12.07.2020

I dropped by Zach Theatre last evening to take a look at a rehearsal for their outdoor Christmas Concert. I ran into my friend, Austin Brown.


 Austin Brown is one of the stage lighting designers at Zach and he's been given the unenviable task of designing a lighting scheme for the outdoor concert series this winter. The budget is tiny and one consideration is that the lighting instruments and cabling have to be brought in if rain hits and also during the days no shows are scheduled. It's either that or round-the-clock security on the plaza. Cheaper, I think to reduce the complexity of the light inventory. 

I've been using Austin as an assistant on shoots lately. He's incredibly good at it since running cables and working with lights is his real, 40 hours+ a week job, when the theater is not closed down for a public health emergency.

When I ran into him yesterday he was making sure the lighting was set but he was also playing around with an iPhone 12 Pro Max on a cool, little gimbal, shooting a bunch of video and giving the stabilizer a good workout. He noticed I had a camera with me (when do I not?) and asked me to make a quick portrait of him up on stage. 

I went totally counter-intuitive with this one. I got so much feedback from readers and fellow, local photographers chagrined about my disdain for the 35mm focal length that I thought I'd give the messy little focal length another try. This shot was done with the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens for the L-mount cameras. I had it attached to an S1R and I was shooting at some zany f-stop, like f2.2.

I could see the flare when I took the photograph and I really liked the effect. Pretty amazed though at how well the lens does delivering contrast into the main subject, even with a couple of 2K spots shining directly into the front element. 

I also shot a little bit of video on my new gimbal --- since I was there and we had actors on the stage. More about the video in a bit...

12.06.2020

I don't show as many portraits of men. I'll try harder. This is from the very early years. Back when I was in my "Richard Avedon-white background" phase.


 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...

Vegetable seller in Venice. Empty streets. Cloudy skies.


 My iPhone XR is an unusual copy stand camera. One side or the other of the image I'm shooting is always "toned" or darker in the corners. It's because I'm lazy about stuff like this and not willing to do much more than lay a print down and shoot with the light coming through my windows. 

I see images on the blog as illustrations of something also written down, like notes, not as "Art" in a standalone gallery. 

This image was taken 30 or so years ago and what I wanted to draw attention to is the wonderful texturing of the vegetables. The image started life as a black and white snapshot, on Tri-X, in an old Leica CL with the little 40mm Summicron on it. I printed it on a matte surface paper (probably Kodak's Ektalure G) in my studio's darkroom; back when I had the studio on San Marcos St. in east Austin. 

I liked photography life better when shots could be taken that were casual and informative but didn't suffer under the expectations of perfection. Just notes between friends, not a hoary manifesto used to beat each other over the head. Sometimes I didn't even care if a photo was totally in focus as long as the content evoked memories for me that I enjoyed. 

I know it's strange now to contemplate Venice, Italy (sans Covid) without pressing crowds, noise, litter and high prices but back when I first visited the city it was so inexpensive that we opted to stay for ten days and roam around. We were traveling in late October and the weather was cool, the skies gray. Our president at the time had just bombed Libya which scared USA tourists from traveling outside the borders at all. Which, of course, meant for us lower hotel rates, easier access to good restaurants and streets no more crowded than the ones at home. 

What a wonderful time to travel.