Gypsy Storytelling through Photography :: New Orleans, Louisiana :: Popography
  • Artists
May 16, 2012

We had the privilege of staying in downtown NOLA last fall when my hubby returned for his 10 year class reunion. I shot an engagement the morning of the reunion and I had made big plans to try out some street photography the next morning. My husband was not too excited when I woke him up and grabbed the camera. I enticed him with the thoughts of the little cafe and warm beignets. We grabbed some coffee and a sugary treat and started to walk the streets. It was a magical morning. I hope you enjoy the story as much as we enjoyed experiencing it. This was also featured in the Las Vegas Photographer online. I will link you to that as well.

September 2011- New Orleans, LA

Storytelling is our way of holding the truths of the present for the future to remember. Anyone who knows me, knows I can tell one heck of a story. This is the very thing that inspires my photography work. People are my business, my lifeline & the reason I continue to do what I love. I like to say I shoot relationships, journeys & memorable events. Nothing is too small nor too big.

Some people can go on and on about how photography was their dream job or maybe they have been taking photos most of their life, but I am not that person. I was an elementary music teacher for 7 years and just recently resigned to take my photography business full time. My mom shared her secret wishes of being a photographer and how it was ‘too late’ for her to begin taking photography more serious. Her dream somehow became mine.  I started to realize that the disposable cameras I carried around for the last 10 years could be upgraded to something fancier. Something Digital! After looking through hundreds of 4×6 prints my family has collected and seeing the memories stored in the top of my parents laundry room in giant Christmas popcorn tins—I realized there was a passion for preserving. Nonetheless, I spent every penny I had on my first DSLR. After photographing every friend, neighbor & child I knew, I decided this was something I could get used to.

People have always been important to me. I want to continually walk in humility and learn the stories of those that may go untold. I want my photographs to serve as footprints and memoirs of things that once existed. It’s truly an honor for someone to put their trust in me to cover some of their most important events or share their story through photos with the world.

This particular session was a spur of the moment session. No plan of attack. No prep time. Just a single dollar bill and a camera. It was approximately 11am on a Sunday morning on Royal Street directly across from Bourbon Street in downtown New Orleans. The streets had just been given a good soapy scrub and the hustle and bustle of morning goers filled the sidewalks. There was the occasional straggler left sitting on a street corner from the night before with their head in their hands trying to avoid any contact with the human kind. I’m guessing they probably had way too many Hurricane Drinks the evening before. The city is alive and I’m also guessing most of the people up this early were not on this very street the night before when the smell of cold beer and jazz music filled the air.

I was on a mission. A mission to find someone unique. A story.
I was passing this young man with a skirt made out of a cloth material and knotted on the side and not a stitch of clothing more. His hair was wrapped up in a high ponytail and his facial hair showed no signs of taming. I told my husband as we walked by that this was the guy. He was going to have a good story and I was going to shoot with him today. We snuck into a nearby hat store to kill time while he set up his drum and assorted instruments. I guess about 10 minutes went by and we walked back towards the stranger. Almost immediately I noticed a sign sitting inside of his drum. “Please leave tip AND THEN take a picture. Thank you”. I just looked at my husband and chuckled. He wasn’t even set up when I threw a $1 bill in his box. I told him that I was tipping him before I even knew what he was going to do and that I was just roaming the streets looking for “cool” people. He said he always wished he were “cool”. I replied, “me too.” He continued to set up his gear and I asked him if he minded I took some portraits of him. I didn’t really want to refer to these as pictures because I knew the power that would come from them later. Portrait seemed to be a fancier word and maybe he wouldn’t mind so much. He had no reservations and continued to set up. As he was dressing himself with bells and kazoos I continued to talk to him. He revealed he was a gypsy of sorts- a traveler. He had been in New Orleans for a few years and liked performing on the streets. But his time would soon end here and he would move on. He actually has an 8-piece band, but today would only be him and his saxophone player. His tattoos were plentiful and unique. He took a moment and I held his hands to detail all the artwork. Purposeful and well-placed markings that told his beliefs and the story of who he was. He had a very easygoing, positive vibe about him. Very soulful. It was time to play. He warmed up his kazoo and had to replace it with another kazoo because that one just didn’t sound right today. I stepped back and watched as one of the most unique performances began to play out. I shot. I got video. I gave a simple wave and thanked him. Street photography was never really an option. I like the fact there is no formal money exchange, no hiring, but a highly inspirational conversation and photos that hold that feeling for a lifetime.

My name is Leaha Bourgeois and I’m a people photographer from Dallas/Fort Worth.

Gear used on session: 5d Mark ii, 50mm 1.2 & a dollar bill.


Here is some live video footage of what we experienced 🙂


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