6.14.2021

Texas has just become an inferno and the same people that couldn't keep the grid alive in February's arctic blast are now warning that they might need to shut everything down just as the Fires of Hell descend upon us.

Austin playwright, Steven Dietz, wrote a play that was a vague nod
to Jack Kerouac's book, "On the Road." 
This is a production shot from that play. 

This rambling blog post has to do with photographic survival in Austin and the surrounding areas. It's hot right now. It hit 102° in parts of town today and with the elevated humidity from recent rains the "feels like" (heat index) is 106°. It's nasty hot. With UV at the top of the scale. 

The gutless jackals (ERCOT) that are supposed to ensure continuity and reliability of the electrical grid across Texas have announced "unexpected" but numerous power generation outages today and are warning the we'll have rolling black outs unless everyone immediately conserves electricity. Texas has been run by poorly educated, highly ideological conservatives for decades now and have no one else to blame for stripping our vital infrastructure bare in order to pay off their own co-conspirators and vice versa. They are uniformly unscrupulous and corrupt. For my neighbors who willingly voted for this band of grifters and racketeers (like Roger Williams) I can only hope that they lose power along with the rest of us and that their freezers full of stuff go rotten quicker. 

But the real question is: "How to survive the heat until some rational adults step in to relieve them of their duties and impanel actual experts who don't have their hands in each others pockets." 

Well, first of all I guess we need to conserve power for right now. We're in the thick of it. And you know how this usually goes. People who are socially responsible and morally intact will raise their thermostats, turn off unnecessary appliances, cut back on lighting, etc. Their morally corrupt neighbors will (just as in the whole vaccine situation) rely on all their neighbors to do the "right thing" while they cynically take advantage of the communal sacrifice by turning their air conditioners to even lower temperatures, turning their homes into frigid paradises. Loads of laundry spinning all day long, five or six big (unwatched) TVs blazing away, and maybe, just maybe, if they've drunk all the "I've got mine so f**k you" Kool-Aide, they'll turn the thermostats all the way down so they can enjoy a raging fire in their fireplace. We can't even shame people who are so shameless. 

But we can still head to the pool in the morning, before the UV gets dangerous, and get a good, long, cool swim in. We can continue to be fit and trim to better withstand the heat. We can make meals that don't require firing up the oven or stove and, if we take the right precautions we can still walk around with cameras and take photographs. 

Almost synchronized flip turns...

One of the things I became aware of during a recent, especially hot Summer was the fact that most of our cameras are black. Black absorbs heat. Heat drenched cameras generate more image noise. Heat makes our hands sweat and cameras become more difficult to handle. I came up with a solution that works for me when walking around with a camera in the heat. I'll go over that below:


It starts with a Buff neck wrap like the one above. This is a fabric tube that is made of stretchy, UV resistant fabric and can be worn (after soaking it with freezy cold water) as a neck scarf or head band to counteract ambient heat. I use it as a camera protectant. It easiest to use with a camera strap that has a quick release strap system, like the Peak straps of the Tamrac straps I like to use. You unhook one end of the strap and then slide the strap through the fabric tube and reattach the strap. 

Demonstrating the tubular construction of the "neckware appliance."


While using the camera you can  push the fabric "appliance" over to one side.
And, you can wipe your sweaty hands on it as well. 

When the camera is not being used; when it is swinging down by your side on its 
shoulder strap, you can slide the fabric over the camera to cut down on the effects
of radiant heat and the even more uncomfortable effects of direct sun. 
Since cameras are mostly water resistant now you might even consider dampening
(but not soaking!) the cloth to take advantage of evaporative cooling;
both for the camera (lower noise) and your hands (nice cooling). 

Think of your new fabric appliance as an updated "ever ready" case for your camera. 
Or just as a common sense remedy for photo gear heat exposure

Then you can wonder around aimlessly in the dangerous heat and look for fun images.
I'd suggest protective long sleeve shirts, a good, wide-brimmed hat, an application of 
SPF 30 or better sunscreen. And the ingestion of much, non-alcoholic, Athletic Brewing Company beer (which can replace electrolytes, folic acid, and other good stuff while providing tasty hydration). 

Or you could go north and try to find a small town in a state that understands how to 
manage their own power grid. Get up into the mountains and enjoy cool nights and dry days. 

I found the images, below, from a trip to Saratoga Springs, NY and fondly remembered the cool temperatures and wonderful trees. The visual imaging helps even now.

But the heat IS dangerous and you need to be prepared.
Know the signs of heat exhaustion and don't go there. 

And, if you have any brains, stop voting for silly bastards who are robbing you blind while hiding their avarice and selfishness behind false religiosity and blatant, faux-patriotic grandstanding. 

We don't need to suffer in Texas but we keep pulling out that old (metaphorical) "six shooter" and 
aiming at our own feet over and over again. Maybe we'll vote rationally next time.
That would be a welcome change. 



Hope you are staying cool. 
 

Lou at Laguna Gloria Museum. A photograph from a cool (rare) Autumn day posted on the roastiest day of the year so far in Austin.


 There was a time when a Hasselblad 203C camera with a 180mm Zeiss lens was glued to my hands for days, weeks and months at a time. There was never a question of buying, selling or trading for new stuff. Why would you when you were already using the best camera made, up to that point in history?

The camera was nearly always outfitted with a 90° prism finder which made the whole rig feel as if I was shooting with a chubby SLR. Few cameras have come close to replicating the feel and the look of that one. 

We sometimes conjecture that, if we have lenses that are sharp enough when used wide open, and if we do enough work in PhotoShop, we'll be able to copy the look and feel from the work done in that time with state of the art digital cameras but what invariably gets left out of the equation is the fact that work like this is not just "out of camera" or SOOC + Post processing. Those assumptions leave out the interpretation of the black and white, darkroom printing process. It was integral to my vision as were the incredible printing papers from Seagull, Afga and Ilford. 

So much of the look and feel of the work I did in the 1980s and 1990s was created in the print interpretation and that's an integral part of what feels like is missing from most of the work I see today online. Most especially when it comes to black and white.

I'm not lobbying for a return to the darkroom, I'm not sure we could find the papers we loved again today. And I'm not sure we have the patience any longer to spend time nursing an image into full bloom. It may well be, for most photographers, another loss we'll have to deal with. Another erosion of past technique and the disappearance of wonderful materials.

But it doesn't only happen in photography. Could anyone sculpt with the genius of Bernini in the 21st century? I think not. And maybe that's why sculpture is mostly abstracted today instead the aching realism of that Italian master. (If you have not been to the Borghese Sculpture Gallery in Rome then that should be your top travel priority once pandemic travel restrictions are lifted. If you would willing opt for a golfing vacation instead I strongly suggest you take some time off to meditate on a mountain top and try to pinpoint the moment your life took a wrong turn). 

Here's a link: https://blog.musement.com/us/5-must-see-sculptures-borghese-gallery-rome/

I'm no "Photo Bernini" but my portraits with the Hasselblad are still the ones I am most happy with...

Two portraits presented just as a palette cleanser for another Monday morning.

Lou at Little City Coffee House (now closed)
on Congress Avenue.

The CEO of Primary Packaging in NYC.


 

"Yes. Your old portraits are very nice. Don't you have any new work to show?"

This is a photograph of Kyle. He works in advertising.
We photographed him a few months ago for his agency's marketing.

People seem to think of photography, and especially photography blogs, like network television. They expect that there will be constant introduction of new sit-coms and that every hour or so there will be a brand new story in the news to chew over and digest. A recurrent question I get on this blog is why I'm not constantly showing new portraits to my audience.

Let me answer that for you.

The pandemic brought the opportunities to invite people into my studio for portraits (for fun) to a screeching halt. Until March of this year so few people were vaccinated that it seemed like too much of a risk for people on both sides of the camera to do something that wasn't "mission critical" or "important" in the grand scheme of things. And by doing so putting our respective families in needless danger.

I did a handful of portraits during that time frame but all of them (100%) were done for existing clients and mostly for clients in the parts of the medical field that were unaffected by, or less exposed to the virus. These would include radiologists who spend most of their days sequestered and reading the results of tests on computer screens. That did not include emergency room physicians!  All of the physicians we photographed were routinely tested by their practices and also took all the suggested precautions for best practices.

As did I.

There were several assignments I did, with people/talent involved, for a company that makes advanced, medical testing devices. Those assignments were at the client's locations and the company was/is expert at their field and managed virus risks professionally. It also helped that nearly all of the 1,000+ Austin employees were not working on site (working from home) and those who were integral to the photo projects were highly trained biologists and other people in associated fields. Most were tested, double-masked and extremely careful to only work in large, open spaces with lots and lots of air flow. Plus, in their day jobs, they routinely handle nasty pathogens without incident.

So, in effect, I was unable to invite random, beautiful, interesting people into my studio to work in my preferred style. To have long conversations. To explore their faces. To build a mutual rapport. And the work that I was able to do fell clearly outside the boundaries of what I consider to be "my art." So we've been on "people art" hiatus. 

It's easy, in the flurry of excitement around society re-opening, to forget or to minimize the risks we faced during the last year and the things we had to give up. But my family emerged relatively unscathed as a result of those decisions. And for me that was the more important part of balance. 

It's not the time to play "Monday morning quarterback" and try to rewrite what I "should have done" in the last year. We made our choices just as everyone else did. It affected the work I loved doing but it was a sacrifice I felt was logical and right. Your mileage may vary. You may have elected differently. 

When we totally return to "normal" (whatever that is now...) I have every intention of reverting back to the way I operated in the past and to seek out interesting people to photograph. For now you'll either have to just enjoy what I have to offer by way of my writing and random downtown images or elect to find other blogs that have taken other directions. 

I offer up the image above not as some declaration that this is example the highest and best form of my own work but to say that most engagements in the last year were more routine, commercially structured and constrained. Not the work that I want, necessarily, to put into my portfolio but work that clients wanted and needed. 

Kyle is a nice guy and a good advertising professional. His portrait was my best attempt given the face mask covering the bottom of my face and fogging up my eyeglasses. And the emotional baggage created by the times.

I hope you'll join me in the near future for new photos and more of the same old writing. It was a rough year for most of us and yet I still had fun. Hope the same for you.