is tenfold. Especially when that character is in full expression during Mardi Gras time.

When Tyrone Turner was a kid, Mardi Gras meant competing with his brother and sisters to see who could fill up their bags with the most beads and doubloons, reveling in the freedom given by their parents to roam a prescribed four or five blocks in their Uptown neighborhood.

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“I love to photograph before the parade has begun, as the floats and marching bands are still trying to line up,” Turner says. Unexpected things happen, like the cheerleaders from Edna Karr High School being surrounded by the bubbles from an effects truck testing its systems in this photo from 2014.
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On Fat Tuesday, the Mardi Gras Indians come out of their respective neighborhoods and converge underneath the Claiborne overpass, the nexus of Mardi Gras for much of the black community. In a picture from 2013, Big Chief Victor Harris of Fi Yi Yi (also known as the Mandingo Warriors), walks down St. Bernard Avenue as the rain starts to fall. Two men stretched out plastic sheeting to protect his suit as the chief shouted one of his chants.
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This year’s Mystic Krewe of Barkus had the theme of “BARK WARS: The Return of the K9.” The parade meanders through the French Quarter, and at the end both dogs and children are tired and in need of attention.

As a newspaper photographer for the Times-Picayune, Turner covered the expected parade highlights from every vantage point, but it wasn’t until he returned to photograph the city post-Hurricane Katrina, no longer driven by newspaper deadlines, that he felt compelled to slow down and spend time around the edges.

He is particularly drawn to the energy—the potential and anticipation—to be found right before the main event of a parade or Mardi Gras ball. Here, it is about the poetry of moments frozen in a way that can only be realized using still photography. “Stills capture the feeling of standing in front of something and letting it unfold in front of you,” he says. “It takes a lot of work to get at the wonder and awe of the experience—it’s something I had to retrain myself to see.”

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Backstage at the Krewe of Isis Bal Masque, committeemen review the presentation lineup as the queen’s “mademoiselles” anxiously await the start of the tableau.
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“I am always drawn to the flambeau carriers during Mardi Gras. Their task seems medieval, lighting the way of the parade with fire,” Turner says. Before the Krewe of Orpheus parade, flambeau carriers put on the red capes that were issued to them as they prepare to start.
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“One of the carriers told me a story about being scared of the flames of the passing flambeau when he was young. That fear turned to fascination and he knew he wanted to carry a light,” Turner says. Here, a young man is ushered out into the street to start the route.

His favorite place to be is right in the middle of the action with a wide-angle lens. “I’m surprised with what I get most of the time. I feel like I haven’t gotten anything and I am surprised when I do. It’s a situation where you feel the poetry coming together.”

The city is like an onion, he tells me. The more he shoots these parades, the more he understands about the social fabric of New Orleans and the significance of this cultural tradition in strengthening the bonds of place.

“You only let loose when you are strong enough to do that,” he says. “Working your way to being able to party your ass off is an important thing.”

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During the Zulu ball, they announced that the “biggest second line in the world” was coming through. “Getting swept along with the crowd, I documented people dancing as well as their own experiences with selfies,” Turner says.
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The queen’s court gathers on the floor of the ball and looks on as Dr. Janice Sanchez is crowned this year’s queen of Zulu.
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The 2015 king of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Andrew “Pete” Sanchez, Jr., is greeted by the past kings of Zulu at the coronation ball.


Proof is partnering with New Orleans native son Tyrone Turner as he revisits the city he loves in the year leading up to the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. All of Turner’s posts can be viewed here.

Follow Turner on Instagram, Tumblr, and his website.

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