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...