Thirty Happy Minutes Looking for My Own Art. A Midday Adventure with a Panasonic GH5 and an 8-18mm Lens.

Woman and child head to the Ellsworth Kelly Installation at the Blanton Museum.

As administrator for my father I do all kinds of things I'd rather not do; like talk on the telephone to probate attorneys and doctors, pay his bills, generate spreadsheets, keep tabs on his general welfare, buy him new shoes with Memory Foam(tm) soles... etc. All this stuff takes practice and patience. 

Another thing that's not high on my list is consulting with small businesses about advertising and marketing. My endless refrain: "It's not enough to have a great, kick-ass website with scrolling graphics--- you also have to have a strategy to get them TO the website!" Sometimes we get stuck because someone wants to pick the colors for the logos before we even select a graphic designer...
I'm jinxed because I did advertising in what was a small town (Austin) for nearly a decade before hitting photography mostly full time...the town has a long memory.

Then there was the copy for ad that was due today before noon to a specialty medical practice. I can write ad copy in my sleep but sometimes the ink leaks out the pen onto my pillow and makes a mess. I decided to do that today too (no, not leak ink; write the ad...). It seems that no matter how hard I try to be "just a photographer" someone is pulling me in one direction or another.

So, around noon today I shut down the computer machinery, reached over and smacked the iPhone with a large, iron mallet, grabbed a camera and lens and escaped from my office. I was dressed in artist/photo attire. A loosely hanging white, button down dress shirt (complete with wrinkles for that "This artist must sleep in his car" look), an ancient and weathered pair of khakis, with holes in the pockets, a cheap pair of fake leather sandals from Costco that I bought for $19,  and some sort of silly "Just in from hiking the prairies" straw hat. It was the perfect defensive haberdashery for a day with blast furnace breezes and enough moisture in the air to keep cigarettes from lighting. 

In hopes of saving the black vinyl dashboard of my car I've taken to tossing a white towel onto it when I leave the car parked in the sun. It also helps me ensure I've always got a towel, in some shape or another, for those early morning migrations to swim practice. 

Cut off from connected civilization and robo calls (the best cell phone is the one you NEVER take with you) and looking reliably scruffy I headed over to the Blanton Museum to see what was new and to take advantage of the free admission that's a Thursday perk. I parked long N. Congress Ave. at one of the metered parking spaces. I feel like I've been living in Vegas lately because I am purposefully playing the odds with parking. I conjecture that the meter readers can't be everywhere and would rather be positioned in the heart of downtown where parking infringement is more common than coffee. It's like shooting fat fish  in a skinny barrel with a big shot gun for them; lots of closely packed parked targets to prey upon. I might fly under the radar as I have on my last 6 visits to metered zones (nearly everywhere in Austin outside of my neighborhood). I mean, really, who wants to pay two bucks an hour for a metered space? 

Well, I truly messed up on my museum visitation schedule. The museum was open but the first floor gallery is currently closed for the installation of a big show of Modern Aboriginal Art from Australia. I am mostly convinced that they created the show just for the alliterative potential. 

That's okay with me. I have no issue cruising through the upstairs renaissance painting galleries, alternately looking up at the paintings and looking down on the boorish oafs chattering away on bulky cellphones as they waddle from gallery to gallery, making everyone around them miserable. "Let me tell you the details of my messy goiter surgery, Ethel."

But in those moments when I can subdue my piggish elitism I have a great time looking for shapes and colors that I think will look good in photographs. Like this stunning read sitting swash. I happily hit the galleries for a while and then headed over to see (again) the Ellsworth Kelly Installation adjacent to the main museum courtyard. Just over there on the UT Austin campus.

After my compulsively honest tirade about the horrible Olympus menus I thought I owed it to the m4.3rd's world to take up one of the pygmy sensor cameras I happen to own and to wring out as much fun as I could from it today. Of course I was happy with every shot that came tumbling out of the GH5 when I got back to the studio and resuscitated the computing machine/modern photo viewer.

I always feel like a genius when I use the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm wide angle zoom. I shoot mostly in Jpeg and always have the lens distortion corrector turned on full blast. That way, when I look at my photos, all the lines are straight and none of them wiggle into mustache designs on the top and bottom edges of the frames. Plus, no matter what I do in terms of camera handling, the files always seem sharp and toasty (which means "perfectly baked and full of crunchy detail). 

I meant to make the visit a short one so I limited myself to 30 minutes of looking at stuff directly; without a camera velcro'd to my face, and then 30 minutes of just looking for images that would play nicely with my camera and lens combination. But once I finished at the museum and reacquired my car (yay!!! no ticket once again!) I felt irresistably drawn to Whole Foods on N. Lamar for a rectangular plate of sushi (defying the weather....) and a glass of Champagne. Wrecking my schedule entirely.

I have one more required task this afternoon. I'm meeting a client at a coffee shop. Not to have coffee but to scout the location for a photoshoot we're scheduled to do tomorrow afternoon. I'd have been happy to meet them after lunch but, hey, they decided that 5:15 p.m., right in the middle of a vicious rush hour, would be a much better logistical solution. Ah, clients. 

If I sound a little flippant today it's probably either the result of too much sustained responsibility or it's the strain of trying to research and then buy a new very wide angle lens for the Nikon system. I've been looking at stuff like the Nikon 14-24, the Sigma Art Series of the same focal lengths, some primes ( the Zeiss 21 and 18mm's) and, odd man out, the Tokina ATX 16-28mm lens which has a surprising number of really complementary reviews and is less than 1/2 the price of the other zooms. Or, in the case of the Nikon zoom, 1/3 the price. 

I'll be fine when I get the projects in hand wrapped up, stowed away and well billed. Till then I think I'll just go on doing whatever I feel like in the moments between scheduled drudgery. 


  1. I like the first one. When I saw it I thought they were models. Nice one.

  2. Love the first photo. If you converted it to B&W you could pass it off as a shot from the 50's. Or give it that Kodachrome look and again call it vintage. I used a Tokina ATX-Pro 16mm prime on my D700 and loved it.

  3. Agree with Tom and Eric - the first picture reminds me of a Charles Sheeler, but with some humanity in it...

  4. I, too, have been looking for a very wide lens for my Canon FF system (I already have a 24mm TSE II which I use extensively). The first 15mm lens I used was the Voigtlander on a Leica LTM.

    The Irix 15mm f/2.4 gets very good reviews and is very good value: it is available in the 'Firefly' version, mainly plastic, or metal 'Blackstone' weather sealed derirative. I am buying the Firefly version. Irix also make an 11mm lens, but that's too wide for me.

  5. I also have to agree with the above posters. To me it could very well be a photo which might appear in a 50's or 60's issue of Popular Photography. The title would no doubt be "Color photos with your 35mm camera".

  6. You are quite probably the most interesting person that I don't know. I think if we actually knew each other we wouldn't be friends but at blog writer/reader level, we seem to get along pretty well. Sometimes you offend me with your open disgust of fat, lazy people (that would be me) but other than that I almost always agree with what you have to say. I especially appreciate that your opinions are practical rather than theoretical and are backed by years of personal experience. I think your overabundance of energy must drive your wife crazy, and if it doesn't I admire her even more than I do you. I've been reading VSL since your early Sony days and look forward to years more daily entertainment.

  7. Ray, thanks for writing. I'm probably not very good friend material for most people. I'm highly opinionated, at times caustic to people with whom I disagree, and prone to thinking we can cure everything by making/forcing/incentivizing everyone to exercise more. My wife routinely (but kindly) takes me to task for my sometimes reckless body size shaming (which hardly ever makes it into my blog) and my insensitivity. But, of course, I'm working on it.

    My wife and I have a relationship that seems to me to be like that of a moth to flame. I flutter and flap around doing my work and my projects and then rush back to bath in the light of her calm and quiet personality before rushing off to the next thing. I think it helps that, since I generally only need/want about six hours of sleep in a night, that I get up much earlier and head straight over to swim practice which generally does a good job burning off some excess energy. That being said, I think we are both workaholic artists.

    At any rate I appreciate hearing from you and appreciate your gentle suggestion to be more tolerant and less dogmatic.

  8. I really like this series of photographs. I really like that focal length range, 16-35. I like your description of the relationship between you and your wife. Reminds me of a couple I know whose rolls are reversed from yours. He describes it gently as “she’s the kite and I’m the string.”


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