8.21.2021

It's Caption Day at the VSL Tower in Austin, Texas. It's a time of very brief intros and labored captions.


My current selection for best post of 2021:

Which one have you enjoyed?

Everything is under construction again. Streets blocked, Cranes craning and sidewalks detoured. Office buildings and parking garages keep going up in Austin no matter what the news of the day is and no matter how much office space analysts think is enough. 

It was hot outside and I'd done all the lazy Austin hippie stuff on my agenda today. You know, swim practice, buying pecan oil at the farmer's market, drum circles, scones at Whole Foods, playing Frisbee golf at the city park, getting gluten free sandwiches from Thundercloud Subs for lunch, some couch meditation, sage burning cleansing rituals, walking meditation, liberal chanting, organic smoothie making, Birkenstock polishing, Tai Chi, and even some Tie-Dyeing so I could have some new t-shirts to wear. After I listened to some Willie Nelson and some Stevie Ray Vaughn tunes I got bored...or maybe it was the CBD oil...and I decided to go for a walk to clear my head. Maybe just tune out the "MSM" for a while and think for myself...

It's blistery hot outside and the humidity adds an extra layer of Wow, this feels like shit! to the afternoon. But what are you gonna do? I grabbed a chrome Fuji X100V from the giant box full of the cameras nobody seems to want anymore and made my way downtown. I had the camera set up so I could shoot it simply, even if I became cognitively impaired by the relentless sun and heat. I tossed in using raw files for good measure. 

I walked along looking at the "scenery" and pondering all the things you guys probably think about when you are out doing a photo walk. I thought about carbon offsets. I thought about pivotal books by Stanley Karnow. I thought about the rare earth mineral reserves in Afghanistan. I wondered why thread counts in sheets is such a big deal to people. But mostly I wondered who designs the menus in Pentax cameras. And if we'd still be able to get coffee beans after the world finally burns down. And how much more will they cost? I also thought about how my swim fins caused a blister on my left foot and how it was negatively interfacing with my Austin Hippie hemp socks. Ouch. 

It was at that moment of painful reality that satori struck and I decided I go with captions for the rest of the blog post. You know, just to change things up. We aging Austin hippies do that to throw everyone off balance.   Oh. You can click on the images and they get bigger. It's like magic. 

there's this bar on West Sixth St. that had (and still has) a giant, plastic elephant in the entry way. 
Now the elephant has been joined by a plastic, full-sized Panda. There's a clown head in the background that I think doubles as an entry way to the restrooms. I can't quite figure out why. Maybe it's the "Moe" theory of retail marketing. See the Simpsons episode where bartender Moe opens his own kitchsy theme restaurant. I don't know. I don't care. But I felt some sort of spiritual kinship with the panda...

A side wall of a restaurant that one of our friends designed during the previous boom years. It went out of business during the pandemic and it has a sign in the window that basically says, "We're closed. Don't bother us." Nice. Topical, and to the point. 

Most (all?) of East 6th Street, from Congress Ave. to the Highway, has decayed and declined into sad crap. Forty years ago it was the center of the Austin restaurant and high-end bar scene. Now it's cheap drinks, people passed out on the sidewalks and barkers hustling people into the bars for dollar shot specials. It's sad because some of the old, original buildings are classical, Centex turn of the century (no, the century before...) architecture that's slowly succumbing to wave after wave of abuse and neglect. No problem. I guess when it runs its course someone will buy it all up, tear it down and build more....you guessed it....high rises.

The Fuji X100V is a good, solid, no nonsense camera. If  you didn't do photography as a business this particular camera might be the only one you'd really want. The 35mm equivalent focal length seems super popular amongst street photographers and it's very, very sharp and well corrected. The battery lasts a long time and the whole package is a joy to carry and shoot. I like the optical finder; it's a nostalgic play, but I have to confess I mostly use the EVF. In some ways it's the current descendent of cameras like the Canonet QL17. It's simple and it works. Only now it has more features. I haven't used the video feature yet. Or really anything other than the aperture, shutter speed and ISO dials. Oh, I do use the exposure compensation dial but only because I think it makes the people around me think I know what I'm doing.


Apparently, according to what I just read at Michael Johnston's TheOnlinePhotographer blog, tomorrow is Annual InterGalactic Street Shooting Day. People are encouraged to go out and emulate HCB, Robert Frank, William Klein and Chase Jarvis. So, if you are a snotty trust-funder photographer be sure to blow the dust off your Leica M10-R, click that 35mm M series Apo Summicron onto the lens mount and drive your Bentley SUV down to your favorite street, valet the car, and start shooting. Might as well take your M Monochrome as well. Things might look even better in black and white. 

The rest of us can carefully charge that one wavering battery that came with our "wannabe" rangefinders, nurse that ancient but still usable 8 GB SD card into the slot and head somewhere fun in our inexpensive and wholly pedestrian Subarus and Toyotas. Better yet, borrow a bike and ride it to Street Shooting Day. You'll instantly have claim to the moral high ground. Even better, some kindly home owner might spray you off with a garden hose so you don't keel over from the heat. Kindness is rampant here.

But....I might be mistaken....I thought every day was street shooting day. Like 365. Seems I've misunderstood yet another aspect of the magic of photography. Glad I got the heads-up so I could practice today and then be on my game tomorrow!!

I am constantly amazed at the bars down on Sixth St. They remind me of scenes from the Great Depression. Or the movie, "The Midnight Cowboy." And I can't blame their current existence on the pandemic shutdowns. These places started to slide toward sleazy about twenty years ago and every ensuing year has been worse. Some people ask me if I'm nervous taking cameras down there. In truth, though we won't admit it on most blogs, nobody wants to steal cameras anymore. 

Maybe there's still a demand in other places but most people here think regular cameras are so passé. They have come to represent part of the ensemble or signaling of men (and some women) who didn't get the memo that traditional photography is quite dead. Cameras of any non-phone type are as exciting as leisure suits, Members Only jackets, White golf shoes with tassels, big, bright running shoes, bucket hats (although those are making a tongue-in-cheek, retro comeback. At least for this Summer). Cameras are now the badge of the "team" that orders "black, drip coffee" and gets up before the sun to watch the early weather reports on cable TV. It's sad and tragic but there it is. And I hate to tell you this but DSLRs, those big hulking cameras with the zoom lenses attached to them? Those are the size 38 cargo shorts of this time period. Horrifying to GenZ folks everywhere. But the bars. What about the bars?


I have a confession to make. The only time I try to use black and white modes with any of my cameras is when there's no sunshine. If the sky is bald and filled with mushy clouds and mushier light I always delude myself into thinking that shooting in black and white (or, as the experts might say, "Monochrome") and jacking up the contrast and clarity for the files might magically save the day for me and get me cool photos that look like Art. It never works. It just doesn't. Photos tend to be most easily taken when the sun is shining, the skies are blue, and sometimes dappled with little puppy-like puffy clouds that break up the monotony of all that blue. 

If I was less lazy I'd have polarizing filters for all my lenses and I'd use them all the time. My hope would be that mundane photographs, with the intervention of polarization, would leap up to a higher level of coolness. But every time I try there's some reason why it just doesn't work. I don't know why camera makers haven't zeroed in on this yet but instead of those silly filters like "miniature toy train filter" or "hazy, glossy girlfriend filter" they might want to invent a software based, built-in Polarizing Filter filter. Then we wouldn't have to buy a different sized real filter for all those different filter sized lenses we keep buying.

And since I have two left eyes when it comes to doing Photoshop "magic" it would be lovely if they could also work on those black and white in-camera filter settings as well. I'd love to look smarter than I am when I show people black and white images that really look like the black and white images we used to get without trying very hard, back in the film days. 


I tripped over a curb and dropped my camera today. It fell on a grassy area between the street and the sidewalk on one of the streets just East of Lamar Blvd. I was crestfallen. I picked up the camera (the chrome Fuji --- don't buy that one from me as we'll never know if it will continue to survive....) and wiped off a bit of mud and some dead grass and, with much trepidation, fired it back up. It seemed to work fine and that's a good thing because it happened just as I started my walk, not 25 feet from my car. I should pay attention better to where I'm walking instead of concentrating on what I'm thinking. 

Austin is interesting right now. The city basically made it's reputation for being an artsy, music forward town in the 1970's and 1980's when rent for venues was cheap, everyone had a friend who'd let 'em sleep on their couch if they ran out of money to pay the rent. The cover charges to see great bands were, like, $2 and you could buy Shiner Bock beers at happy hours for about fifty cents. We all loved each other. We all hated war. We all thought it would be cool if the tax code was fairer. We'd never heard of sunscreen or matcha or ramen. We were mostly vegan except for the chicken fried steaks, the burgers at Dirty's Come Back Burgers on the drag, and the BBQ at House Park; or any meal we could get for free. We walked most places because the places that new Austinites rave about now were just cow pastures back then. It was a compact city then. And girls swam topless at Barton Springs. All that's what made the city fun, livable, happy, and a beacon for like-minded, counter-culture hippies. 

Now it's all pretty much gone but the city still sells the sizzle to rubes from California and New York every day. Now we're the most expensive big city to buy a house in outside of the nicer parts of California. I'd venture to say that a nice big loft in Austin is pricier than the same sized fun palace in NYC. But the magic is all gone. It's all faux, culture tourism now and it's reflected in the street culture. But that's okay because we all bought our houses so long ago and we got as real a job as we could stomach instead of doing something fun. 

The car of the 1970's was a bike. Now it's an Audi or Porsche SUV. But I guess I could write a grant proposal and start photographing that part of the new Austin culture. $45 dollar lobster rolls and $1,200 cowboy boots. I guess that could be photo-centric catnip for curators from the hoary bastions of East Coast academia...

I'll get to work on the grant writing right away. 


One of the things I thought about as I walked around in a pair of used shoes I bought at REI yesterday (seriously) was something I read on DPR. My web nemesis. I read that I used to be interesting to read but I got snobby and when I bought Leicas (again, for the fourth time) I signaled that I was in a different class than most photographers and had become (almost instantly) even more snobby and so, now, unreadable. It was a relief since now that no one is reading what I'm writing I can write whatever I really want to and can even consider occasionally saying off color stuff like: "What the fuck is up with that?" 

 But in all seriousness, when did buying two old,  used Leicas (and one new one) become a litmus test for entry into the 1%? I thought you also had to have hoarded away lots and lots of $$$. And drive fancy cars and live in places like Telluride and Aspen or West Palm Beach. Geez. Some of us still even have to fly commercial... 

Speaking of flying commercial, here is Austin's answer to mass transit. It's a one line light rail train that goes from a god-forsaken suburb in far northwest Austin to downtown...and then back again. I watch it frequently. Usually there are one or two riders on the entire train. Three days ago, when I was walking around, I saw five people on the train. But I corrected down by one because I realized the fifth person was the train driver. (Not really an "engineer," right?). I guess the idea was to bring cheaper workers to downtown and then dump them back home after the work day. Might work better if there were a lot more routes. But at least we have a train. 











I guess that's all I've got for now. Oh, but I forgot one further splurge. In a moment of weakness I decided I wanted a baseplate for one of the Leica SL cameras. I like having Arca Swiss baseplates for the camera I use on tripods. Plus the extension looks so cool. So...custom. I looked to Leica for the product but the prices were scary. So I found a used Really Right Stuff baseplate for much, much less. It came today just after I got home from my walk. It's really boring but it's really nice. And I'll probably get some use out of it. Accessories will kill your budgets. Best to keep your cameras stripped down and naked. But I just couldn't help it. You know how it is. Or maybe you don't.






I thought I was finished writing and I was proofing my work. That's something I very rarely do. It seems boring to have to read stuff twice; especially since I already know what it is I'm going to say. But when I was looking through I remembered that I took the photo just above for a reason. Here's the reason: It's the most poorly written headline I can remember seeing in...decades. Just so passive and poorly done. Embarrassing. I can't believe they used it. But the photo is no great shakes either. Sorry, I hope this isn't your work. If it is you might consider applying for some federal aid for job retraining. Or you can do what we always do and blame it all on the client. 

Shade. A valuable commodity in today's downtown.