March 4, 2014 4:00 AM EST

To many, they are among the most recognizable symbols of traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras. Flamboyant, poised and ever-elegant, Carnival Kings and Carnival Queens were — and still are — elected annually to preside over the city’s early March celebrations. And yet today, one of the most prolific and talented photographers of old-time parade royalty remains little known outside Louisiana.

Because you can never have too many fictional, blond CIA agents on television, NBC has picked up Katherine Heigl's new drama series, State of Affairs. Unlike Claire Danes on Homeland, the Grey's Anatomy alumna won't be recruiting assets for overseas intelligence missions — instead, she'll give daily briefings to the President of the United States, played by Alfre Woodard. The women's intertwined histories only add to the pressures of the job: Heigl's character, Charleston "Charlie" Tucker, was engaged to the Commander-in-Chief's son before a terrorist attack claimed his life, and she's still searching for answers about his death. The show will be Heigl's first regular television role since the actress left Grey's Anatomy in 2010, Entertainment Weekly notes. [Variety]
Attributed to Joseph Woodson "Pops" Whitsell-Courtesy the Collections of the Lousianna State Museum

Renowned locally, “Pops” Whitesell — born Joseph Woodson Whitesell — was frequently commissioned to photograph New Orleans high society, from Mardi Gras Queens and blushing brides to cultural celebrities. Sinclair Lewis, Tennessee Williams, Hoosier Wayman Adams and Beverly Taylor are just a few of the artists who sat in front of his lens.

Whitesell was something of an inventor, too, constructing much of his equipment himself. He designed an enlarger by using an elaborate series of fans, levers, and floodlights. Whitesell also manipulated his negatives and prints, and was skilled at burning and dodging; heavy retouching; and even cutting figures out, re-arranging them, and then gluing them back together and re-photographing them. His inventiveness, however, was not solely limited to photographic equipment; it extended to contraptions for opening and closing curtains, mirrors for viewing visitors at the gate, and a version of an outdoor shower.

He called 726 Saint Peter Street in New Orleans home — an address that would become the city’s legendary Preservation Hall, an icon of American musical culture and the residence of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The photographs he made there defined Louisiana luxury in its early 2oth century prime. In that very studio, he drew inspiration from Dutch painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer, who used light and shadow to create intense character studies. He was known for photographing figural groups, and excelled in arranging subjects in naturalistic tableaux. Indeed, you can often find him among the crowd with his telltale cable release in hand. He was a keen observer of the natural and architectural landscape of New Orleans, turning his photographic eye to capture the Baroque mystery of the sultry French Quarter streets and the quiet solitude of Audubon Park’s live oaks.

I went to Intel's Chrome OS event this morning, which filled its San Francisco venue to the brim with new devices based on Google's browser-centric operating system--scads of new Chromebooks from major hardware makers, Chromebox mini-desktops and even an all-in-one machine from LG. It was an impressive showing, and I came away lusting after some of the models I saw. (I like my own Chromebook, an 11-inch HP with a Samsung ARM-based processor, but can be pretty pokey.) As usual at a Chrome OS event, part of the goal was to make the point that Chrome devices are doing well. Figures got quoted: Rankings and reviews at Amazon, and the fact that 10,000 schools have adopted Chromebooks. Certainly, the platform feels viable in a way which it once did not. Chromebooks took 9.6 percent of U.S. commercial sales of computing devices from January-November 2013, up from almost nothing in 2012. That's according to NPD's figures for the sales channels which target businesses, and it includes the iPad and other tablets as well as laptops and desktop PCs. For a computing platform which If you count only notebooks, Chromebooks have an even more impressive 21 percent market share. NPD says that 1.76 million Chromebooks shipped through U.S. commercial channels in the first eleven months of the 2013. Only 1 percent of PCs sold worldwide in 2013 were Chromebooks. In this case the numbers are IDC's. They're for the whole planet, not just the U.S.. and cover all sales channels, not just commercial ones. IDC says that 2.5 million Chromebooks were sold worldwide in 2013. At first blush, that sounds like it might conceivably jibe with NPD's figure of 1.76 million. Except that NPD's number was for sales to businesses, while IDC says that "virtually zero" of Chromebooks went to enterprises (ie, corporate customers). I can't reconcile that. Six of the top twenty laptops on Amazon are Chromebooks. ...including two of the top three models. And the single best-selling desktop on Amazon is Asus's Chromebox. That's compared to ten Windows models and four Macbooks. These figures are as of the moment I write this--Amazon updates them hourly--but they always make Chromebooks look like hot sellers. Looking at them, I can understand why Microsoft is concerned enough about Chromebooks to advise people not to buy them. As of January, Chromebooks accounted for only .2 percent of U.S. and Canada web traffic. Chitika released that figure in February, and it covers September 2013 through January 2014. It represents a doubling of Chitika's previous number, but it's still so puny that you might as well round it down to zero. [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="100"][/caption] All of these stats are at least a few months out of date, and they don't include some of the data which I'm most curious about. For instance, you can buy Chromebooks at Best Buy, Walmart and Target, but I haven't seen any figures on how they're doing. (For what it's worth, I checked BestBuy.com's laptop section, supposedly sorted with the best sellers up top, and the first Chromebook came in at number 23.)
Joseph Woodson “Pops” Whitesell/Courtesy The Historic New Orleans Collection, William Russell Jazz Collection

Born in Libertyville, Indiana, in 1876, Whitesell studied painting before discovering his natural aptitude for photography. After living in Illinois and South Carolina, an offer to work with the Anthony H. Hitchler studio brought him to New Orleans in 1918. Whitesell worked for several photographic studios in New Orleans before building his own darkroom and studio in old slave quarters at Saint Peter Street.

A bona fide French Quarter bohemian, Whitesell’s eccentricities often overshadowed his photography. Despite having been ranked among the top ten salon photographers of 1947, piles of his prints and glass negatives remain practically untouched in private collections, and in the archives of Tulane University.

Still, there can be no doubt that Pops earned his place in the unique and magnificent cultural landscape that is New Orleans.

Special thanks to: Ben Jaffe and Ron Rona of Preservation Hall; Anna Gospodinovich, Wayne Phillips, Tony Lewis, and Greg Lambousy of the Louisiana State Museum; and John Lawrence, Daniel Hammer, Jude Solomon, and Robert Ticknor of the New Orleans Historic Collection.


Melissa Cacciola is a New York and New Orleans based photographer who specializes in tintype and nineteenth-century photographic processes. Her Brass Band series, Brass on Tin, can be seen at Preservation Hall through March 30th, 2014.


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