The old steel wharf extending over the Mississippi River has been a fixture near downtown Baton Rouge for as long as I can remember. For years I’ve wanted to check it out, so when I began scouting for a senior photo shoot for Morgan Crysel I headed directly to the derelict structure.
I couldn’t believe what I found once I clambered up to the platform. The walls were covered with graffiti, offsetting the decades of rust. It was a photographer’s dream. I immediately took a quick iPhone photo and emailed it Morgan’s mother — who responded immediately that they loved it. Even after I explained that it would require some climbing and careful footing (the steel decking was rusted through in numerous places), they wanted to make that our studio for the afternoon.
The only problem was the mid-afternoon sun, which was blasting the wharf. So I continued scouting for locations we could use while we waited for the sun to drop farther toward the horizon. An apparently abandoned brick warehouse near the old Goudchaux store provided the perfect background.
By 3 p.m., we were back at the warehouse, but most of the doors were open and crews were working awa
y inside. I’m sure they wondered what we were doing as we trudged past the building carrying umbrellas, flash stands and all manner of gear. But we found a stretch of the warehouse in which the doors were closed and set up to shoot.
The wall was in the shade, so there were no harsh shadows with which to contend. The images came out gorgeous, but after 30 minutes we had pretty much depleted the options. Off we went, headed back to see if the wharf was in better light.
On the way, we saw a building that was completely — and apparently professionally — graffitied. The only problem was that it was in the middle of, shall we say, the shadier part of town. But Morgan and her mother were troopers, and we pulled off and set up. One wall had some really cool eyes surrounded by neat sayings, but Morgan said she wanted to get on the street side, which was boldly colored.
As we shot the last of the images, the area’s residents hooted and waved as they passed. One even offered to join Morgan for the shoot. What began as a bit of a sketchy feel turned fun, and it was obvious most of the residents loved the fact that we were showcasing their wall art.
When we finally arrived back at the wharf, I hauled all my equipment over the levee and set up a 6-foot ladder so we could easily get up on the structure. A couple of kids helped me, and we were soon set up, shooting near the front of the wharf. It was amazing how many people were bypassing the “No Trespassing” sign to enjoy the afternoon over the river.
As the sun sped toward the horizon, we walked to the end of the wharf — and were excited by what we found. A huge concrete pad not only made it feel a lot safer walking around, but it held up the shell of an old building that was covered with graffiti. So we started shooting inside, where the sun wasn’t a problem.
Morgan’s mother walked around looking for a likely areas to shoot, and came back excited: Someone had spray-painted Morgan’s name on the outside wall. Of course, we had to shoot that, and it turned out to be one of my favorites of the shoot.
The three hours we spent shooting generated almost 40 poses, and the images were just incredible. It was a lesson that I won’t forget: The world is a studio, and it’s up to me to get out and find the best locations.