I don't show as many portraits of men. I'll try harder. This is from the very early years. Back when I was in my "Richard Avedon-white background" phase.

 Back in 1978, when I was just getting started in photography, I lived and did portraits in an ancient building on East Seventh St. in Austin, Texas that used to be "The California Hotel." It was a flop house back in the 1960s and was shut down sometime near the end of that decade after there was a double homicide on the second floor. Peter, who was a museum curator, and Lou, who was an impresario/entrepreneur/eccentric, found the shuttered building and got a long lease. With a lot of work they made it into a downtown live/work commune for artists and musicians. 

Some tenants had real jobs. My neighbor across the hall was an art director for Texas Monthly Magazine. Peter was a curator at a wonderful art museum. Mr. Sexton was a musician. Those people rented their spaces as studio; they had houses or apartments to go home to.  I made photographs during the day and worked at a short order/fry cook in the late night hours and on weekends. The hotel was my base camp.

My space had amazingly high ceilings but it was just one big room. The two things it lacked were a telephone and air conditioning or heating. But man, it was cheap. We had a shared phone down the hall.  We had a commercial kitchen downstairs, and also a huge gallery space. I had my first show of sixty 16x20 inch black and white prints there. All portraits. That show effectively launched my journey as a picture maker/taker. 

We were all mostly artists/hippies back then. I rode a moped to work. It had a sturdy milk crate bungee'd to the back rack and I used to haul my camera gear around on it. We all wore sandals. We bathed in an outdoor shower in the courtyard. It felt like we were living in a movie and it was one of those fun, "Coming of Age" light-hearted comedies; for the most part. 

Any way, back then I would ask anyone I thought was at least somewhat interesting to come by and have their portrait made. They'd let me shoot exactly the way I wanted to and in exchange I'd make them a nice, fiber based print.

While trying to get my fledgling career off the ground I was working as a cook, in odd shifts, at a mid-city diner called, Kerbey Lane Café. If you guessed that the owners named it that because it was on Kerbey Lane you'd be right. It was one of Austin's first all night, comfort food + beer and wine, restaurants in what was then a sleepy, little college town. Gingerbread pancakes or migas anyone?

The guy with the cat, above, was Craig. He was one of the owners of Kerbey Lane Café and a really great guy. He'd hop into the kitchen and help us cook during rushes. He taught me how to flip over easy eggs in a pan without the use of a spatula. I asked him to come by the studio for a portrait and he brought his cat. 

I was pretty much broke at the time but I'd managed to buy my first "real" camera. It was an ancient, highly used, Mamiya C220; a twin lens camera with interchangeable lenses. I had two lenses for the camera. One was a 135mm which I used all the time for portraits. The other was the stock 80mm which I used for group shots. My "arsenal" of lights back then consisted of a Vivitar 283 which was a powerful but barebones shoe mount, electronic flash. If I could afford double "A" batteries then we had light. When the batteries died the shoot was over. No lithiums or NiMh rechargeable batteries back then. We did have NiCads but they were so much crap. 

What I did have access to though was the Ark Cooperative Darkroom. That's where I made most of my prints. I got pretty good at souping film in D76 as well. I always hated the drudgery of making contact sheets.

It was very much a hand-to-mouth existence back then but I wouldn't have traded it for the world. And we thought it was grand. Yuppies had not been invented yet and eccentricities were seen as a major plus. How else would I have gotten my start?

I guess it was an Austin thing...


Dick Barbour said...

Great story from way back then. I started coming to Austin in the 60s because my new wife's family lived there. I know Kerbey Lane was a favorite dine-out spot later in the 80s and onward; who knows, maybe you cooked our chicken-fried steaks somewhere along the way!

Gato said...

Lovely portrait and great story. In those days I was night clerk at a hotel and trying to stay awake enough in the daytime to get my photography going.

I owned a couple of Mamiya twin lenses -- don't remember exactly what model. Not sure I ever got a really sharp photo out of them but they were good enough for the day.

Owned a number of 283s -- still have a few in the closet. I bought the first one my local dealer could get. Read about it in a magazine. The store owner had not heard of them, I had to show him the magazine. I was still using them in the early 2000s when I heard they had ended production. I searched online and bought the last two I could find. Used them until Yongnuo came out with radio wireless. Then a year or so later Godox hit the market.

Morgan said...

You should really show a series of portraits from this time in your life - fascinating to hear the historical context and wonderful photographs. Feels alive.

seany said...

Lovely story Kirk of life back then, I guess you've paid your dues and are now entitled to live life as you wish, looking forward to more of the same whenever the mood takes you to share.

Michael Matthews said...

So. The Birkenstocks are a return to form.
That is one extraordinary portrait. Those boxes of prints you didn’t throw out have proved to be a treasure trove of good work. Keep ‘em coming, along with any anecdotes of the life and times. They remind me of my college days when my social circle revolved around a bunch of musicians who lived in a street car.

Michael Matthews said...

Make that “streetcar”, one word. It’s been so long since encountering one I’d forgotten how to spell it. The end is near.

crsantin said...

Sounds like a great way to spend your youth. I have no problem with portraits of men or whoever else, but if you're keeping score, then Noelia is by far my favorite. I'm not embarrassed to say she puts an extra spring in my step.

Ronman said...

Great stories, Kirk. I'm enjoying the historical context.

karmagroovy said...

Sounds like this could spark an idea for your next book (semi-autobiograpical). Mod photographer in swinging 60's Austin, Texas, finds something very suspicious in the shots he's taken of a mysterious beauty in a flophouse/studio. If the books sells well, it could be made into a movie? ;-)

Mark the tog said...

I am still in my white BG phase.
Clean, contemporary look that lends itself well to the web and any mischief others wish to perform on it in the way of background replacement.

Tom Vadnais said...

Great story, well told, as always, Kirk. Like others have said, I'd love to see more of your images from your early days, along with their stories.

Karmagroovy's idea of a semi-autographical book is a great one. It would be great to see and read how your life and photography evolved. (Wow, it's really easy to suggest major projects for others to carry out!)

Thanks for continuting to share with us.


Yoram Nevo said...

Hi Kirk. I feel that you deserve a retrospective exhibition in some respectable Austin venue. Opens when corona is over :-)