5.09.2021

Austin. Tent City. Changes Voted in have new implications.


Back in 2019 the Austin City Council lifted a ban on camping, resting, sitting or sleeping in most public areas in the city. The ban had been in place for years. This led to an immediate and enormous increase in the visibility of homeless people camping and living in public spaces all over Austin. Tents popped up under many freeway overpasses and in the parks, and downtown sidewalks were lined with homeless people sleeping in front of shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses. During the pandemic things got significantly worse. Where previously the majority of homeless seemed to consist of people with mental health and addiction problems the downtown area, and spots all over town, were inundated with people who had been rendered jobless by Covid. Newly homeless mixed with perennially homeless.

While Austin has always had a homeless population the cessation of the camping ban allowed large swaths of that populations to become much more visible than ever before. Now, instead of seeking isolated and hidden camping spots, ignored by law enforcement and invisible for the most part to the community, they could now pitch a tent on just about any public property without risking fines or the confiscation of their possessions. 

As you can imagine this did not go over well with a lot of Austin's citizens. There is a contingent that definitely doesn't want the homeless problem displayed so publicly and, as usual, any suggested solution is met immediately with cries of NIMBY! (Not In My BackYard!). On the other hand, being able to camp in public spaces is, ostensibly, safer than hidden camping as it reduces the impact of human predators on the campers who are situated right across the street from places like the Police Headquarters, or the City Council Building. 

The city council got so much feedback from the community at large that the put the question of whether or not to reinstate the ban on unlimited public camping to a vote. The vote happened a week ago and this Tuesday the ban goes back into effect. And, it seemed inevitable that if the Austin council and the voters hadn't acted the much, much more conservative Texas Legislature was just itching to vote in a statewide ban on public camping, resting, book reading, ownership of a copy of the U.S. Constitution, etc. They certainly wouldn't have wasted time trying to figure out some local answer to the ongoing issue of homelessness in Texas cities...

I went downtown to photograph the tents around the council building. In the future, when we become a just, fair and compassionate society maybe these photos will serve as some small historic reminder that at some distance time in the past we didn't care enough to solve issues that didn't affect us directly in our own wallets. 













I'm not much of a photo-journalist and I know the usual approach is to find some human interest stories but that sometimes seems as though we're taking advantage of the most vulnerable people to make our points. I think most people can understand what it means to be forced to live on a public sidewalk, in a tent, without getting sidetracked. If we personalize a story with two or three people we elevate their personal issues to the level of causality or we bolster underlying issues as the catalyst instead of trying to understand a more universal problem. 

One camera and a normal lens. Just something that I thought was important for today. 

 

Dinner with Friends. Canon 50mm f1.8 FD also invited. Warning!!! Lots of Tulip Photos.




Over here, at my house, we're starting to recover from some of the emotional damage of the pandemic. We're vaccinated and have followed all of the CDC protocols and it was amazing how thrilled we were to have two of our best friends (also vaccinated) over for a lively and somewhat rambunctious, old fashioned dinner. Belinda made shish kebabs, an herbed potato salad and a green salad with fresh cherry tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts. I took care of the flowers, the chantilly fresh berry cake and the wine. 

It was the first time in over a year that we could greet our friends at the front door and exchange quite emotionally charged hugs. In a weirdly "Austin" style of hosting we started off in the living room with Champagne, chips and guacamole. 

I love tulips and so does Belinda so I sprinkled two dozen of them around the house. When we finished arranging flowers I realized that I still had the ancient, weather-beaten, Canon 50mm FD lens mounted on my Leica so I proceeded to document the flowers; playing around, always, with limited depth of field. 

Par for the course, the old lens struggles a bit (but in a very endearing way) to deliver much sharpness when used wide open and at its none too close close-focusing distance. But the lens is a chameleon. It can be vaporous and soft at 1.8 but smoothly sharp at f3.5 and beyond. 

Neither the camera nor the lens has image stabilization so I tried to keep my shutter speeds around 1/125th and just work on my on again/off again technique. I find that a heavier camera and a well focused lens is just about as good (for my use) as a camera with all the bells and whistles. Had I really wanted all the advantages of current technology I could have used the dual I.S. of the Panasonic S1 and its friend, the 24-105mm Lumix lens. But I was absolutely happy with the camera I had in my hands, in the moment.

This is one of our handmade plates from Italy. 
My mom was always arriving with gifts of plates, platters, 
vases and Turkish carpets. We were very casual with our friends.
No strict table settings for a convivial Friday dinner. 

Here is a good example of the Canon lens at, or near, wide open. 
Click to enlarge and really dig into the bokeh. If you are so inclined. 

I guess there was something in the air but of the three different red wines that came into the house 
that evening all were Bordeaux SupĂ©rieur. Two of the bottles were 2016s, the one above 
was a 2018. Not to worry, the five of us never got past the first bottle.
 More for later....

Belinda's guacamole recipe is simplicity itself: mashed avocados, freshly squeezed lime juice and sea salt. 
Never any added oils or mayonnaise. She learned the method from her mom. 




After our guests left and I finished hand washing the plates and wine glasses I switched to using the new Sigma 24-70mm f2.8. Just to see the difference between old prime and new zoom. 
The second plate in from the right of the frame was my focus target.


We've had this butcher block table in the kitchen for nearly 25 years. Most of our meals
are taken there. I oil the wood once a month. It's one of my small chores. 
We painted and decorated the chairs ourselves. We didn't expect them to last 
for decades. They are unscathed by time and child rearing.


Canon Lens. Belinda's potato salad. Boiled, quartered red potatoes with chives, 
rosemary, parsley, olive oil, green onions and sea salt. 
Delicious as a side with shish kebab. 


This final shot is of a relic I picked up when last shopping at Precision Camera. I came across an ancient Linhof tripod. It's got a geared center column and it was fully functional. The price tag? $29.

How could I not. I've been using it on jobs for weeks now. It's just FUN. 

Today is mother's day. Belinda has gone off to see her mom leaving me at loose ends. I guess it's time to point the nose of that Subaru in some interesting direction and take the plastic wrapping off the Sigma Zoom. 

I hope all of you have a great mother's day. Hard to imagine life without moms. Count yourself lucky if yours is still around. And remember most fondly the ones who are not. I miss my mom every day. But I count myself lucky to have had her in my life for so long. Thanks mom!