Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Creative Dilema

More Camera Bag trickery. I like the silhouette of the trees, the cloud patterns, yet I can't get away from the white hole in the sky where the sun pours through. It's this, more than anything, which makes me mistrust it as an image. Look at the clouds just above the tree-line to the left, and it's as though the image has been 'solarized' - which takes it completely out of the realm of naturalistic photograph, and into the realm of studio manipulation. And since the image is a result of someone else's pre-sets (settings to accomplish the effect), I'm less inclined to congratulate myself on it.
On the other hand, perhaps if I use someone else's pre-sets to create a successful image and it doesn't bring software manipulations to the forefront of my mind, then maybe I'll enjoy the image more? We'll see.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Comal Food Store

       This image was shot on my i-phone, using the Camera Bag app. I'm looking forward to exploring Instagram over the coming months. I have misgivings about the proprietary rights you sign over to use the software, but the creative opportunities strike me as worth exploring. There's clearly some amazing work being done through the app.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Once More, With Feeling

It's true that the blog has been inactive for a while. Since Miller (above) is unlikely to fight the assertion, I'm inclined to lay the blame at his feet. Babies, they take up time.


I'm hopeful that the blog lives again. Watch this space.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Graduate.

For the past three years, Yesi Ruiz has surrendered her weekends (Friday/Saturday night, Sunday morning) to work at Olivia Restaurant in South Austin, polishing glasses and silverware, bussing tables...whatever has been asked of her, and always performing her duties with a lovely charm and positive attitude...

Yesi just graduated from high school, she's heading off to Texas A&M to study psychology. As a parting gift, the wait staff at Olivia paid for a set of prints from a photo session I was happy to donate. These are three images from our mini-photo session...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Desert Dreams

                                                                                       Palm Springs, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Martin Parr on 'Too Much Photography.'

I'm utterly bemused by people who feel compelled to photograph their meals. To what purpose? Will it help you savour the taste again later? Do you have friends who are fascinated to see what was on your dinner plate last week?

Likewise, I wonder why so many people don't bother to edit their photos. They post The Complete Holiday Snaps on Facebook. But who do you think is going to go through them all?

English photographer Martin Parr agrees with me, it seems.  Hit the link:

In the days of analogue, photos were printed up and then carefully selected images were placed in an album. Now they just hang around, clogging up the hard drive on the laptop or phone. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Love To Love You: Donna Summer

It's the way things are done, isn't it? An artist dies and we re-consider what their work has meant to us, belatedly offer a bouquet when it's too late for the recipient to be the beneficiary. This, reported in the New York Times coverage of Donna Summer's death last week from cancer, at age 63:

     John Landau, the chairman of the nominating committee at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, also issued a statement - an unusual one in which he said it was unfortunate that the hall had never inducted her.
   "There is absolutely no doubt that the extraordinary Donna Summer belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Mr. Landau wrote. "Regrettably, despite being nominated on a number of occasions, our voting group has failed to recognize her – an error I can only hope is finally and permanently rectified next year."

 Then again, who considers the Rock and Roll Hall of fame particularly meaningful? And yet, it's typical of our culture.

In 2004, I expressed my own appreciation for Donna Summer in a long-ish article that can be found below. The piece was written pre-Gaga, and before hip-hop production blurred the lines of distinction between itself and house/techno...which is to say, before the latest resurgence in interest in dance music. But I think that as an appreciation of a true and unique talent, it holds up:

Meanwhile, on KCRW, late-night DJ Raul Campos - whose nightly show is always worth listening to - got it right with his tribute. He opened his show with 'Love To Love You Baby,' and later went on to express how much Donna Summer had meant to him, and to the people in the DJ community he'd looked up to when he was learning his craft. He also explained that some time ago he instructed friends that when he dies, three records should be buried with him - one of which ought to be 'I Feel Love.'

Certainly it's one of the half-dozen most important songs in the history of dance/electronic music.

You can find Raul Campos's Donna Summer tribute show here:

And finally, a lovely interview with Donna Summer on NPR"s Fresh Air. Terry Gross is a peerless radio interviewer, and though this might not represent her best work, what comes through (and what Gross obviously deserves some of the credit for), is a real sense of Summer's personality, of her like-ability and decency. If you're unfamiliar with her story, you'll also likely find it instructive as to how much she contributed to her own success, writing much of her own material.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

He Walks Amongst Us

      And apparently still carrying the cross. Seen on South Lamar Ave, Austin, TX.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Art Is A Word

For years I had a postcard of this image on my refrigerator door. Alas it's gone now, along with several other, slightly more salacious images. I think this shot  was taken by Bettina Rheims. I still love it. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake

Selected pictures from a three year old's birthday party...

... Happy Birthday to Andrew Bates Jr.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Kids Are Alright

The gentleman in the picture above is Andrew Bates, and the folks who share the foreground with him are his 3 year old son, Andrew Jr, and his wife, Susan. Andrew (Sr, that is) is an artist who, amongst other works, produces lovely pencil drawings of children for delighted parents. For Valentine's Day this year I made a trade with Andrew - he produced a spectacular drawing of my son Miller (which I gave to my wife), and I had to somehow live up to my part of the deal by producing a family portrait for his wife.

Now, one requirement Andrew had was that he didn't want anything too rigid or stuffy. He preferred an image that would capture something of the madness of his daily visits to the park with his son. The image above is the one that makes me happiest, makes me feel that I met the requirement. At the very least, I owe a debt of thanks to the little girl in the picture for helping me out.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Michelle Knapp Auction: Portraits

Last year I donated a portrait session to a fundraiser for a local teenage girl, Michelle Knapp. Michelle was struck down by a grave illness and her parents incurred significant health care bills while Michelle underwent treatment and rehabilitation. Family friends, the majority of whom work in the restaurant industry here in Austin, helped raise an astonishing $25,000 for the Knapp family through a silent auction at a food and booze event held at North by Northwest. 

Charlie Childs won the auction for a portrait session (along with several other auctions, I might add). Charlie sat on his portrait winnings for a several months, but finally cashed it in last month - and with good reason. These portraits are from a series I shot of Charlie with his fiancée - now wife - Caroline, the week before they were married. Apparently it's been a lucky few months for Charlie...

And, I'm happy to report that in the months since the auction, Michelle Knapp has made significant strides in her battle against her illness. Having been hospitalized for several long months, she's now living at home with her family, and a bright future lies before her.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What I've Been Reviewing: David Hockney: A Rake's Progress by Christopher Simon Sykes

My review of this upcoming David Hackney biography is available online at:

                                   A Bigger Splash.        David Hockney

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What I've Been Reviewing: Zona - A Book About A Film About A Journey To A Room by Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer is one of my favourite contemporary authors. My review of his latest book, written for The Austin American Statesman, can be read here:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Manchester: Unknown Pleasures

                                                                 Photographer Unknown

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Cocktail Hour: Lucy's Fried Chicken

The cocktail hour? Every hour on the hour, from 11 until midnight at Lucy's Fried Chicken.

These images were shot for the Lucy's website. I may or may not have sampled the products after photographing them.

Bee Sting: Republic of Texas Reposado, lemon juice, honey, jalapeno slice

Bee Sting and Watermelon Crawl (Waterloo gin, St Germaine & watermelon juice, squeeze of lemon)
    Lucy Basilia: Dripping Springs vodka, honey, lemon juice, basil leaves and blackberry
Bartender: Megan (not on menu)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Austin Monthly: Manchester

I have a travel story on Manchester and its music in the current issue of Austin Monthly.

You can find it online here:

As sometimes happens, the story was substantially edited and abbreviated for publication. The pictures I'm posting here are images I originally shot to accompany the story, although they're not the images that were used.

 You can read a fuller version of the story - as written and submitted - below.

 This is Manchester Free Trade Hall, site of the infamous Bob Dylan 'Judas!' show in 1965. 

                                            Manchester. So Much To Answer For.

            For a Texas transplant to suggest within these pages that a city other than Austin lays claim to the title of ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ would clearly represent a breach of etiquette.  For diplomacy’s sake then, let me suggest only that Manchester, England possesses a music scene of greater heritage and vitality than any other city in… Britain? Europe?  Wherever. Take your pick.
            Manchester has always been a ferment of creativity. It is, after all, where the industrial revolution began in the early 19th Century. The world’s first railway station opened here in 1830, and it was at Manchester University that Ernest Rutherford figured out how to split the atom in 1919. Later, and arguably of at least equal social import, the city produced Joy Division, The Smiths and The Stone Roses – to say nothing of the world’s most famous football club, Manchester United.
            There are a number of organized tours through which to you might explore Manchester’s recent music past. The Joy Division tour includes a pilgrimage to the terraced house in Macclesfield where singer Ian Curtis committed suicide, while The Smiths tour - devoted to a band whose singer didn’t commit suicide, even if his lyrics sometimes gave the impression that it was only a matter of time - visits locales such as Salford Lads Club, scene of the iconic photograph on the gatefold cover of the band’s greatest album, ‘The Queen is Dead.’
             There is a more broad-ranging Manchester music tour too, though with a little research and legwork you might just as easily find your own way. Significant landmarks include The Free Trade Hall, where an audience member infamously called out ‘Judas!’ to Bob Dylan in response to the ‘electric’ set he played there during his 1966 tour. A decade later, at the more modestly named (and sized) “Lesser Free Trade Hall’ The Sex Pistols played a show that is frequently described as one of the most significant concerts in British music history. Only forty people were in the audience, but amongst the inspired were legendary impresario Tony Wilson, Morrissey and future members of Joy Division, The Fall and The Buzzcocks. The Free Trade Hall’s beautiful façade survives, but unfortunately a Radisson Hotel claimed the interior in 2004.
             Yet herein lies a paradox: despite a notable history, the most obvious characteristic of the Manchester music scene is its refusal to live off its own past.
             Today, Manchester is home to the largest student population in Europe, due in no small part to the vibrant promise of its youth culture. And while it’s true that the 21,000-seat Manchester Evening News Arena boasts the largest number of concert attendees, annually, of any indoor venue in the world (Madison Square Garden is second), and plays host to superstars such as Madonna and Rihanna, it’s equally true that the lifeblood of the city’s music scene continues to be the small venues that raise and nourish an astonishingly diverse range of acts.
            In the bohemian Northern Quarter, a reclamation project of bleak streets that has managed to avoid the beautifying pitfalls of gentrification, you’ll find the award-winning non-profit venue Band on the Wall proffering a steamy mix of contemporary jazz and blues. Five minutes away, at the eclectically billed Ruby Lounge, you might stumble upon Curt Eller,  ‘North Carolina’s Angriest Banjo Player.’ At The Night and Day Café , a moderately-sized storefront on Oldham Street, it might be the punk-tinged folk of Two Gallants.
            Manchester’s live music venues are matched in number only by its dance music clubs, but at The Deaf Institute, a hipster haven close to the university, you’ll find the city’s coolest combination of live shows and weekly themed-DJ nights (Now Wave, anyone? Spoti–Friday?). And yes, the venue really was once an institute for the deaf.
            From amplifier to turntable then, Manchester remains a city of 24-hour Party People… and the music plays forever on.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What I've Been Reading: The Book of Drugs by Mike Doughty

There's a track on Soul Coughing's first album, Ruby Vroom, called Mr. Bitterness. Presumably, songwriter Mike Doughty recognized that having already used the title for a song by a band he actively despises, he shouldn't re-tread it here as the title of his memoir. Fair enough. It would have been accurate though.The tone of this memoir is unremittingly bitter. 'Primal Scream' might also have been considered as a title, but another band already has rights on that, so...

When I say it's bitter, I mean it by way of description rather than as judgment. But man... at about page 150, I realized Doughty had yet to cast a positive light on anyone or anything. Hated his parents growing-up; fell into a music biz run by sharks and conmen; created a band and really hated the other three members. I mean, from start to finish...hated them. Became fairly successful and took no pleasure whatsoever in any of it. Slipped from casual drug use to extreme addiction along the way, and didn't even pause to enjoy the stations in between. There's a slight upturn in mood towards books end - when he's sober and medicated - but even that's muted. A survivor's victory, of sorts.

Except...there's something to be said for surviving, living a full life (whatever form it takes), and for continuing to produce work through the sheer necessity of doing so. I always thought Soul Coughing an interesting band (and that Screenwriter's Blues was a masterpiece), and I kept Doughty on my radar because of that. I've no idea whether ardent Soul Coughing fans knew of the animosity and disharmony at the heart of the band, but I suspect like me, most casual fans will have found this an eye-opener. Not that that part matters. It's one aspect of a familiar rock narrative presented here.

The book reads like a gargantuan clearing of the throat, a settling of debts. Also, a cleansing. Doughty is sober now, takes medicine for depression/bipolarism. He's extremely active as a musician and writer/blogger, forging a creative path. You suspect that he takes more responsibility for himself in life than he does within the pages of this book. For all that, he's still interesting. Still worth keeping on the radar.

                                                   Screenwriter's Blues

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Funny Valentine

Model: Miller
Photo: Dad
Styling: Mom
Props: Deidre Shannon
Clothing: Model's Own

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What I've Been Reading: Light Years by James Salter

Stunning. I don't recall the last time I underlined so many sentences in a book. It's a book filled with beautiful moments and heard-earned observations. The kind of book that made me want to be a writer.

'She has a wide mouth, the mouth of an actress, thrilling, bright. Dark smudges in her armpits, mint on her breath. Her nature is extravagant.'

'The city is a cathedral of possessions; its scent is dreams. Even those who have been rejected by it cannot leave.'

'He had never been so exhilarated after love. All the simple things had found their voice. It was as if he were backstage during a great overture, alone, in semi-darkness but able to hear it all.'

'Children are our crops, our fields, our earth. They are birds let loose into darkness.'

'The only words I'm afraid of are 'Ordinary life,'' Nedra said.

'Wine, stories, friends. He was a man lying fully clothed in the stream of days.'

'One of the last great realizations is that life will not be what you dreamed.'

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Reflections: Los Angeles

                                                                                                 Storefront, Los Angeles  2012

In a book I read recently, Los Angeles was described as 'a city that always looks like it was built yesterday.' It's not literally true, of course, but there's a certain poetic truth there. Los Angeles always  feels like the future to me. I think back to when I lived there during the 1990's, to the time when the city banned smoking in bars in 1995. I couldn't imagine such a law would stick, but it did. Los Angeles - world capital of health nuts, of course.

Years later, when I moved to New York, frequented the smokey bars, I couldn't imagine that a similar smoking bill would pass there. And yet, in 2003 - eight years after it happened in LA - the bill successfully passed in NYC (albeit with more of a fight). The vast majority of the country toes the same line now. It's but a small example of the city's progressive nature. What happens today in LA...

A recent, brief trip to LA reminded me of this. Driving around the city, listening to the radio, I felt like I was living in the 21st Century once more. Splendid blue skies, crisp beats pulsating through the speakers...

Austin, where I live now, has a great many virtues I'm sure, but culturally, I feel that I'm forever reading yesterday's news here. In these parts, it's somewhat heretical to criticize the local music scene, and I suppose that if you choose to live in Texas then you're foolish to complain about the preponderance of twangy guitar-driven music. But even on KUT, a fairly decent public radio station (in, as we are told, the self-styled 'Live Music Capital of the World'), I just can't take it any more.

Perhaps it's a result of growing up in England, where new music is hyped to a ridiculous and destructive degree, but it drives me mental to have to listen to music for most of the day that could have been (and often was) recorded at any time during the last twenety-five years - or more. Ezra Pound, with his mantra of 'Make it new!' would have taken the first train out of here. But I digress...

Los remains for me a beautiful and foolish notion, and I still love it, every time I'm there.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

RIP: Nicol Williamson

Nicol Williamson, an actor of tremendous power and originality, and a wonderful maverick spirit, died in Amsterdam on December 16. The announcement was made only yesterday.

Here he is playing  Merlin's farewell scene in the movie Excalibur (I couldn't embed it, so click on the link instead). I love this film, perhaps beyond all reason, and Williamson's performance as Merlin sits at the film's very centre.

For full (and dare I say, almost amusing) obituaries go here and here.

The LA Times leads with this anecdote:

Once heralded as the greatest British actor of his generation, Nicol Williamson was also a legend for stormy onstage behavior that included calling off a performance of "Hamlet" mid-speech because he was too tired to go on.

"I'll pay for the seats," he later recalled telling the audience in 1969, "but I won't shortchange you by not giving my best." And then he walked off.

The NY Times has him as 'mercurial,' which I always take to infer as someone who defies rules and categorization, someone who won't be held accountable. Someone admirable, then.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What I've Been Reading: Hemingway's Boat - Everything He Loved and Lost 1934-61

 I find it somewhat shocking to note that I haven't read a book by or about Hemingway in twenty years. For one thing, I'm staggered to find myself old enough to have not read any Hemingway for such a period of time. So it goes. I'm on my way to being an old man in search of the sea.

Hemingway is definitely one of those writers you should read when you're young, so I'm glad I got that much right at least. He's also tough one to go back to. The style is so easily absorbed that re-reading Hemingway sometimes gives you the sense of reading parody, even when it's the good stuff. I feel similarly about re-reading Garcia Marquez - no matter how much I was in thrall to Love in the Time of Cholera the first time around, the prose style is so rich and distinctive that I have a hard time going back for seconds and thirds.

Credit Paul Hendrickson's book, then, with inspiring me to take Hemingway down from the shelf once more. 'Hemingway's Boat' is by no means a perfect book - the title isn't fully justified by the content, for one thing - but it's frequently beautiful and touching, a highly idiosyncratic look at an extraordinary man, at the devastating ripple effects of the Hemingway mythology, and also, at the very real curse of mental illness visited upon the Hemingway family.

It's a beautifully written and deeply felt book. It's the work of an investigative journalist for sure - the research goes deep, so much so that there's almost a sense of the reporter becoming overly enamored of all that he turns up. We're taken on lengthy, chapter long detours with seemingly minor eye-witnesses, for example, but the book's beauty is in part a result of its meandering path. It isn't intended as a full-on biography.

Much of the book's first half is taken up with the first couple of summers Hemingway spent on his boat, Pilar - meaning, half the book takes place 1934-6. The last quarter of the book takes up the story of Hemingway's progeny - most notably Gregory, who led a pitiable, tortured life, dying at age 70 in a Florida jail (he'd been arrested for flaunting his almost nude transgendered body along the side of a state highway).

A good deal is made here, as well as in numerous biographies, of Hemingway's personality and talent  being swallowed and distorted by fame. It's inarguable, of course, that this is the case, and yet it occurs to me that for a man who was hungry for fame and adulation, he certainly didn't inhabit the usual avenues in pursuit of such false glories. He never lived in New York or Los Angeles, for example. You'd be hard-pressed to come up with three less likely outposts of fame and glory than the three places he called home in the second half of his life - Key West (Florida), Havana (Cuba), and Ketchum (Idaho).

So, what's my favourite Hemingway, you ask?

I think A Farewell To Arms is his greatest achievement as a novelist, the moment when innovation and refinement came most perfectly together.

And I loved For Whom The Bell Tolls.

The Sun Also Rises? I know it's most people's favourite, but it isn't mine. I like it fine, as Ernest might say, but to my mind it's neither his best, nor the most enjoyable.

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Year's Day

On New Year's Day, out walking in southern-most Austin, along a concealed path, in an obscure part of a park, we stumbled upon a group of friends and family playing softball. Nothing too unusual about that, perhaps.. except that the voices of these people were all decidedly non-American. Indeed, the friendly voices calling out belonged exclusively to Scots and to northern Englishman. Given the context - Scotland vs England, off the beaten-path in Texas on a sunny, warm, New Year's Day - it was about as unlikely a scene as I can imagine stumbling upon.