Monday, March 31, 2008

blog update day will continue ...

I just had to put a belt on, my pockets are so full of film to process: HP5, TriX 400, TriX pushed to 800, HP5 120, TMax 120, Plus X, Fuji Neopan, Delta 3200 ... this is going to be a lot of time in the dark :)


THE Raymond Thompson, as he is affectionately known, graced the floor of my apartment this past week while he worked on a story in San Antonio about a little boy and his family. Daniel Garcia traveled from Culpeper, Va. down to Texas to undergo a special surgery to implant a titanium ribcage into his 8 year-old chest. Raymond's been following the Garcia family for well over a year and half and his efforts at telling their story to the community through the Culpeper Times newspaper has yielding amazing results both in community awareness and support for the Garcia's as well as needed monetary donations (to the tune of more than $39,000 - who says community journalism can't have an effect!?).

Raymond is truly one of my favorite photographers, not simply because of the amazing images he always brings home from assignments, but because of the heart he possesses that drives him to never settle for the easy way out. Raymond really cares about documentary photojournalism in a way I sometimes find lacking in other shooters (often including myself). That's why it was so amazingly refreshing to have him here this week. His visit has gotten me geared up to finish out the semester strong and really go make things happen through photography.

Please check out these links to his blog and the stories on Daniel available online. I'll let y'all know when he's ready with (what I imagine will be) some amazing multimedia from this trip down to Texas with Daniel. Oh, and Daniel came through his surgery last Wednesday extremely well and was even off the ventilator days sooner than expected. Have the Garcia family in your thoughts if you can.

Nitsanne & Eddie

A couple of my favorites, photographed at TC's Lounge last Wednesday night.

It was the last regular Wednesday night show for the band Fly Jack who'd become real favorites of Eddie and all those folks in the Wonderful Organization. Fly Jack is a seriously funky band. 4 piece horn section, funky drummer who sings like Stevie Wonder, sick guitarist, 6-string fingerstyle electric bass, and keys that keep your booty shaking.

The Wednesday night's at TC's sort of took over from the Monday nights we used to spend there listening and dancing to the Little Elmore Reed Blues Band while consuming copious amounts of cheap Lone Star and High Life (which I swear somehow tastes better there than anywhere else). Interestingly enough, I just found that the video featured on the groups myspace page has several folks featured dancing in the background that many of you will recognize. I saw Sid, Rachel Sibley and The Boss all dancing away in the video. Good times, good times.

Anyway, the days of Fly Jack at TC's are over, but you can catch them Monday nights over at Antone's from now on. Although, that would mean you miss out on the blues over at TCs ...

A nice little side note though that ties into Eddie's presence at TC's: In this Statesman review, they mention a certain star of such hits as Point Break and Speed having visited the bar in the past. How amazing is that?

(the) Americans

Just wanted to encourage folks to read this amazing article on Robert Frank. If you're not familiar with his 1958 book The Americans, you need to run out and find it right now. The first copy I ever got a hold of was at the county library where I requested it with an interlibrary loan - how awesome are libraries. I ended up with a copy published in 1969, an edition that will set you back about 350 bucks just about anywhere you find it. Library! Free! Books! Yes!

Lucky for us though, a new edition is coming out, and it's only 26 bucks!!! I'm quite excited. I've been talking with a lot of people lately about the idea of "straight photography," and Frank's work in The Americans is a perfect example of just how deeply one can descend into a deep document of an entire culture simply with a 35mm lens.

Read the article, check out the book, you won't be sorry.

Here's a little taste of one of the many gems of explanation (or un-explanation) Frank provides the author of the article:

“It amazes me,” he said. “It’s a book of such simplicity, really. It doesn’t really say anything. It’s apolitical. There’s nothing happening in these photos. People say they’re full of hate. I never saw that. I never felt that. I just went out to the street corners and looked for interesting people. O.K., I looked for the extremes, but that’s because the mediocre, the middle, it’s bland and that bores me.

Monday, March 17, 2008


A week and a half ago, I caught a ride down to Houston to spend Spring Break working for FotoFest (more on that in coming posts). During the week I stayed with my parents whom I sometimes forget are amazing people dedicated to helping folks through helping to run a local food pantry and working with the St. Vincent de Paul organization. With St. Vincent de Paul the visit people in their homes who need help with everything from food to rent to electric bills. On a visit a couple weeks ago, they met a woman who a year ago had triplets. She did not have a crib for them to sleep in, so my parents were able to locate two of them for her which we brought to the house on Sunday and set up. Here are two of the amazingly cute kids sleeping like little cubs.

The experience was only deepened later that evening when I went to church with my parents. The sermon happened to be given by a visiting priest who was leading a retreat of sorts at the church that week. He talked a lot about faith and renewal and hope. The idea of Hope is something that really resonates in me. It made me realize how I think that ultimately I want to take pictures that really explore hope in any situation. I think that one of the reasons I like documentary photography is that you often find the most hope in the people that from your outsider perspective would initially seem the most hopeless.
The picture that starts this post is from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It's members of the St. Rose de Lima choir rehearsing in early January of 2006. Katrina destroyed much of their town. Al Acker, the choir directer, vividly described to me those months later how when he walked through the doors of the church on August 30th after the storm, the first thing he saw, amidst all the destruction and death that had wreaked their town, was this mural on the wall.
People always tell me that they really like this picture, and I often think about how little I have to do with that, at least from a photographic standpoint, it's really very simple in its execution. The message does seem to shine through though, and what's great about that, is that it really has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the members of that community.

A little extra addendum to this post: I've been in the lab all day, and I'm about to start editing some video and was starting to lag a bit, SO I flipped on one of my favorite YouTube videos. It actually fits perfectly with the subject of this post, so I'll post it here. If you don't know who Billy Preston is, I'll give you a little background. Preston is who I consider to be the infamous "Fifth Beatle" having been brought in by George Harrison during the tough times suffered by the Beatles while making Let It Be. He famously earned joint credit with the Beatles for the single "Get Back." I always think of his most recognizable contribution being on the B-side which only made it later on to Let It Be ... Naked, "Don't Let Me Down," where we hear "Hit is Bill!" before a quick electric piano solo at the end of the tune.
The video below is Preston leading the band in a tune during organizers Ravi Shankar and George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The concert was a benefit for refugees from East Pakistan after the 1970 Bhola cyclone. Preston performs which such amazing fire and emotion with his soulful voice, swelling organ and eventual dancing . I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Let It Be

updates coming soon

Monday, March 03, 2008

If you see a picture, TAKE IT

This is not the picture

On Friday I found myself wandering around campus contemplating heading home when the urge to go check out what was hanging at the Harry Ransom Center suddenly hit me. I had not visited the Ransom since coming back to Austin this semester, so I turned and back-tracked towards the constantly rotating collection. As I approached, I noticed a scene comprised of the elements above plus one additional element (not pictured) that (would have) proved the key to making an infinitely (in theory, at least) more interesting picture.

Just left the three elements pictured above of sat a woman on a concrete barrier in the foreground. She was facing the building and wearing a deep, orange shirt and a vibrant white headscarf. Because she was facing away from me, the shape she created was organic and surreal when juxtaposed against the wall with its line of pipes and hydrants. As I walked by, I picture popped into my mind: a longish-telephoto compressed the space between the covered womans' shape and the shapes it aligned with against the wall; everything lined up, heights all equal. The camera hanging across my shoulders though remained buried in the bag at my side. I did not stop, instead just walked by into the Ransom Center.

As I walked through the exhibit inside, all I could think about was that picture-possibility. I honestly can't remember a single thing I looked at in the exhibit really save a few pictures of Charlie Parker playing with Mingus. It took me about three minutes to come to my senses, turn my back on the walls of the Ransom, and walk back outside praying the woman still sat there.

OF COURSE she was gone. My much-more-than-momentary hesitation cost me the picture. I was instead doomed to stand around for 30 minutes waiting for something, anything to happen in its place. Nothing ever did. I took a few pictures more of visual evidence of what could-have-been than what really was while I watched longingly as the headscarf-clad woman sat reading around the corner of the Ransom Center in another courtyard.

My resultant restlessness did serve one purpose though; I found myself walking down 21st Street poking around for pictures, finally ending up in the PCL. There I finally sought out some of the Thomas Merton books I've been craving since leaving Virginia in November.

If I've never told you about Thomas Merton, don't get me started. The best way to not have me try and explain it to you and convince you that he is amazing though, is probably just to read some of his writing yourself.