If I were to sell any prints or images of costumed Mardi Gras Indians, I’d certainly split any profit with the Indians. However, I don’t get the impression most photographers work that way.
Generally, though, everything I shoot is available through a Creative Commons license, a practice I’ll continue until someone pays me to do otherwise. I’ve uploaded probably hundreds of pictures of Mardi Gras Indians onto my flickr page. I’ve always thought of it as a way to celebrate the culture, and maybe in some marginal way to raise its profile. Plus, street photography is what I’m most drawn to, and I simply can’t get past what a freaky sight it is to see Indians walking in the street. I live a block from 2nd & Dryades. I can’t resist.
A lot of musicians feel exploited by photographers as well. I sympathize. As much as I enjoy shooting musicians performing, I always feel a little dirty about it. It’s too easy almost. (Secondlines are another story).
So this mistrust of photographers is part of the reason behind an idea I had a while back based on the famous 1958 photo by Art Kane of dozens of Harlem jazz greats. I thought maybe doing a variation of Kane’s shot featuring just New Orleans jazz musicians, or just brass bands, or just Mardi Gras Indians, would be a fabulous thing. Maybe it could be a way to raise money to benefit musicians or Indians:
And given all of the photographers who feed off the work of the musicians [and Mardi Gras Indians] in this town, wouldn’t it be great to make it a fundraiser of a kind, like, say, $5-$10-$20 a head for access to prime shooters’ real estate on the stage, with the proceeds going to the Musicians’ Village or the New Orleans Musicians Clinic [or directly to the musicians/Indians]?
And maybe the photographers would be required to sign a statement promising to share the proceeds from the sale of any images.