Of a New Orleans Second Line, Funerals, and Street Photography Papparazzi, My Life as a Witness / by Zack Smith

A musician holds his trombone as close as he does the Allen Toussaint memorial program book. 11/20/15 ©Zack Smith Photography

A musician holds his trombone as close as he does the Allen Toussaint memorial program book. 11/20/15 ©Zack Smith Photography

As I was about to head out the door this morning I remembered I had such a strange dream last night. We were at the funeral for a still living New Orleans music legend and I was going to say some words. Now let me get this straight - I did not personally know this person but for some reason they asked me to say some parting words. When the moderator soon called my name as "Alex" to come up and talk, I smiled, as people do call me that sometimes ( there's also Josh and Max, but more on that later). As I got up to speak, I saw a who's who of New Orleans musicians I had photographed over the years looking on and I got kind of nervous. I rarely get nervous for speaking, but on occasions where I am not prepared I do get quite anxious. 

As I got up to talk I realized that what I had to say only lasted a short while, and the rest of my speech became papers and papers of photography workshop notes, items not relevant to my crowd or the occasion. Just then my step mother walks up and says in a few subtle words, to "wrap it up" and I did.

So what does it mean? I don't know. I think it's the spirit land telling me to hustle on getting these Allen Toussaint Memorial images done so I can share them with the world in a proper way. After so many opportunities I still feel awkward shooting a New Orleans funeral. Ernie K Doe, Antoinette K-Doe, Tootie Montana, Uncle Lionel, have all been attended and shot by me but never in a good comfort zone. Rarely have I personally known the person, and on the occasions that I did, taking out and shoving my camera in front of someone to take a picture of the casket is the last thing I want to do. I saw so much of this attitude and aggressiveness at the Toussaint memorial: people arguing about someone "being in their spot" or "too close to my camera". Even though I was documenting the event for the producers of the memorial and the Toussaint family, I never felt the need to mark my territory or stake my claim on the asphalt for the good shot. 

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At times I felt fine just where I was because that's where I needed to be. I saw that day not as an event we were watching but a shared communion of the grace Mr. Toussaint left behind. His message and his magic have helped us live the stories we could only live in New Orleans as the soundtracks to our lives. His kindness and smile will be missed but his music is alive.