Residential neighborhood, Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans, after the Federal levee failure disaster during Hurricane Katrina. Photo credit: Infrogmation

A few years ago I started noticing many of my photos were getting uploaded to Wikimedia Commons–which was perfectly legit as I’d uploaded them to flickr using a Creative Commons license that allowed anyone to use my images so long as I received attribution. The Wikimedia uploads, mostly pictures of musicians, second line parades and politicians, were diligently attributed to me and increased the likelihood someone would see them. I liked the idea there was some guy out there who thought my photos were worth the effort–his effort, slight as it may have been.

At some point I finally connected that the guy uploading my pics to Wikimedia was one of my flickr contacts, Infrogmation. I poked around and found he was quite active in Wikimedia and Wikipedia, and judging by some of his photos, he seemed to play a little trombone. He didn’t shoot with a high end camera but he had a decent one (Canon PowerShot) and a patient eye and he covered a lot of ground (a good example of his dogged work is his series documenting Banksy’s graffiti art around New Orleans). He also uploaded photos he inherited of family members from the 1920s and 1930s and he had a good feel for oddball but revealing historical ephemera:

Caricature of notorious New Orleans prostitute Emma Johnson, from 1892. Johnson is depicted in a window with a fan, with tentacles reaching out to the sidewalk entrapping passers by, including two men, an old man, an adolescent boy, and a young woman. Source: "The Mascot" newspaper, 21 May 1892. Photographed from original copy by Infrogmation

When I decided to interview musician photographers, I thought it’d be a great excuse to finally figure out who this Infrogmation guy was. As it turns out, he goes by Froggy. His real name is on a need-to-know basis–and we don’t really need to know. I prefer Froggy to Infrogmation, so that’s how I’ll refer to him, except in photo credits.

Now, Froggy wants me to be clear that he got tagged Froggy long before he picked up the trombone, so it’s not like he took the name as a nod to the great New Orleans jazz trombonist Waldren “Frog” Joseph. That’s merely a coincidence, even as Froggy likes anyone who takes up the frog flag. Froggy just doesn’t want that kind of pressure on his trombone playing.

He has also been a longtime deejay on WWOZ, the much loved community radio station in New Orleans (though there’s always some wiseacre). He used to do the traditional New Orleans jazz show–and will again once he recuperates from a serious leg injury. It doesn’t look like it’ll be long before he’s back on the air. He continues his work as an Administrator with both Wikimedia and Wikipedia and does the occasional research gig.

His family moved around a lot when he was young but he settled in New Orleans full time in 1977. His father was a doctor and worked part time in the U.S. to make money to cover for the time he would spend as a volunteer with the CARE medical program in Central America, where Froggy also spent a good deal of time growing up.

We recently sat down over a cup of coffee and a digital voice recorder. My questions and comments appear in italics.

WWOZ Deejay

Froggy deejaying on WWOZ in October, 2008. The "closet" studio in the French Market was WWOZ's first sound proofed on air studio. Photo credit: Infrogmation

I deejayed at WWOZ starting about six months after they went on the air, in 1980-81. I was enjoying the music—I knew a little, I was no expert in traditional jazz but I had a few LPs I liked taking out and hearing them sometimes, but anyway, I was listening to the early programming on WWOZ and I gave a call one day, and got Walter Brock, the co-founder, and said, ‘Hey, I’m enjoying your shows, they have all this New Orleans music, but how come I’m not hearing any Jelly Roll Morton?’ And he said, ‘We don’t have any Jelly Roll Morton records. If you do, bring them down and play them on the air.’ Oh, okay. So I brought some LP reissues I had and loaned them to Big Mama, who was a longtime trad (jazz) programmer there, and she did some shows and then Walter Block said, ‘It sounds like you know enough to do some shows.’ And he sat me down with a reel to reel tape recorder, told me how to back it up without getting it messed up and try recording a few shows.

Studio of radio station WWOZ on Napoleon Avenue upstairs from Tipitina's. Infrogmation at the microphone, 1983. Photo taken by a relative of Froggy's

What name would you go under?

Various things. Often Dan Meyer. I was more oriented towards sharing the music than being an on air personality. I just started doing shows on ‘OZ because nobody else was doing them. I thought, ‘Gee, if I’m doing shows on this music I should start learning about it.’ So I started reading and going to the Tulane jazz archive [Hogan], wound up working there for a little while back when they had a whole lot more personnel.

Are you still dejaying for WWOZ? No, because of my leg injury. Oh, so when you’re better, you’ll go back?

I would’ve already but they lost a parking space that was right by the studio in some dispute with the French Market Corporation. … One thing that does make me a little sad is after all these years the New Orleans traditional jazz show that you hear so much music that’s not traditional jazz in that time slot. There’s a lot of great music that came out at that time. From the contemporary post-Dirty Dozen-Rebirth Brass Band scene, it’s great, we should have shows on that, rhthym and blues. The late Al Rose who co-wrote that book New Orleans Jazz: A Family Album, said back in the 60s he was having people say, ‘Don’t you consider Fats Domino and Tommy Ridgely to be traditional jazz?’ And he’d always say, ‘No!’ It’s not that they’re not good music but it’s something else that came from New Orleans. It’s the same thing with a lot of the contemporary brass band scene and all that. It’s important, it’s New Orleans music, but it’s something different from traditional New Orleans jazz. (New Orleans traditional jazz) is very important both historically and it’s still around today. I remember back in the early 80s I’d say to people, ‘New Orleans traditional jazz, when it’s well and creatively played, can as much contemporary as any other type of music is.’ And back then a lot of people would look at me like I was crazy. And in recent years I get people nodding their heads and saying, ‘Of course! Of course!’ So I’m glad to see that attitude (shift), that people realize that this is, it’s not just something that’s historic, it’s a living part of history.

Any good ‘OZ stories?

(The studio) used to be in an apartment above Tipitina’s. But a lot of people don’t know this, when (WWOZ) first started they broadcast from the transmitter in Bridge City, with just like a microphone and a couple tape recorders. Then within a month or two they got an apartment above Tipitina’s, which are now gone, they’ve raised the ceiling up. We had a little apartment up there.

That’s a good history to write—the WWOZ history.

It was sort of communal. Nobody did just a show. Sealed envelopes, swept the floor—I guess Ernie K-Doe they let get away with just doing a show, but otherwise people would do a bit of everything.

How many people were in the core back then?

Oh, about three dozen, I guess.

Really, that many?

WWOZ radio station, early studio above Tipitina's at Napoleon & Tchopitoulas. Station co-founder and first manager Walter Brock with reel-to-reel tape machine (c. 1982). Photo credit: Infrogmation

Yeah. Walter Ray Brock from the early year was the main person, he was really working hard. He used to go more as Walter and now goes more as Ray. He lives up in New York City now.

So he was kind of the backbone?

Yeah, he had been in community radio in Texas and he said, ‘New Orleans doesn’t have a community radio station? They need to get one here.’ He got a lot of opposition from people initially, people thought it was going to be some radical, far leftist plot. ‘Community radio—oh, that sounds like Commie to me.’ But it finally got off the ground. After a few years, (WWOZ) moved to Armstrong Park, in Treme, which was certainly a step up. On Napoleon Avenue we didn’t have air conditioning, and for a while the only running water was from a garden hose into a sink, a neighbor’s garden hose up through a window, so it was real basic, bare bones. So Armstrong Park was a step up. But for a while the station was sort of adrift for a few years in the late 80s. It was really the volunteers who kept things going. There were these sort of cliques, and for a while there were two cliques in the management that were changing the locks on the doors on each other, and one time I came to do my show, my key didn’t work and I borrowed a ladder from another building in Armstrong Park and went in through the second story window. And sure enough, turned on the transmitter and started doing my show. A few minutes later someone ran in, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘It’s the time my show is scheduled for and I’m going to do my show if I can.’ It got a lot better, fortunately. We got better management. After the storm, Armstrong Park was flooded. They had a separate transmitter in Armstrong Park for the power and that was a really low prioity for the city. Otherwise, there was just the lights in the park aside from the WWOZ studio. It’s supposed to be just temporary, but we’ve got two rooms in the French Market office building but it’s worked out so well we’ve worked up a long term agreement and we pretty much have the second floor in that building.

So you like the situation there?

Yeah, it’s wonderful going into the French Quarter. Although, when it was in the Treme, after I’d do my show I just go for a walk in the Quarter anyway. Not too far away.

For a while there (after Katrina) WWOZ was broadcasting out of Baton Rouge. I didn’t get up to do any of those. A few other people, like Fred Kaston at WWNO, were already back doing some shows here, and I was calling up to the people up in Baton Rouge, ‘We’ve got to get something back here in New Orleans because it’s so important for the city. I know it’s difficult.’ So when (WWOZ returned to New Orleans in December) we did a couple hours one day and the first full day back in the city I did a show. I was one of the people …We had two CD players, I’m not sure if we had a turntable or not, and one microphone. There was no telephone, so it was sort of strange doing the show and getting no feedback. Then I wandered out in the Quarter after work and ran into someone who’d heard the show and was glad to hear it.

What’s that like being a deejay there, people call in a lot?

One of the things that’s great we were one of the first local (radio) stations to start going out over the web, before that became common. After the storm that really kept us going because a lot of the donations were from people out of town. It really kept us going. In the 90s I remember I thought it was really something when I got a call from a listener in California, then Harvey Hays, who did another show there, said, ‘I just got a call from somebody in Sri Lanka.’


Do you like younger brass bands?

I like them but it’s not my focus. I figured if I actually got good at playing the old style maybe I’d try to branch out. Until I feel really proficient in that I’m not going to worry about adding other things to me repertoire. Evan Christopher is another person that can play many styles just wonderfully, like this archaic stuff from the 1910s, to modern, to Brazilian, absolutely magnificant. He was doing little groups at Chickee Wa Wa. I’ve heard him play with the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra and he was wonderful at that. He’s one of my favorites. I like some of the younger groups, like The Loose Marbles, Tuba Skinny. I haven’t been too much in the contemporary scene. I like it but it’s not really a focus. Back in the 80s sometimes we’d go to Glass House, catch the Dirty Dozen before they became real famous. I guess it’s been sort of reinforcing doing radio shows on this and then studying the history and writing it some and trying to play it, so it kind of feeds on itself.

Trombonist

Infrogmation of New Orleans. Photo credit: Infrogmation

I was sort of more into music history than (playing). I wanted to play when I was younger. It’s sort of funny, I asked (my parents) to learn a wind instrument when I was like in grade school, and my mother said, ‘No, that’ll ruin your teeth.’ Where she got that idea, I have no idea. So I only picked up the horn as an adult. Before that I sort of taught myself to play a little washboard, I had a little skiffle group, with a ukele and kazoo, sort of messed around in the early 80s. And I started following The Tumblers. Are you familiar with The Tumblers?

Sound familiar …

Well, I’ll have to do a little detour and tell you about The Tumblers. This goes back to at least the early 70s. It might go back a little further but a lot of them were people who played some instrument and just for fun they’d play another instrument, sort of a little bit of hippie culture, doing parades, early days at Dream Palace and around. It evolved into a sort of musical pub crawl. Anyone who has an instrument, dresses up in a silly costume—if you don’t have an instrument and want to dress up in a silly costume can just come—and we go from bar to bar in the Quarter and Marigny and play New Orleans brass band music in between. We do it several times a year. The Bastille Day Tumble was the last big one, some of them are playing for Dirty Linen Night, and a few professional bands have spun off from The Tumblers over the years, the most famous is the Storyville Stompers. (They) were some of the first musicians who wanted to get really serious from The Tumblers and form their own band. A few others—I was in one for a while, before the storm, The Sycamo’s. So that’s a background on The Tumblers. So I joined this group and played washboard but then one day we were on one of these long pub crawls, we’d all had a good bit to drink, and this gal who played trombone, Mustang Sally, goes into the bar and says, ‘Hey, Froggy, hold my trombone. I’ve got to go in and get another beer.’ ‘Okay.’ And, you know, so I just went, blap-blap. ‘Whoa, I can make a sound with this thing!’ And I’d just finished a project, and I decided to go to a pawn shop, (where I) got a used trombone, got a friend Layton Martin who was a professional musician but also sometimes played with The Tumblers, gave me a couple lessons but otherwise I was all on my own. I didn’t have any ambitions other than playing with The Tumblers … Another one of the groups that spun off from The Tumblers, who wanted to get a little more serious, the Sycamos, and that was my first regular paying band, about the year 2000. We had a bunch of people in the Carrollton neighborhood around Sycamore Street, were trying to think of a name for the group, so Sycamore Street, The “Sycamos”, like “Jock-a-mo” (Mardi Gras Indian song). I mainly started doing trad jazz. I’m no great shakes on trombone, no different from any other mediocre trombonist, I just try to do the old style. More the style of a mediocre trombonist from early 20th Century.

Who are some of your favorite trad trombonists?

Oh, of course, Kid Ory, Jim Robinson, a couple more obscure ones like Albert Warner, Tom Brown, who was an old Uptown trombonist.

What about contemporary players?

Fred Lonzo is certainly one. Rick Trolsen—he’s one of the few musicians who can play all sorts of different styles and play really excellent in all of them. There’s some musicians who play different styles but maybe if they’re playing with a different band than usual they sound like. ‘I’d rather playing something else, either more modern or more swingy or this or that.’ But Rick Trolsen really nails it no matter what he’s playing. I think he’s one of the best in the city. … Before the storm I got into doing more different things. I was playing with one group who had a weekly gig at the Circle Bar doing a sort of mixture of Mardi Gras Indian types things with brass band and funk. Did a gig with the Paul Gailiunas’ band. I just did one gig which was sort of funny—he gave me their CD to learn and I practiced playing a tailgate off the trumpet lead and I didn’t realize until the gig started that he hired me because there was no trumpet and he thought I was going to play lead. But he was such a nice guy. It was fun.

Anyway, before the storm I had a few experiences in appearing in things other than traditional jazz, but other than that it’s just been the old style trad jazz. Also had a band doing 20s style jazz. We rehearsed and had our audition at Fritzel’s, we passed and were going to play weekly. But the day of our first official gig turned out to be Evacuation Sunday (the day before Katrina when most of the city was busy evacuating).

Have you gone back there since the storm?

Not playing. I play the occasional gig and parties.

Did your experience playing, did it change your perspective of photographers or as a photographer?

I don’t know about ‘perspective’ but it certainly put me in different situations. You know, I’d have my camera out while I’m playing in the band. Sometimes, in between tunes, I’d put my camera above my ahead and snap in front of me an back of me and one side of me.

That is something as a photographer I have a certain amount of envy for—the idea of getting in the midst of all that.

Usually things are so chaotic I don’t have time to focus, but once in a while something turns out really nice. And one on Mardi Gras day a couple years ago was really nice …

Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans (2009): Krewe of Kosmic Debris revelers on Frenchmen Street. Photo credit: Infrogmation

Some of the younger bands have been playing more of the traditional music. The Hot 8, for example.

That’s another thing, since the storm a lot of people have realized how important the local culture is. We would just take it for granted and then suddenly we’re forced to exile to some place—one of my favorite quotes from when I was in exile in Texas was from another New Orleanian, something like, ‘Back home we put on a better party when a dog died than the people here can manage for a national holiday.’ Yeah, yeah. … In Austin, before we knew if were going to be able to come back, I and a couple other part time musicians found each other in evactuation in Austin, we were determined if we weren’t able to get back to New Orleans, by Mardi Gras day we were going to have a Tumbler Band parading in the streets of Austin. And I met a Mardi Gras Indian, who was determined if he couldn’t get back down, there were going to be Mardi Gras Indians on Mardi Gras Day marching the streets of Austin. And that was our thing we were starting to focus energy on before we knew if we could get back

That Mardi Gras in 2006 was special.

The Storyville Stompers let a few guests parade with them (on Fat Tuesday) and I was parading with them for that. The one thing I have to say—the dirges that Mardi Gras were some of the most beautiful I ever heard. So heartfelt, because everyone had someone, you know, they knew.

Photographer

A couple in protective gear embrace at the entrance to their mold infested flood damaged home, taking a break from seeing what can be salvaged of their possessions. (Oct. 2005) Photo credit: Infrogmation

As far as photography, it seems like you ramped it up a lot as a photographer after Katrina, like that sort of motivated you.

Yes. I’ve never considered myself a photographer. I come from a long family line of sort of amateur shutterbugs. I have old family photos, my great-grandparents took little Kodaks from 1910 to 1920s. Before the disaster I usually had a nice camera and a very cheap camera, and the thing is for Mardi Gras, events, you know just walking around town, I’d have my cheap camera. And now I wished I’d taken my good camera. But I was always afraid it’d get broken or stolen or whatever.

Tire repair shop, St. Claude Avenue, Bywater section of New Orleans. Sign prohibits loitering, selling of crack cocaine, and "cat selling" (a slang euphemism for prostitution). "NOPD will be called" refers to New Orleans Police Department. (2009) Photo credit: Infrogmation

In my own pictures and in other people’s photos, I’m influenced a lot by the FSA and WPA photographs of the 1930s. You have a couple types of the documentary. You have the obvious documentary, ‘Here’s this famous building,’ or ‘Here’s this particular political event.’ You also have the documentary (images) of just normal, every day life that have a really good sense of time and place. So I sort of look for things that have, say, the feeling of New Orleans in 2011, that show the same way a photo by Dorothea Lange or Russell Lee showed, say, Texas in 1936. I look for photos where you get that same sense of time and place.

Louisiana State Lottery Company Office Building, New Orleans. Engraving showing 19th century view of building, formerly at corner of St. Charles Avenue & Union Street. Not dated. Probably 1870s or 1880s. US publication confirmed in 1922. Artist not credited. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Infrogmation

You sort of curate these images.

Yeah, that’s one thing I do. To give some background for people who don’t know, Wikimedia Commons is the photos and images amassed in a media sister project of Wikipedia, a project to get free-licensed images, which means either public domain or images shared by the author under loose restrictions that allow for reuse without many other restrictions other than attributing the photographer. A lot of Creative Commons licenses, things like that. Because Wikipedia’s lawyers determined those are the types of licenses that should be used for content that can be freely distributed. Of course people disagree on what copyright laws should be, and I think there’s a lot of things to argue with it, but let’s work with what rules we have is what we’ve decided to do with Wikimedia.

How long have been involved with it? From the beginning?

Fairly early, 2002 Wikipedia, and I got on fairly soon after Wikimedia started, which was a couple years after Wikipedia. I was mostly doing historic images and I was just starting to take a few photos because, before the storm, Wikipedia had evolved to the place where it was starting to get to a few sub-articles on New Orleans, like there was an article for Uptown, an article for the French Quarter. So it started out, ‘Well, let’s take a couple photos.’ And, unfortunately, I hadn’t taken any photos outside of the sliver by the river (before Katrina). But I got to Lakeview almost every week. I had an old friend, Dick Allen, who was a co-founder of the (Hogan) Jazz Archive (at Tulane University). He was retired in the French Quarter, and we’d meet for lunch once a week and he used to go out to Lakeview, just because it was a total change from where he’d be in the Quarter, because he didn’t have a car, so I should’ve been snapping photos (in Lakeview). But anyway. This influenced my photos, so I have to detail this: The week before Katrina I had a couple old friends staying in town, and then some other people were visiting, passing through, including some people who’d just sold their place in Waveland, Mississippi (on the Coast) and were moving up to Arkansas and making a stop in New Orleans on the way. They used to live in New Orleans, years ago. They said, ‘Oh, let’s go to some of our old haunts.’ We went out to, what was the name of it, Sid-Mar’s on the Bucktown peninsula? It was the one right on the Bucktown peninsula that was totally smashed down to the foundation—we ate there like 5 days before Katrina. I was eating at places in Mid-City, Lakeview, you know, going to all these places, if I’d just, a week before the storm, if everywhere I went taken one or two pictures, I could’ve gotten so many things that aren’t there no more.

Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina: Bucktown on the shores of Lake Pontchartain (the lake itself is visible in the distance at right) was devastated by storm surge. Little remains of a house other than concrete steps and scattered possessions gathered on them. Photo credit: Infrogmation

You feel a little haunted by that.

Yeah, yeah. So that’s why when I got back into town (I started taking pictures). I’d also just gotten my digital camera to document whatever was left of my house when I got back, which I had no idea. But then I started carrying it around and after the storm there was hardly anything open. I was an early returnee. I came back to the Carrollton neighborhood before power and water came back (in October). Fortunately power and water came up pretty quickly afterwards, so it was a couple days. Between clearing up branches in front my place and my neighbor’s place and going around. My friends were saying, ‘Can you check on my house?’ So I started going around taking pictures with my camera. Occasionally, sometimes, something things were just a little too much to take.

Yeah, I had the same kind of uneasiness.

Especially when you see all these personal possessions just totally trashed. Conflicted. I think the only time I really got totally overwhelmed was maybe beginning of October, end of September, the first time I went down to Plaquemines (Parish). I’d already been to St. Bernard (Parish), I took some photos in Arabi. You know, houses off their foundations, smashed, the whole thing. It was just too much. But anyway, I started documenting, and of course there were so many misconceptions that you heard in the media right after. So I started just documenting what was there.

After the 2005 flood in the Broadmoor neighborhood. Photo credit: Infrogmation

Even before the reports came out, I started doing amateur sleuthing, taking photos of where the levee breached, where I could see the floodlines and this and that. Wound up getting some of my photos used in Harry Shearer’s film The Big Uneasy. One of the producers who contacted me said my photos had some of the things they were looking for—I’m not quite sure what it was, but he said something like, ‘Everyone else was only looking at this angle, and you’re the only person to turn around and take the photo looking in the other direction at the same time by one of the levee breaches.’ I wish I knew exactly what photo he was talking about, but evidently I was doing something–

–Have you seen the movie yet?

Yeah, I have. I went to the premiere at The Prytania. Excellent movie.

So you didn’t recognize your picture?

I saw a couple of my photos. I’m not sure which one it was he was referring to.


What’s your take on the whole Mardi Gras Indian controversy? They want to copyright their constumes and so forth.

Because they’re trying to do that copyrighting their costumes, I think that came up in ’09 or ’10 that they first came out (with a declared copyright), I haven’t uploaded anymore Mardi Gras Indian photos since then, in case they decided to uphold this. I assume all the photos from before they registered will be grandfathered in. I’m sort of conflicted. From what I understand about U.S. copyright law is that costumes and clothing by long practice had been established as not being copyrightable if you’re in a public place. If you’re in a public place, whatever your wearing, someone can take a photo of you without violating copyright. On the other hand, saying, ‘This is art work’—of course it’s art work. It’s sad people making money off someone else’s work. So I don’t know. From being an amateur copyright wonk—just by default from working with material for a long time– I’m not sure it will ever hold up, if it actually gets challenged in court, but I’d like to see the Mardi Gras Indians have more rights one way or the other.

So in deference you’ve chosen not to upload anymore?

Yeah.

I consider myself more as a guy with a camera than a photographer. I see so many people who have these wonderful eyes, frame things wonderfully, and man, they’re so great, and I know I don’t do that. But I also know from history working as an archivist and an amateur historian and sometimes professional historian that a lot of history has been documented not just by professional photographers but also by some person with a camera who was there at the time.

You’ve got to be there, right.

And that’s an important document, too.


Any professional photographers complain about your providing free stock photography?

No. None have ever complained to me. I think some professional photographers are somewhat resentful of the fact they have competition providing photos for free, but I guess that’s part of the nature, the more democratic the media … some people are real excellent artists who deserve (the recognition). I guess we have two conflicting points. People who make creative, artistic contributions, sure, they deserve to be compensated for it, but information that’s important needs to be shared. If it can be shared widely, it should be, because people need access to information. I like that you license most of your photos for reuse under Creative Commons—I think you and Bart Everson I’ve been the most impressed with documenting New Orleans life and sharing your photos under free licenses and I think you two people I’ve most often copied some of your photos to Wikimedia.

Wikipedia & Wikimedia

New Orleans Mardi Gras, 1907: Krewe of Proteus costume design by Bror Anders Wikstrom. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Infrogmation

What do you see as the future of Wikipedia? You may have seen the article that was out a few days ago about the first generation of editors dropping out and not being replaced.

Yeah, this imminent death of Wikipedia, I doubt it. I think there’s some of it—it’s not as easy for newcomers to come in—there’s several issues. One is that Wikipedia is a lot greater, a lot higher level that it was 8 years ago, it isn’t just something that any person with a reasonable high school education, off the top of their head, could improve half a dozen articles, start three or four subjects that no one had written on yet, just from what they know off the top of their head. In the early years of Wikipedia it was like that. A lot of low hanging fruit is mostly gone now. Part of it is that. And a lot of the articles are slowly getting better. There are a lot of problems, but things are slowly getting better. People are actually putting references in, but that makes it harder for someone who isn’t serious about it to know how to do this, how do you make a reference. Any person who thinks there’s nothing going on with Wikipedia, or it’s slowing down, well, look at recent changes. I started doing Wikipedia back when it was really easy, a part time thing you would do in the evenings after work. You could look through every change that was made to Wikipedia all day.

Oh, man. That’s over now.

Yeah, it’s far past that. So, now, there’s hundreds every hour. A lot of it is junk. Actually, personally, I think allowing anonymous people to edit was probably a good idea to help get it started but they probably should’ve done away with it about 5 years ago.

You can still do that?

Yeah, you can still edit anonymously. I don’t know what percentage, but a lot of it is just silly vandalism and students putting in things. It’s slowed down things because various editors—even if it’s just, ‘That edit is junk, revert,’ no more than taking a couple seconds to push a button to revert it, it’s still taking time from people who want to do something serious. For one thing, that Atlantic Records article, for several years it was held back because people saw Weird Al Yankovic made a reference to ‘Atlantic Records, you suck,’ because he had some dispute with Atlantic Records, for years all these people were replacing the content of Atlantic Records with “YOU SUCK”. So, ha ha. After the first few hundred times it’s beyond old. It’s only been recently that we’ve gotten some stuff into the (Atlantic Records) article that should’ve gone into it years ago, just because it was slowed down by all that stuff.

Any prospect of that rule changing?

I haven’t heard anything. As I said, that’s my personal preference. Almost anyplace on line where you’re doing to comment on a blog, usually you’ll have to log in. I think they should’ve done that years ago, but …

Yeah, I’m a couple of things. The correct term for what I am on English language Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons is ‘Administrator’ …

Three United States tourist women, Moroccan tour guide and two camel handlers (at either end), with camel. Near Tangier, Morocco, September, 1965. From family photo collection inherited by Infrogmation.(That's Froggy's grandma in the cat-eye glasses)

A lot of times people come on (Wikipedia) and someone comes along and pushes a button and erases the edit you did and you think, ‘Oh, they must be a gatekeeper.’ But if you stick around, if you’re actually trying you’ll probably receive a message like, ‘Well, that’s a nice thing but that was debunked by so and so. If you’d actually read the footnotes on this thing you’ll understand why your edit wasn’t good.’ But unfortunately there’s so many people who are passing by vandals that often what’s wrong, as opposed to honest people making a serious attempt, and it’s not always clear which is which. So sometimes established editors are curt with newcomers who are well intentioned, and people are sort of hurt, which is unfortunate. There are about 2,000 SysOps, which has a few (responsibilities), can rollback, can protect a page from vandalism—you know, you have 20 people changing the article to say ‘You Suck’ in a day. So you can say: ‘Only registered users can edit this page for the next week.’ You have powers like that. You can move a page from one title to another. Things like that. You’re granted a whole lot of autonomy, which has good aspects and bad aspects …

Have you ever met any other Wikpedia editors?

A few times. A couple times when someone was passing through New Orleans. There are occasional meet-ups but I haven’t gotten to many that are in driving distance from here.

Is there a community of other New Orleans people editing or writing for Wikipedia?

Not really. We tried to get one started. There are half a dozen New Orleans area people. A couple people in town, a couple people north of the lake, in the greater New Orleans area, doing good work. Some are more focused on political stuff.

There’s a pattern here. You’ve got the Wikipedia, Wikimedia, community radio. There’s a lot of volunteer, not for profit, an ethos.

I share New Orleans culture. That’s my problem—I do too many things I think are important, I wish more of them I was able to get paid for.

Yeah, that’s the rub.

Hansen's Sno-Bliz, New Orleans. Open for the 2010 season. A pinapple and necta-cream sno-bliz. Photo credit: Infrogmation

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Derek Bridges lives in New Orleans, trading in words and pictures. A carpetbagger of long standing, he grew up in the top right corner of IL and later went to college in the middle cornfield part. He has also lived in MS and FL, for educational purposes only, and was diasporized for a time in TX.

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