Perhaps there is a project we can all do, wherever we are in the world. The idea came to me from the Austin History Center.

 This is rush hour on Saturday afternoon in Austin, Texas April 4th, 2020. 

Few of us have lived through anything like this pandemic in our lives. Even us ancient ones who've been around (and through) a lot of weird and scary stuff. Many of the changes to our way of life are sudden, profound and bereft of precedent. We are truly living through a transformative and perilous period and it would be good to have a record of what it was like to be in the middle of this. I shy away from concentrating on the health care (immediate life and death) aspect of the crisis because it would be selfish to intrude when every medical professional needs space and full attention to work. And, selfishly, I don't want to put myself or my family and friends in great peril just to get photographs. 

But the economic ramifications may end up being equally severe and we need a record of this time as well. The Austin History Center put out a request for images that document how Austin and its citizens are dealing with the pandemic. They have photos that go all the way back to Austin during the Spanish Flu in 1918 and good documentation of just about every major upheaval (or positive thing) that's occurred in our city. Now they want to make sure people know that they would welcome good images that tell the story of our responses and our sacrifices during this trying time. 

I can't think that Austin is alone in this desire for documentation and a memory archive. I would think that the responses and the real life changes will be different for small towns and giant cities; for once thriving economies as well as communities already dealing with painful financial adversity. And it's obvious that this is not an "American" problem but a world crisis. 

I put on my rain jacket and my face mask and went out for a walk this afternoon. I walked up one side of the lake trail which put me on the east side of downtown. I then walked through the center of town with the idea of documenting all the closed and boarded up businesses as well as the empty parking lots, empty hotels and empty streets. If I could go back in time about three months and show these images to people who live here they would never believe that downtown could be so bare. And I've not begun to document the lines outside of grocery stores and legions of normal people behind medical (and home made masks). 

It's something to think about if you are home and bored and itching for a project that has real bones and real value. It's not just another Zone VI exercise with a running brook made smooth with a long exposure... We can only bear witness if we photograph the world around us. As HCB once said, 

“The intensive use of photographs by mass media lays ever fresh responsibilities upon the photographer. We have to acknowledge the existence of a chasm between the economic needs of our consumer society and the requirements of those who bear witness to this epoch. This affects us all, particularly the younger generations of photographers. We must take greater care than ever not to allow ourselves to be separated from the real world and from humanity.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Photography and video will form the cultural memory of this time. It's only by having lots of points of view that we'll aggregate a history that will tell the story. 

It is obvious that there will be hard times ahead not just for people directly touched by the health effects and deadly fallout of the pandemic but by the severe and rapid closure of the economy. Young people's potential will be put on hold. Many businesses will fail and not re-emerge. There will be many sad stories to be told and the capturing and telling may help to inform future policies and decisions that will prevent the same kind of wholesale destruction in the next pandemic. 

It's an idea and I'd love to get some feedback. I'm sure I'm missing a lot and haven't figured out entirely how to proceed, but I know photographers love projects and they love to tell stories. Please let me know your thoughts. Ethical considerations, etc. Here are the images I took today. 

All the cafe tables gone. All the people scattered.

Menu monitors at Juiceland. 

An un-manned Bank of America office. 

Cafe Politique shutter behind a construction walkway. 

No businesses open for blocks at a time. But it was nice that Loft left their lights lit. 

2nd Street is usually packed  with people heading to happy hours and early dinners.
Today everything is closed. 

No cars and no guests at the W Hotel.

 There are still some food businesses trying to make it with mobile ordering and 
curbside pickup but one by one I'm watching them throw in the towel as it becomes
apparent that the cash flow out is unsustainable without a critical mass of customer. 

I have never seen this parking lot vacant. Never.

Yeah. That's the GX8. I'll write about my experience with it tomorrow.

2nd Restaurant and Medici Coffee shop are closed up tight on Congress Ave.

And this is Congress Ave. at Rush Hour. No one is downtown.

Valet parking at the JW Marriott is boarded up and closed. 

The hotel is not boarded up (yet) but it is closed down.

All the furniture and fixtures have already been removed from this corporate hotel restaurant.

The Royal Blue Grocery is now ---- particle board. 
this is the location on Second St. Several others in the chain are still open 
in downtown. The sell groceries. This one is near the convention center and further away from the residence towers....

Michaleda's tried takeout and then breakfast tacos and coffee and now they too
have boarded up the shop and gone dormant. They are right across the street from
the convention center.

Drop me a line and let me know what you think of the idea. 

I'm going to flesh out my intentions for this and figure out how I will use and share the images in a way that's beneficial. If I figure that out I'll post about it. 

Incredibly interested to hear how very small towns are dealing with this.

Saturday adventures. April 4, 2020.

From yesterday's run. Water pouring off the top of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge
in Austin, Texas. Combined with an amazing (and dangerous) lightning storm.

It was fun to get out and hit a nearly vacant trail right through the middle of town yesterday. When I left my vehicle it was a balmy 70+ degrees and there was soft, intermittent rain. By the time I'd gone 1/3 of the way the wind had picked up, the temperature started dropping and the raindrops got fatter and more frequent. By the time I finished the wind gusts were dramatic, the rainfall torrential and the temperature about 20 degrees colder. It was a blast! What a nice change from sitting in front of my computer trying to find fun stuff to read. 

When I got back to my vehicle I stood under the tailgate and stripped off my rain jacket, black baseball cap, and camera and tossed them in with the swim bag on the rubber mat. I grabbed an "emergency" poncho and my swim towel and blundered into the driver's seat, using the poncho to create a barrier between the seat and my soaking wet shorts. Happily, I have a WeatherTech floor mat on the driver's side so my brand new, soaked, running shoes didn't matter.

The Sigma fp and the Lumix 24-105mm f4.0 L lens were unfazed by their time in the rain and wind but that's probably because I tucked them into my jacket for the last half of our journey. The bridge above is the last couple of hundred yards to cover on my way back to the Zach Theatre complex where my car was parked. I stopped under the bridge and made a few shots (and some video) because by the time I'd gotten to that point the thunder and lightning was nearly continuous and I thought it best not to cross an exposed, elevated bridge in the middle of a lightning storm. As soon as mother nature signaled a very short break in electrical activity I lunged up the stairs and sprinted across the span. Just like a protagonist in an action/adventure movie... (Calling Walter Mitty, calling Walter Mitty....). 

Last night was weird. The temperature dropped into the 40's (which is very unusual for this time in our part of Texas) and instead of running the air conditioner we had to switch back to the heater for the first time in a month. It rained and thundered and lightning-ed (is that even a word?) all through the night and it was still chilly this morning. I made almond croissants and scrambled eggs for me and Belinda. It was a fun breakfast, complete with an extra dose of coffee. 

Then boredom really sunk in. I was in the office looking at camera store websites. I went to Precision Camera's website where I had previously seen a used Mamiya 645 Pro with an 80mm lens and an Aptus 5-II digital back offered for the princely sum of $1299. With a sensor three times the size of a 35mm sensor it seemed like it might be a fun diversion. 

I called my favorite used equipment specialist at the shop to make inquiries. They are working with a skeleton crew and can ship or do a curbside pick-up (brief explanation: By "curbside pick-up" you should not take it to mean that a human comes up to my car and hands me my purchase through the car window. Instead, you purchase the unit you want with a credit card -- either over the phone or online -- then they prepare the package for you. You arrive and stay in your car. You call them to let them know you are out front. They place your package outside the door and then retreat. Once they've fled the scene you exit your car, circle around the package warily, spray it with your spray sanitizer, and, with the tips of two fingers of one hand, drop it into the gapping trunk, in a special metal box marked with hazardous material decals. Once home you spray down the contents of the box with a toxic stew of disinfectants and disgorge the contents onto a thick spread of newspaper on top of which you swab down each piece with more disinfectant. Then you dispose of the newspaper, re-wash your hands and you are ready to re-enter the portal of normalcy. Or something like that....).

We chatted about the medium format digital camera and, to his credit, he convinced me not to buy it. The sensor in the camera is from 2008 and is now more or less obsolete, but also, the original owner was not an individual but a busy for profit trade school for which this camera was a daily loaner to students. Not a good recipe for long term reliability.

So, what did I buy instead? You may recall me asking everyone who would read or listen how well they liked their Panasonic GX8 cameras. I'd danced around picking one up for a while. My most convenient rationale for wanting one being my ample supply of Olympus Pen FT lenses to use on this kind of camera (aaah. Just the thought of being able to use my 60mm f1.5 on the 20 megapixel sensor makes me happy!).  I'd seen three used versions in EX condition on Precision Camera's site so I asked about that while I had my guy on the phone. We negotiated a bit and I decided on a nice, black one. 

With charger and battery for not a lot of money. The asking price was $450. I paid less. I'm heading up this afternoon with my improvised face mask and a new belt with holsters that hold spray bottles of sanitizer on either side (kidding about the belt and holsters) to pick up the camera from their front door. It will be nice to have a diversion to play with. I can't wait to shoot some frames and evaluate it. Maybe I'll have something interesting to write about a three year old (+) used camera by the middle of next week.   

Still eyeing the Leica SLs. I know you are tired of hearing about it and wish I would just buy one and get over it but that's not the way I do stuff. It's either total impulse purchase or the opposite. I can watch the prices go down until we hit a point where sales start to increase and then I'll make my offer. It works for me. I do the same with investments. Seems to work most of the time. Sometimes the price never comes down enough and I'm happy to walk away. 

I'm having fun shooting lots and lots of video. Trying to get my video mojo in shape for the recovery. I have a feeling video production will be in very high demand. Sorry to torture you with my impromptu video shorts but I think it's all fun. 

Stay safe and have some solo adventures in the rain. At least, in the cold, driving rain you won't be fighting for safe space!

Hope everyone is putting their own positive spin on sheltering in place. 
At the beginning of the run it was just starting to rain.....
I guess that's how it always starts. 

Wanna blame someone for my GX8 purchase? It's Frank's fault. 
He makes the camera look good....